“No days off?” Nope.
There’s no shortage of fitness advice out there. The trouble is, not all of it is good fitness advice.
Having an unrealistic mindset about what your workout routine should (or shouldn’t) look like can leave you feeling burned out or bummed out, and fitness “facts” that are over-simplified or even straight-up false can lead you to pick up habits that won’t actually help you reach your goals. Some of them may even make it harder.
If there’s one group of people who knows misguided fitness advice when they hear it, it’s trainers. Here, six of them share the things they wish their own clients would stop buying into—and how to take a more realistic approach on these ideas around physical activity.
1. “The best time to work out is first thing in the morning.”
While working out in the morning has some benefits (it can help set a healthy tone for your day and even give you a boost of energy), there’s nothing magical about A.M. exercise—really. “Any belief that prevents you from getting to the gym is worth junking,” Adam Rosante, C.S.C.S., strength and nutrition coach, tells SELF. “The real best time to work out is whenever works for you.”
If you find that it’s easier to stick to your workouts when you plan them for the beginning of the day (before, say, an impromptu happy hour gets in the way), do that. But if you have more energy to work out on your way home from the office, that’s great, too. (It’s worth noting that some people have trouble falling asleep immediately after a workout, so if that’s the case for you, try to plan your workouts for earlier in the evening to avoid interrupting your zzz’s.)
2. “You just have to push through the pain.”
If you’ve heard something along these lines called out in a workout class, keep in mind that the instructor is probably talking about that set of squats that burn so good—not pain that signals an injury.
“One of the mentalities I hate the most is ‘push through the pain,'” Cori Lefkowith, an Orange County-based certified personal trainer and founder of Redefining Strength, tells SELF. “Not because you don’t have to mentally fight through wanting to give up during a workout sometimes, but because people use this as an excuse to not rest when they’re injured,” she explains.
While a healthy dose of perseverance is a good thing, you definitely shouldn’t ignore your body’s signals if something doesn’t feel right. Exercise isn’t just “supposed” to hurt, and you’re not doing yourself any favors by ignoring that nagging knee or shoulder pain for the sake of completing a workout.
“If an exercise is physically hurting you, stop doing it immediately and either change it up or seek advice from a professional,” FitFusion certified personal trainer Kenta Seki, tells SELF. And if you need some guidance, here’s some information about how to tell the difference between muscle soreness and an injury.
3. “Break a sweat every single day.”
Simply moving your body in some way every day is good—but doing a challenging workout seven days a week? Not necessary. Pilates instructor and movement specialist Jared Kaplan, NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of Studio 26 in NYC, says that for most people, the #nodaysoff mantra is not helpful in reaching long-term fitness goals.
“As much as a strong body is created with challenging workouts, you also need recovery time to actually repair and grow,” he explains. Here’s the deal: When you do resistance training, you actually break down muscle fiber, and it’s the recovery process that builds these fibers back stronger and larger. If you’re constantly breaking down muscle fibers without allowing them to recover, you’re not only hindering results—you can also end up with an overuse injury (not to mention, end up feeling seriously burned out).
While the number of days per week you work out depends on your goals and your lifestyle, you definitely don’t need to aim for working out seven days a week just because. Rest days shouldn’t make you feel guilty—think of them as an important part of a sustainable workout plan.
4. “Running is the best way to lose weight.”
First, an important disclaimer here: Losing weight certainly isn’t a goal for everyone, nor should it be, and it definitely isn’t the only reason to work out. (And while fitness can help with weight loss, factors like what you eat and your sleep and stress levels make a huge impact on how easy or hard it will be for you to lose weight.) But if that is your objective, you might have heard that running is the best way lose weight. Generally, though, this isn’t the best advice, says Rosante.
While running does burn some calories and it may seem effective at first, as your body adapts to the exercise, it becomes more “energy efficient”—meaning it doesn’t need to burn as many calories to get you through the miles you log. This is good news if, say, your goal is to run a half-marathon one day, but not-so-good news if your only goal is to lose weight.
Put simply: “If your goal is to run long distances, then long-distance running should be part of your plan,” says Rosante. And if you enjoy it, that’s great, too—after all, the best workout is the one you’ll actually do. But if you don’t enjoy it, feel free to pass. There are plenty of other exercises that are more efficient at burning calories if that’s something you are trying to do.
5. “Doing this abs workout will give you a six-pack.”
“The one fitness myth that will forever be the bane of every personal trainer’s existence is the idea of spot-reducing fat,” says Seki. This means that while abs isolation exercises can play a role in building core strength and stability (which are important parts of healthy movement), endless abs circuits don’t equal a six-pack.
“There’s simply no evidence-based science that proves you can reduce body fat in a specific area by working the corresponding muscle groups there,” adds Kaplan. If you’re really after abs definition, it’s important to keep in mind that eating habits and factors like stress, sleep, and hormones play a huge role in your body composition (how much fat vs muscle mass you have)—and truthfully, six-pack abs aren’t even achievable for everyone. So while there’s nothing wrong with doing abs exercises, and they’re great for gaining core strength and stability, they’re not a one-way ticket to a defined midsection.
6. “Go hard or go home.”
“Oftentimes people believe that unless a workout leaves them dripping sweat, completely wiped out, and practically crawling out of the gym, that it’s not effective, and that simply isn’t true,” Jen Comas, certified personal trainer and co-founder of Girls Gone Strong, tells SELF. “Exercise can be incredibly effective for improving general health, building muscle, gaining strength, or losing fat, without leaving a person feeling absolutely crushed.”
Case in point: HIIT workouts. It’s true that high-intensity interval training (or short periods of all-out effort followed by short periods of recovery) is great for improving cardiovascular health and burning fat—so this isn’t to say you shouldn’t do them. But these kinds of maximum-intensity workouts shouldn’t account for every gym session. “True HIIT training is actually very taxing on the body and requires longer periods of recovery—two to three days max of HIIT training is plenty to reap the benefits while allowing the magic to happen during recovery,” explains trainer Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S., founder of Body By Hannah in Cleveland, Tennessee.
“Not every workout has to brutalize us,” adds Lefkowith. So if you’re walking out of a strength workout or yoga class feeling, well, not dead, that doesn’t mean you didn’t get closer to your strength goals or improve your flexibility.
7. “To get long, lean muscles, do [insert workout here].”
This is a phrase that gets tossed around often when people talk about Pilates or barre classes and exercises specifically. “Just because marketing lingo like ‘long and lean’ is catchy doesn’t mean your body gets [longer or leaner],” says Kaplan. For one, it’s impossible to make your muscles longer. And leaner, well, all muscle is considered lean body mass.
What people are really talking about when they say “long and lean” is building more muscle mass while reducing body fat to get visible muscle definition—which is a complicated goal that requires more than just taking a barre class every week. Following a specific workout program (combined with highly specific eating habits) that burns fat and builds muscle may help to change your body composition over time (though factors like stress, genetics, and hormones can also help or hinder your efforts), but the name of a workout alone can never guarantee a certain “look,” explains Kaplan.
8. “You have to totally overhaul your lifestyle to see real results.”
In an age of fitness transformation TV shows and Instagram challenges, it’s easy to see why getting fit can seem like it’s a full-time commitment, and there are plenty of troubling “fitspo” quotes to back up this idea. But this is a pretty overwhelming way to approach a new workout routine, and the truth is, overhauling your life isn’t sustainable.
“When you try to change everything at once, you get burned out and quit,” says Rosante. “That leads to frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment. You’re much better off making one small change—you’ll get a faster result, which creates a positive feedback loop. And that’ll motivate you to keep going.”
So, no, making the decision to work on your health and fitness doesn’t have to mean completely giving up drinking, counting your macronutrients, hitting the gym five times a week, and starting every day with 20 push-ups. There’s no need to hit pause on your life, friendships, or romantic relationships until you “get in shape.” Small changes can yield big results, and if they’re not taking over your life, you’re more likely to stick to them.