As we move into December, where we are no doubt going be bombarded with “New year, new you, rapid fire results” fitness messaging, I thought it would be worth having a conversation about two big topics in fitness that are seldom linked together.
Weight loss and being stuck in some sort of nagging injury cycle where you foot, knee, hip, back, ect seems to always hurt during exercise.
These two things might seem sort of random, but they’re actually not.
I noticed this, because I’m in a private FB group for a fitness platform that has a lot of high impact, high intensity programs. While the company never flat out says “this is for weight loss,” they do offer a number of challenges that have titles around the idea of fat blasting, calorie burning, or physical transformation.
As result, there are two types of posts that happen in this group.
The first is something like, “I’m sweating buckets, working out every day, and my body isn’t changing. Why?”
The second post is, “I have a lot of weight to lose, but when I try to do these workouts my foot/knee/insert joint here really hurts. How is it possible for me to reach my goal if I can’t do the hardest version of the workout?”
Not going to lie, this stuff makes me sigh – not out of judgement, but because of all the unnecessary suffering and frustration that is happening in this scenario.
So let’s talk about how to get off this particular hamster wheel of misery.
Despite everything the fitness industry has ever told you, exercise and weight loss don’t correlate well. While some research suggests that exercise may help with weight maintenance, it doesn’t do a whole lot for weight loss.
Why? So many reasons that this blog will barely skim the surface on.
Weight loss comes down to being in a caloric deficit, which occurs if you manage to eat fewer calories than you burn.
For a lot of people high intensity exercise increases hunger signals, SO a lot of the time, if they workout really hard they end up eating more. Not a bad thing. Just not super helpful if you are trying to achieve a caloric deficit.
With this in mind, many people are better off increasing low grade activity (aka walking) instead while finding a strategy to take in fewer calories and if you want to do some strength training? Cool.
While this sounds simple, I won’t say it’s easy. Body composition is way more complex than the fitness industry lets on. However, it’s worth noting that none of this requires cutting out entire food groups or doing hardcore workouts. The actual process is impressively mundane.
Now, let’s talk about why so many of us have pain when we do high intensity or high impact exercise. I covered this in a previous blog post, which you can read here, but the long short is that most of us are not well prepared for high intensity exercise.
That stuff is really…well…hard. There is a lot of impact on the joints, which means you have to be really fucking strong to be able to control those movements ESPECIALLY if you are going to do it for an hour straight. You also need a fair amount of mobility and body awareness to move efficiently and avoid pounding the shit out of your joints.
So while it’s possible to do these activities without pain, the reality is that it takes a long time and consistency to train your body to be well prepared for these movements. Truthfully, unless you plan on being a professional athlete, it may not be worth it, when you can have pretty exceptional fitness and some measure of control over your body composition without ever having to workout like a maniac.
A better approach in my opinion?
Separate out the weight loss goal from the fitness goal.
When you workout or move, find an approach that you enjoy that matches your current levels of strength, flexibility, and body awareness and is attached to fitness goal rather than a weight loss goal. I’m not saying you can’t challenge yourself. Workouts that are scaled to the right level can be challenging without making one or several of your joints hurt all of the time.
And if you have a weight loss goal (note, I’m never going to push this one, but I believe in body autonomy, so you do you friend) spend some time figuring out a strategy to address that from the caloric deficit, habit change, and low grade activity side. However, let yourself off the hook with the hardcore fitness, because the two are actually really counterintuitive, since being in a caloric deficit may mean you don’t heal as well and you won’t have as much energy do to hardcore workouts.
Consistency, picking the right tools for the goal, and realistic expectations that this shit takes time are the key for seeing the results you want. Pain, extreme behavior, and injuries aren’t required.
Also, I know everyone tells us that we should want to lose weight, but it’s actually super cool if you don’t have a weight loss or even a fitness goal and you just want to feel good in your body. I just feel like that can’t be stated enough when most of society is constantly bombarding you with messages that you or your body are wrong.
Also, if you need a little feel good fitness that takes no equipment and can be done at home, I gotchu.
So with that, I’m wishing you some semblance of sanity, physical, and mental health as we round out 2020. Seriously, unfollow any of the people who are telling you that you need to beat the crap out of yourself. They’re lying to you or they don’t know any better.