Have you ever heard the expression, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? What a load of crap! Let’s take a look at the first phrase in this sentence, “sticks and stones may break my bones,” I guess that makes sense if you have extra brittle bones or if the sticks were broken off of an oak tree but, even then, it would be hard for a human to swing an oak stick with enough velocity to do much harm. And stones breaking bones? I’m not buying it. A well-flung rock will cause some damage for sure (as would a smackdown from The Rock) but a stone? The first part of this cliché is garbage.
But it’s the second part of the phrase that’s really problematic. I broke my elbow when I was 15. I wore a cast for about a month, it healed, there’s no evidence today that it ever happened. But some of the words that people have said to me? Some of those hurt… a lot, some of them still hurt to this day (although less so) and the ones that have lost their potency still linger; I’ll never forget them.
Words matter. As a personal trainer or coach, the job is to advise, strategize, and motivate others. I am a Sherpa for my clients’ fitness journeys. Much of this is done, through my words. As an expert in the fitness field, my words carry a lot of weight. So, I need to choose them carefully.
Here is a short list of commonly-used fitness phrases I have stopped using and, that I wish my peers would stop using as well.
5) “You can’t outwork a shitty diet.”
You can if you’re Michael Phelps. But assuming you aren’t Michael Phelps, here’s the problem with this phrase:
Even though it’s not stated, when a person that needs to lose weight hears, “You can’t outwork a shitty diet,” what they hear is, “I should get my diet in check before I start exercising.” No matter who you are and what your goals are: you need to exercise. Period. Don’t wait until you get your diet in check. We should stop avoiding phrases that prompt people that aren’t exercising to say, “Ah, what’s the point?”
You know what’s worse than a person that exercises but isn’t losing weight because of their diet? A person that isn’t losing weight and doesn’t exercise.
When it comes to fat loss, a lot of fitness professionals stress nutrition over exercise.
Yes, initial weight loss is created through a calorie deficit and, technically, you can manage to take in fewer calories than you are expend through diet alone, but that’s playing the short game. In order to change your body composition and, to more easily maintain your fat loss once you hit your goal weight, you need to develop lean muscle. The only way to do that is through exercise.
There’s a limit to how low you can cap your daily calorie count and a super-lower calorie diet isn’t sustainable in the long run. Exercise is for life and the difficulty level of your workouts can be progressed infinitely.
If you are strength training, you are outworking your shitty diet. You’re getting stronger and building muscle (even if you can’t see it as much as you’d like to.) Sometimes, it’s the progress made in the gym that is the impetus to start eating better. Folks start to feel like they are putting in the work in the gym, they might as well start making choices outside the gym to more fully reap the benefits of their effort.
Diet is important. The things you eat and how much of them you eat absolutely matter. But exercise is equally important.
4) “No pain, no gain.”
This one is so wrong for so many reasons. There’s this thing that happens in New York. You get on a crowded subway during rush hour, you squeeze yourself in between a teenager using their iPhone as a boom box and a woman that keeps hitting you in the ribs with the world’s largest purse every time the train stops. And then it happens, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have a moment of your time… You’re all going to Hell.”
That is just plain poor salesmanship. The other side of what this person is selling is eternal paradise. Why you gotta lead with endless suffering? And you know what happens? Everyone on the subway stops listening. I don’t need to listen to this. That’s what podcasts are for.
We need to stop selling fitness as Hell on earth and start emphasizing the other side of the equation; it’s one of the best things you could do for health, your psyche, your well-being. It’s a miracle drug.
The truth is, exercise often feels uncomfortable while it’s happening. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. It should never cause actual pain— before, during or after.
You can expect to feel sore a day or two after a workout and, initially, you might feel very sore, but it shouldn’t be debilitating. A workout should enhance the things you do, not prevent you from doing them.
I guess, “no discomfort, no gain” just doesn’t have the same ring.
3) “Go hard or go home.”
Exercise isn’t something you do for 90 days or a year, you hit your goals and that’s it, you get a certificate to hang on your wall to remind you of your acheivement in the gym. It’s not medical school. It’s a lifelong pursuit. Or at least it should be.
Don’t go home. Go to the gym. There are times when going hard isn’t an option or advisable. Going is a victory in and of itself.
Consistency beats intensity.
There are times you definitely should not workout; if you have a fever, if you’re extremely exhaustion, if you’re on certain medications, if you’re intoxicated (I have sent a few early morning clients home because they were still a little drunk from the night before), if a family emergency pops up or if you have been kidnapped.
Not valid excuses: “I’m too stressed out at work” (a reason why you should), or “I’m a little tired,” or “I’m just not feeling it today.”
You don’t want to give yourself too many outs but missing a workout here or there isn’t going to completely derail your training.
1) “Actions speak louder than words.”
Actually, that one’s really good. Words obviously matter—I wouldn’t have bothered writing this if I didn’t think so. But those words don’t mean a damn thing if we don’t act on them. And I am hoping that these words speak to you loudly enough to act on them.
Send me your questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
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