One of the most interesting things about fitness culture is how many different rules there are about what you are and are not supposed to do in order to get healthier. I’ve learned so much about the art of staying fit by listening to what other ordinary people find helpful.
There is a lot of fantastic information out there about what you should be doing, but today I wanted to talk about fitness rules that should be broken instead of being followed.
No Pain, No Gain
Of course there are times when I’m a little sore during or after a workout, but I genuinely enjoy the time I spend exercising overall. It feels good to get my blood pumping as I learn a new move or break a new record. Achieving small goals like that are what keep me motivated as I push through tough or new workouts.
If whatever I’m doing starts to genuinely hurt, though, I take it as a sign that I shouldn’t be doing that particular activity for now. Often it’s okay again if I ease back on how quickly I’m doing it or if I move to a lighter set of weights. Over the longterm, I can almost always work up to whatever it was that was too hard to do the first time I tried it.
There’s a difference between pushing yourself to run a little faster or lift harder this time and risking an injury by ignoring your pain.
If it isn’t fun on at least some level, don’t do it.
Work Out No Matter What the Weather Is Like
Here in Toronto we occasionally get warnings about smog, snowstorms, fog, sleet, snow, heat waves, or cold snaps. As much as I like exercising outdoors, these days are not safe and healthy ones to do anything active outdoors. This is even more true for people with pre-existing health conditions like asthma.
Other areas of the world have different warnings. I have relatives whose lives are occasionally put on hold by haboobs (dust storms). When I say their lives are put on hold, I mean that they have to stop whatever they’re doing, find shelter, and wait for the storm to pass. One time one of them even got stuck on the side of the road for a little while because all of that dust would have badly damaged the engine of their car if they had kept driving through it.
There are times when it can be downright dangerous to go for a jog or do other strenuous activities if the weather in your community is really bad. I have a full repertoire of workouts that can be done in my apartment or other places indoors when the weather isn’t cooperative. If it’s extremely smoggy or humid, I might not exercise at all that day depending on what the air conditioning situation is like and how my lungs are feeling.
Missing one workout isn’t going to make a big difference in the scheme of things. Safety always has to come first.
Make It a Competition
Some people thrive on competition, but I find that kind of motivation to be demoralizing instead of encouraging. I really don’t enjoy pitting people against each other. This is especially true when it comes to something as individualized as how or when you work out.
Part of the reason why I dislike making exercise competitive is that I have a few friends who are living with various illnesses and disabilities that restrict how much energy and strength they have. They are simply not physically capable of doing a lot of things that I can do without a second thought. There are other people I know who are in much better shape than I am. In all of these cases, the competition wouldn’t be a fair one because we’d be coming from such different starting points.
Even when we’re more or less evenly matched in strength and overall fitness, some of my other friends participate in types of exercise that are so different from what I do that it’s almost impossible to compare them. For example, how on earth would you compare swimming to jogging? What about tai chi to a team sport like volleyball? There’s no easy way to weigh things like these, especially when you factor in the different fitness levels and physical abilities of everyone involved.
The final problem I have with it is that I believe exercise should be fun for everyone. As someone who isn’t competitive, having only one winner at the end of it makes me not want to play at all.
Why not focus on having a great time instead?
It’s cool if other people want to compete with each other to stay motivated, but I’d much rather encourage everyone at whatever it is they enjoy doing and not worry about who “won” in the end. If you’ve found a sustainable way to stay active, you’re a winner in my book!
All You Need Is One Routine
Confession: I was guilty of this one myself when I first started working out. I stuck with the same cardio and light hand weight routine for a long time and was a bit hesitant to try anything new because of how much I liked what I was currently doing.
All of that exercise was still very good for me, but I didn’t realize how much more I was capable of until I started branching out. Dancing and bodyweight videos on Youtube made my muscles ache in ways they hadn’t ached since I first started working out. It was also much more mentally stimulating than doing the same routine day after day. I had to learn how to move my body in new ways and try stuff I’d never considered doing before.
This has become even more true as I explore what yoga routines work best for me. Once again, I’ve been thrown into an entirely new way of working out that’s challenging and exciting.
Food Is Nothing But Fuel
Yes, having a healthy diet is important. One of the things that alarms me about certain parts of fitness culture, though, is how they focus on the physical effects of food so much that they sometimes forget the other meanings it can have.
Sharing food is a sign of love and friendship in many cultures. Some of the best memories of my childhood involved spending time with my extended family as they cooked a big meal. My grandmother has a huge dining room table that gets filled up with family members at the holidays and on other special occasions.
Anywhere between some and most of the food served there would come from my grandparents’ farm depending on what time of year it was and what we’re eating.
There are a lot of fresh vegetables from the garden in the summer, but in the winter we eat more bread and meat instead.
While I wouldn’t recommend doing this every day, eating a specific treat can also be emotionally satisfying. For example, my mom and I used to drive to a nearby city to buy dairy-free chocolate bars when I was a teenager. We lived in a small, rural town at the time that had almost nothing in the way of specialty foods for people with dietary restrictions, so these trips were a wonderful glimpse into how people in more populated areas lived.
Once or twice a year, I’ll buy a couple of bars of dairy-free chocolate and think happy thoughts about that part of my childhood. Those extra calories are easily burned away over the next few months until I treat myself again.
How about you? What fitness rules do you think should be broken? Come over and tell me about it on Twitter today!