I’ve been a dedicated member of the gym community since 2012, which means I’ve had years to watch people, their habits, and their behaviors during their workouts. One of the most interesting observations I’ve made is that most people who show up day after day remain exactly the same. More specifically, they’re no more or less lean; they’ve not developed more or less muscle. They’re just the same. While I am an advocate for health maintenance, and routine workouts are a part of that, there’s an argument to be made for progress. Most people who are committed and dedicated to a fitness lifestyle have a goal, and that goal typically isn’t to remain the same or to be stagnant. The point is to continuously set goals and to take intentional steps to move toward those goals and experience growth and transformation.
Many good things in life can come out of healthy routines, but sometimes our routines become things we mechanically do without thinking. Many of the things we do every day are habits; whether good or bad, we just do them. In many cases, those habits aren’t progressing us toward a goal, so it’s good to stop and consider why we’re doing what we’re doing instead of just doing it.
When I was a teenager, I was an announcer at a local radio station. The station manager was a gentle-spirited, white-haired, slightly overweight man with a bit of a belly. While I had a lot of respect for him and always looked up to him as a mentor in my career, he had this funny routine every afternoon of eating one red apple and drinking a chocolate-flavored diet shake out of an aluminum can. His daily lunchtime routine suggested that he’d like to lose a few pounds, but that never happened.
Every day he just ate the apple and drank the diet shake to indicate that he had a weight loss goal, but nothing ever changed. For years he looked the same, and I always thought, “Why put yourself through that boring, ineffective routine when there are so many other options? Why do you keep doing the same thing when it isn’t working?”
We often do the same unproductive things because the idea of making big changes is overwhelming. However, big changes can happen over time when we’re willing to start with one small thing. When it comes to your fitness journey, an example of one small thing might be shifting from walking daily on a treadmill to increasing your speed and moving to a slow jog that eventually becomes running. There’s no need to overhaul your entire routine or get overwhelmed by making changes that your body isn’t ready to accommodate. Start by making mindset modifications to make small steps that are moving you toward a new goal. The healthiest mindset is one that is continuously setting new goals.
As I mentioned, not all routines and habits are bad, and many times they’re required for health maintenance. So, if you show up to the gym each day to walk on the treadmill and it has helped you maintain a healthy weight and mindset, there’s not a thing wrong with that healthy habit. Keep in mind that setting new goals is always a part of a healthy lifestyle. When you find that you’re frustrated with your lack of progress or no progress at all, it’s time to make some changes.
If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone leaning on the treadmill…no, really, I never cease to be amazed at how often I see this, and it’s one SIMPLE thing that can make a HUGE difference in your results. Think about it: you’re already there. You’ve dedicated the time. You’re committed and consistent. Now, stand up. It’s that simple. Whether it’s the treadmill, Stairmaster, or elliptical, don’t lean.
If you have the treadmill on an incline and use the handrails to lean backward while walking, the calorie burn of your workout is reduced by almost 32%. Holding, leaning, or assisting your walk with the handrails can cut your calorie burn by as much as 40%. The bottom line is this is a horrible habit and completely counterproductive to your calorie-burning process. Let go of the rails and increase your calorie burn in the same amount of time. Standing tall while walking or running is also much better for your posture and long-term health. This same principle holds true for leaning on or assisting yourself with the shopping cart at the grocery store. Remember, stand tall with your shoulders back.
If you’re just beginning your fitness journey, light weights are a great place to start, but that’s just it. It’s a great place to start and shouldn’t be the destination point. Practice getting out of your own head, you know, that voice that tells you that you’re incapable of lifting heavier weights or increasing the resistance on the cable machine. Even if you’re only increasing resistance one pound at a time, do it. Muscle is built by progressively increasing resistance. Chances are, if you’re at the gym every day doing the same thing with the same amount of light weight, you’re not experiencing anywhere near the maximum benefits of weight training.
There’s nothing in the gym like that row of treadmills, ellipticals, and stair masters when they’re all awhirl. There’s one person after the other groaning and sweating or in endless, boring perpetual motion. Sometimes I refer to it as “cardio prison.” I have utilized all these machines and have a great affinity for them. I also see them as a necessary piece of fitness, but they are not the whole story. It is a disservice to your fitness journey if you never make it out of cardio prison. After all, there’s so much more to be discovered. Keeping cardio in your fitness routine is essential, but make sure you’re challenging yourself with weight and resistance training. The more muscle you develop, the more calories you will burn in any exercise you perform.
Dedication is good, but if you’re showing up to the gym once a week to do the same old fitness class and there are no visible changes to your physique or the scale hasn’t budged, it’s time for a change! I know that fear of change is a real thing; I’ve been there. Some people only take instructor-led cardio classes, and other people only lift weights and never practice quickness, agility, and balance. It’s essential to your overall progress that you’re aware of the hesitation to try new things and pick one area to change or adjust. You’ll be amazed at the difference this makes in moving toward your health and weight loss goals.
Most of the time, we’re stuck in a rut because we’re unaware of how it’s impeding our progress. It’s simpler to be the person standing next to you and think, “Why do they just keep doing the same old thing?” and less likely that we’ll notice that about ourselves. If you’re having that proverbial red apple and diet shake every day for lunch and haven’t lost a pound, it’s time to do something different. Fitness pursuits are the same way. There’s always a higher measure of where we can be and the results we can see when we have the mind to set goals and move toward them instead of being stuck in the same old place.