Personal trainer James Anderson shares 8 common health and fitness mistakes so many of us are guilty of making
With so much information making its way around the internet, you’d think that the majority of women would be pretty clued up when it comes to losing fat, improving their health and dropping a dress size or two (if that’s your goal).
But sadly for all my high hopes, the bitter pill of reality is more often what I end up consuming as I watch women moving through life undernourished, over-trained, injured, and fatigued – simply surviving, certainly not thriving.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame these women. I blame the misinformation being shoveled onto the Internet. Information designed to scare, misleads, confuse, overwhelm and yo-yo their health from one fad to the next. I’d go as far as to say that the majority of information out there on fitness and nutrition for women is mostly garbage. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some terrible advice given out to those of us with a Y chromosome too, but women tend to be targeted more by supplement companies and so-called fitness ‘gurus’.
In over a decade as a coach, I’ve seen all manner of mistakes that female clients have made, but for the most part – these below are the biggest ones that have kept them from their goals.
- Being super strict on weekdays. Are you a five-day dieter? By that I mean do you stick to your plan perfectly for five days of the week, then have a weekend of bingeing? If so, the weekend could be seriously screwing with your progress. Many women think that because they’ve been good with their diet all week, they can take the weekends off, and while I’m all for letting my hair down and having a good time, this is probably the reason why you’re not seeing the results you want. Friday lunchtime comes, then the office doughnuts and cakes come out, then you might grab some drinks after work, and before you know it, the whole weekend is a calorie-filled food fest. When you try and be too strict Monday to Friday, you end up exacerbating your cravings, then come the weekend you feel like you have to indulge these and go to town on all the foods you’ve been restricting. Instead, be a bit more moderate during the week by following the 80:20 rule (80% “good foods” and 20% “naughtier foods”) then you won’t feel the need for your weekend binges.
- So, instead of saying your goal is to “lose weight” or “get fitter” try coming up with something concrete that has a set outcome. Perhaps it’s to get into a particular dress for a party in three months’ time, to complete the City2Surf race in under XYZ minutes, or even give yourself a habit-based goal of doing something every day to improve your health. Just be specific and put a timeframe on it. Not having goals. Without goals, you’re just living reliving your childhood road trips with your parents asking “are we there yet’? When you don’t aim for a specific outcome you’ll never know that powerful feeling of ticking off a goal and the excitement of setting the next one!
- Doing too much cardio. If cardio helps you burn fat, then more cardio must burn it faster, right? Wrong. While cardio does burn calories and can be part of a fat loss plan, it’s not the most important part. Sure, hitting the treadmill for three hours a day, or getting up at 5am to go on the stepper will burn some calories, but too much cardio can also make you fatigued and hungry, causing the rest of your training to suffer, and mean you’re compelled to eat more. Not only that, but cardio does nothing to shape your physique. For that you need weights – whether that’s barbells and dumbbells, kettlebells, or even just bodyweight resistance moves – these will give you a much more effective workout, burn fat just as fast as cardio and actually give you some tone and definition, not just make you look skinny.
- Serial snacking. This idea of eating regular snacks throughout the day is constantly being drummed into us. Apparently, it speeds up our metabolism. Nah, that’s just not true. You can snack, but that doesn’t mean you need to. Your metabolism won’t drop unless you go several days without eating anything, so there’s no need to worry about starvation mode by not snacking. What you DO need to worry about, however, is the fact that plenty of snacks are seriously high in calories, but provide little in the way of sustenance. Your “healthy” handful of nuts could easily amount to 300 calories. The same goes for your weight loss bar or shake, your flapjack, or fruit with crackers. You can snack if you want to, but it’s much easier to control your diet by sticking to set meals that have quality sources of protein, fat, and carbs.
- Not eating enough. In the same way as more cardio doesn’t mean faster fat burning, fewer calories won’t lead to quicker weight loss. This is similar to mistake #1. By slashing your calories right back, you probably will lose weight faster for a few days, or maybe even the first week of your diet. Trouble is, a big calorie deficit does two things:
- It makes you hungry as hell, and so you get a week or two in, can’t take it anymore, and so have the mother of all ice cream binges.
- It causes you to lose muscle. And although you might think muscle doesn’t matter, it does. It REALLY does. A loss of muscle can quickly slow your metabolism, which will make you look skinny, washed out and waiflike. Hardly the swimsuit model look you were going for?
I can tell you one thing, 1000-1200 calorie/day diets are more often than not the leading cause of yo-yo dieting and weight gain in women. After all, what are the first three letters in the word diet? “DIE”, which is what you most likely feel like is happening when you’re not getting enough calories.
- Buying fat burners. The notion of taking a pill to speed up your fat loss seems too good to be true. And that’s because it is. Fat burners, carb blockers and metabolism-boosting supplements are all a scam. If losing weight and getting lean and defined was as easy as popping a pill, the whole nation would have their ideal bodies. The only thing you’re losing by buying one of these is your cash. Stop.
- Lifting light weights for high reps. it’s a common misconception that using light weights and lifting for a higher number of reps sculpts and shapes the muscle. Again, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this isn’t the case. High-rep training can be useful in some circumstances, but the calorie burn isn’t significantly higher than lifting heavier. Plus, referring back to muscle again, you’re more likely to lose muscle when dieting if you train light all the time. Less muscle = lower metabolism, and saggier skin.
- Using too many plyometrics. Plyometrics are cool, right? Jumping squats, lunges, box jumps and every variation in between get your heart rate up and burn calories which is certainly great for fat loss. But, at what cost? These kinds of exercises should be used far more rarely than the everyday occurrences that I see in people’s Instagram feeds. They should be used to enhance a quality strength program rather than simply making you ‘feel the burn’ as they create a ton of unnecessary stress and strain on your joints and are more likely to leave you injured than slim and lean.
And lastly: Look, it’s not your fault. If you’ve been (or still are) falling for any of these mistakes, don’t worry. It’s easy to be duped by clever marketing and so-called experts who may have big social platforms.
Unfortunately, these myths and mistakes have built up over a number of decades; and become ingrained in female training and nutrition culture. But now you know.
Progress been slow? Feel like you’ve been doing everything right, but seeing no results? Perhaps it’s due to one or two of these, so let’s get that mistake ironed out, and you can get back on the path to a leaner, healthier and happier body.