I get this question from people desperately wanting to lose weight but refusing to commit to counting calories. Unfortunately the only proven path to fat loss is through a calorie deficit.
So yes, it sucks having to count calories. But you won’t have to do it for long, and maybe not at all.
Are you willing?
I always suggest that you try it out for one month. Try counting your calories! It is some extra time/effort tacked onto your day, but it does more than just tell you how much you’re eating.
You can download a calorie tracker like MyFitnessPal, which has tons of options already in the app. You’ll likely find your foods in there already, and all you have to do is hit “add” when you eat them. Easy.
Benefits of tracking calories for a month:
- Get to know your diet
I think it’s great when we can really get to know the foods we are eating. Maybe you learn that lentils have tons of protein, or spinach has tons of iron. Maybe you start to realize what foods really aren’t serving you. It’s a great way to learn more about nutrition and what you’re fueling your body with.
- Figure out what you’re working with
You can do the online calorie calculator and plan your week of meals at the caloric level it suggested for you. But it likely won’t go as planned for you the first week. When you track your calories for a month, you know where you’re starting from.
If the calorie calculator tells you to eat 1800 cals per day, but previously you were eating 2800 cals per day, that’s going to be quite the jump, and may be too difficult to adhere to. When you know your starting point, you can make small, realistic changes (for example lowering your target cals to 2200 for 1-2 weeks before going all the way down to 1800). We want long-term results, and that won’t happen if you do a rapid decrease of calories, then find it too hard to stick with, and go back to 2800/day.
- Find foods that will fit your new goals
Once you’ve tracked your calories for a month, you know what foods that you regularly have are high/low in calories. You’ve gotten a feel for certain go-to meals, how calorically dense they are, and can then determine which ones may fit into your goals, and which ones you should save for a diet break.
So maybe you’re not willing
If you’re still completely opposed to calorie counting, you still have a chance. I’ll give my best tips on how to lose fat without counting calories.
Unfortunately we just don’t know your energy balance when you’re not counting calories. But, if you’re not making progress, then we know that you aren’t in a caloric deficit. So if you aren’t losing weight in about a month of consistent diet adherence, you need to reassess and make changes.
Top tips for losing fat without counting calories
These are my top tips for a starting point – adjust as needed!
- Eat 3 meals per day
- Make ½ of the plate veggies
- Make ¼ of the plate protein
- Make the last ¼ your other carbs and fats
This won’t ensure your calories are at their target for fat loss, but it will set you up with a pretty good chance. Veggies are high in fiber, low in calories and therefore leave you feeling fuller, longer. Protein is also filling, and aids in muscle growth.
- Eat 2 healthy snacks per day
- Make sure your snacks are a single serving
- Make sure your snacks are either high in protein, a fruit or a vegetable
Again, this won’t guarantee you’re at your calorie goal. But eating whole foods as snacks and increasing your fruit/veg/protein intake is helpful for a number of reasons, some being micronutrient absorption, lower calorie snacks, and increased lean muscle mass.
- Stop drinking calories
- Juices, pops and other sugary drinks tend to have high calories per serving
- You may not realize how much you’re drinking
- You may forget to include drinks when thinking about your caloric intake
It’s common for people to not really realize/care how many calories are in their drinks because they assume it’s not much. But certain drinks (and obviously alcoholic drinks) have very high calories per serving, and make it hard to stick to your goals. Opt for 0-cal drinks that satisfy your craving for a drink but don’t throw you off track.
- Opt for low-calorie sauces/dressings
- Salad dressings
- Hot sauces
- Dipping sauces
This is another area often overlooked because…how many calories can a sauce really have? Turns out, tons. But there are so many great low calorie options that you’ll be bound to find your favorites and swap them out, and they taste basically the same.
- Be mindful
- Mindless snacking will increase your calorie intake
- Make time to go to the grocery store to set yourself up for success
- Plan out your dinner so you don’t have to hangry-order takeout when you get home
Just being a little bit more organized and on top of your grocery shopping/meal planning goes a long way. You don’t have to do a huge meal prep every Sunday, but think of meal ideas when you’re at the grocery store and give yourself good options to make your plate the correct proportions (#1).
When you wake up in the morning think real quick about what you’ll eat that day. Make a plan for dinner/your snacks. Just being a little bit more mindful of what you’re fueling your body with can help so much. Your goals IS to make progress, right? Keep that mindset.
Don’t beat yourself up
Whether you’re counting calories or not, don’t beat yourself up if you mess up for a few days or a month or a year. The only time you will truly disappoint yourself is if you give up altogether.
Fitness and health can be such a positive, fun and the perfect level of challenging when you do it right. If you’re miserable, you’re not doing it right (and please tell me so I can help you!).
It’s also a lifelong journey and lifestyle, so messing up a few days doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of your life.
Have fun, move around, eat vegetables and be a kind human being.
My mom died just over 4 years ago from complications of alcoholism. Today would have been her 51st birthday.
It’s been hard.
It’s been hard to see my sister become the best mother, knowing my mom won’t ever get to watch her parent.
It’s been hard to fall in love knowing my mom will never meet my partner.
It’s been hard to watch my family change, feeling like I can’t remember my mom’s place in it.
I used to be pretty angry. I felt that my mom didn’t love us enough to change her habits, change her behaviors. I was mad that I didn’t find better ways to help her. I was angry that I wouldn’t have a mom for the rest of my life. And I was incredibly angry because of the pain her death caused me, the panic attacks, the depression and the loneliness.
Luckily I am no longer depressed or lonely, but it definitely took me a long time to fully come back to myself.
The anger is also much less now as it’s been a number of years, and I’ve really been able to think about the situation as a whole. And I mean full-on big picture.
When I think about it, from a really young age I understood that my mom’s one passion and purpose in life was to raise a family.
We had the BEST childhood. I really cannot find one fault in my upbringing – it was the happiest, most loving & supportive environment I could have asked for.
Everything revolved around my sisters and I, our well-being & our happiness. Our family did everything together and we truly had the inseparable bond that some families can only dream of.
My mom stayed home with us and taught us everything from reading to swimming to cooking to gymnastics. She taught us how to lead our lives with both a kindness and strength that only she knew we had within us. Her life revolved around making us happy, fulfilled & successful at whatever we wanted to do.
And then we grew up.
She struggled with depression off and on, but by the time I moved out of the house (I’m the youngest of my two older sisters), she had hit her worst.
She felt that she no longer had purpose in life. She wasn’t happy, and she lost a battle that was too big for her to fight alone.
But she wasn’t weak.
My mom raised 3 strong women. She showed us what true love looked like. She instilled this fire within us that will never waver. She lived an entire life purely just to nurture us – nothing else. She was strong.
I am the product of a strong woman.
I’m not really sure what drove me to write this. Maybe just the heavy year filled with grief. Maybe the strain we’ve felt on our mental health. Maybe it’s my need to try and keep my mom’s memory alive.
For a while after she died I felt like I shouldn’t talk about it. Some people judged our family and tried to make us feel ashamed.
I can tell you one thing for sure – I am not ashamed. My mom struggled with alcoholism and that did not make her less than worthy of respect, appreciation, sympathy and love.
Your loved ones are not defined by the ailments that took them.
They are defined by their passions they realized.
By their moments they shared.
By their uniqueness that makes them so missed.
And by the love you continue to feel for them.
Grief is relentless. It is life-shattering and cruel – painful in the deepest sense of the word.
My heart will always hurt for the death of my mom. But I am so proud of the children she raised and the lives we were able to build for ourselves because of her.
And that pride reminds my heart that this intensity of pain is rare. It’s valuable. It’s special.
I’m grateful for the pain as it means I had something worth caring about so deeply. Someone who meant the world to me.
And with time I can see that it’s made me 100x stronger than I ever would have been.
Because I’m the product of a strong woman.
I’ll relate this back to fitness, just so you’re not entirely confused.
Everyone asks me how I stay motivated. I, however, am not motivated most days to do a workout plan. It seems like the least important responsibility in my life sometimes.
But then I think about the big picture.
My mom ultimately didn’t successfully take care of herself, and as a result, she isn’t here today. I don’t think working out would have necessarily saved her life, but it would have been different.
The amount of research on the benefits of exercise for mental health is overwhelming. Consistent exercise can pull people out of depression, lessen anxiety, increase self-efficacy and provide individuals with a sense of purpose.
I want to be able to chase my future kids around outside. I want to wake up feeling energized and happy with my life. I want to decrease my risk of ahces, pains and diseases because I want to be here for a long time.
I want to be alive when my future kids grow up and achieve their goals. I want to achieve all of my goals in life – and I’ll need quite a few years for that.
My commitment to working out and treating my body well is not to have abs or a big butt. To look “good” in a cute outfit or bathing suit. My commitment for health and exercise comes from a deep understanding of the benefits – both short and long term – that are a lot more meaningful to me than simply not feeling like working out one morning.
Right after I wrote this, I saw a new post from Jordan Syatt (find it here). He makes an eye-opening and important connection to suffering.
In life, you are going to suffer. If you hate working out, that may be an area of suffering for you. And that’s OK, you definitely don’t have to love working out. Everyone has different things they love to do, obviously.
So exercise may be this sort of willful suffering you endure. Not because you want to do it, are determined or motivated. But simply because this willful suffering will, in fact, protect you from actual non-willful suffering down the road – from many possible adverse effects of NOT exercising (increased likelihood of obesity, decreased pulmonary function, decreased bone density, decreased cardiovascular health, declining mental health).
You exercise because you want to live a long and healthy life. That’s it. And this reward for a better quality of life is really all you could ask for.
So next time you’re lacking motivation, think back to this message. Watch Jordan’s video here. Remember your reasons for this willful suffering and do it for yourself.
And please, if you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, know that you are not alone. Unfortunately that is not willful suffering, and it is intense and crippling. I am always here if you need someone to talk to, and you should always reach out to a professional if it becomes too overwhelming.
Thanks for being here and allowing me to share with you.
Let’s be strong, mentally and physically, together.
There’s no doubt that supplement companies have infiltrated the fitness world. There’s a supplement for everything these days, from the outrageous claims of diet pills and detox teas, to actual useful supplements like protein and vitamins.
If you take some time to figure out what supplements you actually need to be taking, you’ll save yourself a lot of money and actually get connected with your body. It’s super important to know that the companies you’re buying from are authentic and third-party tested.
My absolute must-haves for pre/post workout are Herbaland pre-workout, electrolytes, and protein gummies! Scroll down to see why.
Common pre/post workout supplements
Common supplements for pre/post workout include pre-workout (caffeine), electrolytes, protein, BCAAs, & creatine.
Are they all necessary to reach your goals? No! You can reach your goals without any supplements, but there are certainly additional benefits to specific supplements that will aid in the process.
- Protein: consuming adequate protein during the day will help you build lean muscle, help you stay fuller for longer and aid muscle growth/repair. Looking for that “toned” look? A protein supplement will help you hit your protein target to get there.
- Pre-Workout: the main component in pre-workout to support your training is caffeine to provide you with that extra kick of energy. Beta-alanine also aids in muscle endurance/high intensity activity.
- Electrolytes: these are essential minerals in the body that help with bodily functions such as balancing pH levels, nervous system functions, muscle contractions & hydration. They’re especially useful for hydration during endurance training and prolonged exercise/exertion.
- BCAA’s: branch chain amino acids are essential amino acids that your body gets from outside sources (food). They help decrease muscle damage and soreness. While it’s important to get these in, most people get plenty from their balanced diet and do not need extra supplementation. This is especially true when you eat lots of protein (why supplements provide BCAAs)!
- Creatine: creatine monohydrate has been shown to increase lean muscle mass while also increasing water retention. It’s found naturally in meat and fish, and is also produced in the liver and kidneys. Creatine is often recommended for those seeking maximal strength/muscle mass.
Choosing a supplement
It’s really hard to know which supplements you’ll actually want to be using! Here are some steps to help you figure out which ones you need:
- First decide what your goals are for your workouts.
If you’re looking to build muscle, you should make sure you have enough protein.
If you’re looking to get an energy boost, you’ll want a pre workout to get you going.
If you’re fatigued, overworked or an endurance athlete, you’ll want some electrolytes.
- Next, find a brand that aligns with your goals.
Your #1 criteria for a supplement company should be that they are third party tested. Supplements in the US are not regulated, and therefore are not guaranteed to have the ingredients in them that they claim.
For me, it’s important that a brand is aware of it’s environmental impacts, and has a (sound) commitment to sustainability.
My favorite brand is Herbaland because they are:
- Third party tested
- Transparent about ingredients
- Ethically made
- Aware of and reducing their impact on the environment
- Made in Canada
Finding this brand has given me the ability to get all of the supplements and vitamins I want & need without contributing to the harm of our environment.
- Assess your diet
The whole point of a supplement is to…supplement your diet to give you any extra nutrients you may have missed in your daily eating.
Vitamins and supplements complement the foods in your diet to make sure you get everything you need in a day. Take a look at your go-to foods to find out what you may be lacking in nutrients!
I don’t take all of my supplements every day. Instead, I base it all on my food intake first and then add on what I need through supplements afterwards.
My personal workout supplement routine
I absolutely love my supplement routine. I’m a huge advocate for only taking supplements that are necessary for you – you don’t need to spend tons of money and pump your body with endless supps! And you best believe I have the perfect brand for you.
My must-have supplements:
Honestly, this pre-workout is exactly what I need for the extra motivation to get my workout in. It’s just the right amount of caffeine at 100mg, doesn’t make me shaky/tingly (HATE that in a pre-workout!), and gives me that extra energy boost especially when I’m lacking motivation.
I find that since I started taking these gummies before my workouts, it’s really helped with maintaining a habitual routine. I drink my water, eat my pre-workout gummies, set my playlist, and get pumped up to complete my workout of the day.
Having a routine is key in reaching your goals, as you definitely won’t always be motivated/excited to workout. And the caffeine gives you just the right amount of boost to work hard. Keep your pre-workout gummies on hand, they are the perfect motivation!
100 mg caffeine – caffeine may increase performance effects in both aerobic and anaerobic prolonged activity. This is the main reason for pre-workout, the rest is just some extra bonuses!
500 mg Beta-Alanine – a nonessential amino acid (made in the body) that is the rate-limiting substrate for carnosine synthesis. Increased skeletal muscle carnosine levels have a positive correlation with anaerobic performance.
* Some pre-workouts have extreme doses of beta-alanine, and can therefore cause tingling sensations. This is the perfect dosage to work without giving you the creepy tingling!
500 mg L-Citrulline – may increase blood flow to the rest of the body, providing needed nutrients for many functions including protein synthesis.
35 mg Niacin – a coenzyme for carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism and proper nervous system functioning. High intakes can lower elevated cholesterol, but may also affect those with sensitive skin (irritating).
BCAA – more essential amino acids that may aid in muscle recovery.
These are a new addition to my routine and I’m so happy I’ve started including them. If you’re feeling lethargic, foggy, unmotivated and overall over-worked, you’ll want everything you can get to set yourself up for success.
Adding these electrolytes and chugging some water gives me the boost I need on days that I’m just run down. And helps me get through my workout! I save them for days that I’m extra sweaty – cardio, HIIT or extra-long days. I especially love these for replenishing all of the sodium & potassium that I sweat out on hard days, since I don’t get much of these from my diet!
If you’re usually on the go like I am, you’ll want to have these electrolytes on hand!
- Recover quicker through increased hydration
- Reduce cramping
- Increase precise muscle contractions
- Increase neuron function
PS this Pina Colada flavor is actually one of the best flavors I’ve ever tasted. Period. There’s also more on the benefits of electrolytes on Herbaland’s blog!
Protein is important to me as it helps me feel full, it fuels my muscle adaptations and ensures I have a balanced diet. I don’t get a ton of protein in my diet (ILY carbs), so I usually need some extra help.
I’ve switched to having these protein gummies as my snacks throughout the day! They are so tasty, they really taste like candy, and pack a punch with 10g of protein. They’re a great alternative for me, who regularly snacks on rice cakes, fruit, popcorn – all fine and healthy enough, just not helping me at all reach my protein (and gains) goals!
My favorite flavor is the Fantastic Fruit pouch because it has all four of the flavors. BOMB.
Any questions about ANY supplements, give me a shout! I’d be happy to talk through them with you.
James, L. J., Mears, S. A., & Shirreffs, S. M. (2015). Electrolyte supplementation during severe energy restriction increases exercise capacity in the heat. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 115(12), 2621–2629. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3254-1
Swash, M., & de, C. M. (2019). Testing electrolyte supplementation for muscle cramp. Muscle & Nerve, 60(5), 499–500. https://doi.org/10.1002/mus.26686
wad, S., Allison, S. P., & Lobo, D. N. (2008). P030 fluid and electrolyte balance: the impact of goal directed teaching. Clinical Nutrition Supplements: Supplement 1, 3, 41–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1744-1161(08)70092-9
Macaluso, F., Johannsen, N. M., Carlson, M. C., Senchina, D. S., Miller, M., Sharp, T., & Sharp, R. L. (2006). Effect of electrolyte containing beverages on measures of hydration during rest: 2255. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(Supplement), 407. https://doi.org/10.1249/00005768-200605001-02589
Ellis, L. A., Yates, B. A., McKenzie, A. L., Muñoz CX, Casa, D. J., & Armstrong, L. E. (2016). Effects of three oral nutritional supplements on human hydration indices. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 26(4), 356–62. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2015-0244
Shirreffs, S. M., Taylor, A. J., Leiper, J. B., & Maughan, R. J. (1996). Post-exercise rehydration in man: effects of volume consumed and drink sodium content. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28(10), 1260–71.
Maughan, R. J., & Leiper, J. B. (1995). Sodium intake and post-exercise rehydration in man. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 71(4), 311–319. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00240410
I feel like the fitness industry makes it seem like creating an effective workout routine is a mystery.
Especially personal trainers – they’ll talk your ear off about what’s important and make you feel like you don’t know enough to do it yourself.
Good news: it’s easy!
Step 1: Pick your magic number
The first step is to create a plan based on how many days per week you’re able to workout (aka your magic number!).
Now don’t be too aggressive, we don’t want you spending time making a plan that isn’t reasonable or doable for your schedule. Make it a healthy balance of a bit of a challenge while also being realistic.
If you’re just starting out, you probably don’t want to aim for 5 days per week. That’s just a really quick jump from no exercise to daily exercise, and you’ll likely get burnt out. We don’t want that! Start with maybe 2 days and see how it goes.
We’re looking for consistency!
Step 2: Schedule your workout days
Maybe you work late Tues/Thurs, so you know you only want to workout in the morning those days. Make sure you schedule it in!
If you KNOW you can’t get up in the AM, schedule your workouts for after work. Make sure you hit your magic number in your scheduling every week!
It’s important to think about how you feel on certain days, how your motivation levels change, and what times of day you feel energized. Cater your schedule to these so that you’re most likely to succeed in your plan!
Step 3: Choose your workout split
This really depends on what you determined from step 1, and also your access to equipment.
Generally, if you’re working out 1-3 days per week, you probably want to focus on doing full body workouts each day. That way, you’ll be hitting many muscle groups and getting the most bang for your buck with not a lot of days working out. Heck, you can even do full body workouts always. Depends on the volume, your goals, and your recovery time!
If you’re working out 4-6 days per week, you can think about doing certain splits that may work with your routine. You can base this off of your goals, or just do the splits that keep you feeling excited to workout and motivated to succeed!
Workout split options:
- Upper/Lower split
- This split will have you focusing on lower body certain days, upper body others. You could do 2 each if you are working out 4 days/week. Or 2 upper, 3 lower if you’re working out 5 days/week. Cater to your goals and what you enjoy training!
- Muscle groups
- You can pick your split based on more specific muscle groups, such as back & biceps, quads & glutes, chest & shoulders, etc. You can really pick whatever you like to do together! There’s no “right” answer. You can really cater this to your goals – say you want to train glutes 3 days/week, and only want to train quads, shoulders, and chest 1 day per week. Pair each of those with some glutes and you’re golden!
- This workout split is cut up by movement patterns. “Push” patterns are performed by muscle groups that primarily push (triceps, chest, quads, lateral and medial deltoids), such as dips, bench press, squats, lateral raises, etc. “Pull” patterns are performed by muscles involved in pulling (back muscles, hamstrings, traps, rear delt) such as pull ups, rows, hamstring curls, Russian deadlifts, [What is an RDL?]shrugs, fly’s, etc. This split gives you sort of a full body day feel and can allow you to hit muscle groups multiple times in 1 week.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but is definitely a good place to start!
Step 4: Write in exercises for your split
Now is the fun part!
Based on your workout split, choose exercises that fit into your specific days. For full body days, try to incorporate multiple muscle groups and lots of different movement patterns (think: forward/backward, lateral, rotational). That way you’ll get the most out of each day!
If you’ve selected another split option, pick exercises that fit for each day’s muscle group or movement pattern (push or pull).
If you don’t know of many exercises, you can always look at my Instagram for ideas, or you can simply google “push exercises” or “hamstring workout” and you’ll likely be able to find options that fit your level of experience, equipment needs, and goals.
Step 5: Action!
You have your plan, so you REALLY don’t have an excuse now!
Just remember that no one is motivated 24/7. No one wants to workout every session. Sometimes our bodies feel off, we’re tired, we’re busy, and our inner thoughts are telling us to “just do it tomorrow.”
If you really need a rest day, take it. But if you don’t, then don’t. You want to reach your goals, you want to succeed with your plan. So don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
When I am trying to convince myself I need a rest day (when I’m really just being lazy), I tell myself I’m just going to go for a walk. Or I’m just going to do one set, one round, whatever.
And EVERY TIME, I kid you not, by the time I’m done my walk or first set, I am energized and have convinced myself that I actually can do my workout according to plan.
It helps knowing, too, that you’ve created your plan based on your schedule, making sure it was reasonable and realistic for you to do. That way it’s hard to convince yourself that you’re NOT able to do it – this plan was made for you at your current level!
I hope this was helpful in creating a new workout schedule for yourself! If you need help making your plan, let me know and I’d be happy to help you make yours.
Soon I’ll dive into the science behind exercise selection and set/rep schemes!
I can’t wait to hear about all of the goals you crush this year!
A huge realization hit me probably when I was in high school, when I realized that keeping myself healthy and keeping the earth healthy actually had quite a lot in common.
The health of our bodies and the health of the environment are undeniably intertwined.
Why should you care about the environment?
We all need to act on reversing climate change. Now.
I don’t believe I’m going to have to convince anyone here reading this, but if you need some refreshers, here are multiple studies outlining the extreme severity of the climate crisis (there are thousands of peer-reviewed studies coming out every year):
A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01286.epdf?sharing_token=F1mRa4IG_g2yc8r9mTy1ZdRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0OQ7UJKh0s-pDtiemmam4BOJ_693XFK9vWS9uEueMTZ7NpenDKMIJBbjPFALsnGA8pPRauIQpvHEWAWfMoG67K-VDq_5HzXgQ31Be5wF2zXjz7P74Z7SSpsamasMXEoS4jOhPMob51DRAcoAvGElgvVl1vA2bcLi_IgAHkb5L-HvQ%3D%3D&tracking_referrer=www.carbonbrief.org
Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks in a coupled climate model
Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late 19th century
Find the top 10 most cited climate change/global warming peer-reviewed studies listed here:
Fitness industry’s impact on climate change
So now that we’ve stated the obvious, how does this relate to the fitness industry? Probably more so than you would think.
For starters: clothing brands.
Clothing production accounts for excessive water usage and pollution. One cotton t-shirt requires 2,700 liters of water. That’s the amount of water the average person drinks over 2.5 years.
Additionally, many textile manufacturing and fabric dye facilities generate hazardous waste, which is then dumped as wastewater into larger, natural bodies of water. This has a drastic effect on the biodiversity of the water-life, and also on the access to clean water for many countries.
Here’s a shocking statement from Stephen Leahy of The Guardian:
“85 % of the daily needs in water of the entire population of India would be covered by the water used to grow cotton in the country. 100 million people in India do not have access to drinking water.”
Aside from water, the average American consumer is also incredibly wasteful with their clothing due to the sheer appeal of fast fashion.
An article from Environmental Health Perspectives provided by the National Institute from the Environmental Health Sciences points out that Americans each throw out 68+ pounds of wasted clothing and textiles per year (as of 2007), and this number is growing at an appalling rate (EPA Office of Solid Waste).
I’m sure we all know a fitness influencer that posts about a new outfit/brand every week. But the truth is, we don’t need the next “look of the season.” We don’t need a new gym set every week. The focus and the pressure to buy every new fashion trend is proving detrimental to the environment. Not only are fast fashion trends changing every season, causing many people to throw away “last season’s” looks, it is also incredibly unsustainable simply due to the quality.
The most sustainable shopping is less of it. Even when you’re buying from sustainable brands, it’s better to buy less and acquire less overall.
Let’s stop telling people that they will find workout motivation when they buy a new gym outfit. It’s just not true, and is doing more harm than they know!
I could go on and on about the extreme consequences of clothing production on the environment, but I’ll move on.
Next up: supplements
So many people take supplements. Some are useful and making a difference in the health and wellness of the individual, which is great.
Many, however, are not. I could list so many conversations with clients where I ask if they’re taking any supplements, and they ramble on about their extensive list. When I ask the simple question, “why?” they are unable to tell me their reasoning for taking each one.
So many supplements, cleanses, 30-day detoxes, vitamins, etc. are taken just due to advertisements and lack of knowledge. People don’t know that they can get most of these micronutrients through their diet.
Not only is this a waste of money for the client, they’re also buying/using an insanely excess amount of plastic.
Vitamins and supplements come in plastic containers, and people are often buying these on a monthly basis for continued daily use. Although these are recyclable, they aren’t always making it to the recycle bins.
It takes plastic 10-100 years to degrade in landfills. By 2015, only 9% of plastic was recycled, according to National Geographic. 12% was incinerated, and the remaining 79% was discarded to the landfill or natural environments.
There were 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced, and 9% recycled. That means 5.7 billion+ metric tons were left for the environment to deal with.
BTW, 1 metric ton = 1,000kg. Ya, I feel sick too.
Bottom line: even if us die-hard recyclers recycle all of our plastic, it clearly isn’t doing enough for the environment as we’re supporting an industry that inevitably hurts the environment. The majority of the problem and the source of it comes from the production and over-consumption of plastic products.
This is only scratching the surface.
It’s hard for me to not point out every way the fitness industry is hurting the environment (don’t be fooled, I’m also a part of the problem! I’m not perfect).
But I hope that these few facts have convinced you that there is a problem, and we need to work on fixing it. Like, yesterday (or 20 years ago).
Action items – what you can do TODAY
I know, it’s effing depressing. That’s why we need to act! And there are so many easy ways, and I mean super easy ways, to make your health and fitness routine more sustainable.
- Go to a local gym
Why? Because if it’s local and close by, you can BIKE or WALK there! Come on people, it’s not crazy talk.
The whole point is to be more active, right?! Make the switch and create a sustainable outing to the gym by reducing your carbon footprint and reducing gas/oil usage. It’s SO refreshing getting outside and getting hyped up for the gym on your way there! Sip your pre-workout and get warmed up all on your way there.
Also, don’t complain to me about weather lol. I now live in CALGARY where it is minus freakin 20 some days and I still walk to the gym. I’m basically a superhero, I know. But if I can do it, you can too (cue superhero duo theme music).
Heck, you can even forego the gym some days and do a workout at home. Even just reducing your gym-usage (especially if you’re driving) can make a difference. I have a pretty sweet 8-week home workout guide using minimal equipment, message me and refer to this article to get it FOR FREE! Happy to help you on your health journey and also your journey to a more sustainable life.
- Refill your *required* supplements
First, find out what supplements you actually need, then find a place to refill them near you. Or, find a zero waste company to buy them from that accepts the return of their packaging for reuse (or even better – compostable packaging!). This website provides an incredible list of almost zero waste companies that sell vegan protein powders.
I’d also suggest learning how to get the nutrients from the supplements you’re taking through your diet instead, as that will likely save you money and plastic usage!
Maybe you’re a coffee drinker. So, instead of buying extra caffeine for pre-workout, use your coffee that you already have! OR, if you’re a tea-drinker like I am, use some biodegradable loose leaf tea and forego the excessive plastic-bound pre-workout. Anyone tried matcha? That ish will F you up (aka give you hella pump for your workout).
One supplement brand making sustainability efforts is Herbaland. They’re vegan, all natural, low in sugar (unlike many gummy vitamins) and, most importantly to me, NSF and NSF sport certified (third party tested)! So you can be sure that what you see on the label is what you get. Use my link here (code teigan15 saves you money!).
For Calgary locals: The Apothecary carries a huge variety of Herbaland gummy vitamins that you can refill! Let alone tons of other options for making your home zero-waste. They are simply the best of the best (the staff, the products, everything!).
- Shop secondhand (or at the bare minimum, from sustainable brands!)
Shopping secondhand and recycling clothing can immensely reduce the amount of waste that is inevitably dumped on the poor environment. Not only do you salvage recycled clothes (that are still totally cute and in great quality, btw), you also are one less person supporting fast fashion.
When we eventually grow to be the majority instead of the minority, we can put a stop to unethical and incredibly destructive clothing production patterns that have been the norm for more that 20 years.
Shop on Marketplace or Poshmark for gently used workout clothes, or find a local & sustainable brand near you. Many companies claim their apparent dedication to sustainability while still allowing unfair working conditions, excess use of water and unnecessary textile waste. Do your research! This website is a good start to search your favorite brands (and they also have an app that rates ethical brands, some of which are sustainable).
I really love the brand Onzie, which woman-owned and operated, and is dedicated to a sustainable business model. The set I’m wearing below is made from 82% recycled plastic bottles and 18% spandex. Their material is long-lasting and durable, which is important to me.
Another brand I’ve fallen in love with is Shop Site See. I have their Everywhere Jumpsuit in sage green and it is the most versatile piece of clothing I’ve ever had! And such incredible quality that I know it will last me a long time. It’s 70% modal (sustainable material) and ethically made in the US.
- Start composting
Ok, I used to think this was such a chore. I thought it was smelly, inconvenient, gross, difficult and only for the true hippies. But boy was I wrong.
Keir’s dad gave us the final push we needed to start composting (thank you Scott!). We literally just have a small bucket in the kitchen, and all things food get dumped in there instead of the garbage can (that has a plastic bag in it).
Ultimately we use significantly less plastic bags, and we are also aiding in the diversity and stability of soil and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. We ALSO reduce landfill waste and incineration, and therefore emissions. Simply crushing it.
Also, it doesn’t smell. It’s so easy, there’s no odor, and so there’s really no reason not to compost.
If you’re unsure of what goes in the green bin, check your city’s local guide. The composting guidelines for Calgary can be found here, and I highly recommend reading about our composting facility that is the largest of it’s kind in Canada! Pretty cool.
- Eat your veggies! (plant-based and local diet, when you can!)
There’s no denying that veggie farming has less of a detrimental impact on the environment than meat and dairy farming. You don’t have to go vegan – but please be mindful of the foods you buy and how much of them (lets say goodbye to food waste)!
Sustainable farming is a farming technique that requires less land area and less energy, as well as less water. Let’s encourage more of this with our buying power and focusing on more fruits and veggies! The more you shop local too, the less of a footprint the product has (transportation, farming techniques, etc).
Eating natural, whole foods is healthier most of the time than eating processed foods. Not coincidentally, the same goes for the environment.
Palm oil is a great example here. Palm oil is found in many processed foods, which we know are less healthy for our bodies than natural, whole foods that provide tons of micronutrients. The less processed foods we eat, and more natural (aka veggies!), the more we contribute to the combined effort to STOP palm oil production. Palms require rainforest climates and are therefore the leading cause of rainforest destruction of rainforests in multiple countries across the globe (read more here).
Your health directly relates to the health of the environment
Being more active by walking or biking to more destinations instead of driving – directly helps the environment.
Getting to know your body and what it needs (and not pumping it with excessive supplements) – directly helps the environment.
Consuming less overall, and secondhand/sustainably when you need to – directly and greatly helps the environment.
Eating more whole foods and contributing to more compost and less landfill – directly helps the environment.
And shopping mostly for whole, natural and healthful fruits and veggies locally and sustainably farmed – DIRECTLY HELPS THE ENVIRONMENT.
Now this does sound quite flower-child of me, but your health is undeniably tied to the health of the earth. It’s what all of the science points to. When you make a choice to be a healthier you, you can also make a choice to ultimately create a healthier and more sustainable environment.
Alternatively, when you partake in harmful habits for yourself (extreme consuming, spending lots of money, eating junk all the time, participating in “cleanses”), you add to the harm on the environment.
Final thoughts: Fad diets are to unsustainable health, as fast fashion is to climate crisis.
Don’t be a jerk to your body and don’t be a jerk to your EARTH!
I really hope I helped you look at your fitness in a different light! We have so much power in our own hands to change the course of the climate crisis, and these options really are so easy.
If you need help, let me know!
What are your favorite ways in working towards a sustainable life in fitness?
I think each of us has developed a bad habit at some point during lockdown. From endless screen time & lack of movement to negative thoughts and over eating, we’ve seen it all this year.
And that’s nothing to be ashamed of, but I do think it’s important to recognize how our environments, levels of activity and mental states can affect our decisions when it comes to our habits – especially in how we treat our bodies.
I’ll help you break your habits in 3 easy(ish) steps. Keep reading to see if your bad habit made my list!
What’s a habit?
Anything that we do regularly, that we are settled into doing as a routine. Big or small, habits come in all shapes and sizes and everyone’s look different.
Some are very helpful and productive, others calming and grounding. Even others can become harmful, unhelpful and unhealthy.
How to recognize a habit
For me, it’s when I do something subconsciously. I’ll reach for my phone, open it, and have literally no reason to be going on it. Just having it in my hand feels normal and it’s a habit for me to pick it up, even when there’s no need.
I also have a habit of stretching. I stretch while I wait for my water to heat up for tea, I stretch when I wake up, I stretch when I’m just sitting around. It’s a habit that feels normal to me and I do it when I find my body is still and craving a stretch.
It’s important to recognize what our brains tell our bodies to do without us even registering it. And it’s important because these habits that we do not even on command obviously become a bit part of our lives as we do them sometimes multiple times a day.
Something we do multiple times a day (stretching) can be helpful to our bodies & minds. Something we do multiple times a day (excessive phone checking) can potentially be harmful to our bodies & minds.
Think for a minute right now – what are some of your habits?
Is your habit helpful or harmful?
Sometimes they’re self-explanatory. If someone has a habit to eat veggies with every meal, that’s probably a good thing.
If someone has a habit to punch a wall every time they pass it, that’s probably a bad thing.
Others are hard. is your gym-going habit helpful or harmful? This can be a fine line for some, so it’s hard to assume that working out is always helpful.
Making a habit of getting enough sleep is incredibly important for stress levels, productivity levels, performance, recovery, etc. However, getting in the habit of taking unnecessary naps instead of getting your tasks done, may be harmful.
It really depends on the person. Once you’ve identified your habits, try to think of how they may be helpful or how they may be harmful. I like to think about how much time they consume, how they make me feel, and why I do them. This helps me figure out if they’re more helpful or harmful.
3 steps to kicking your habits
It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. You’ve trained yourself on every habit you have currently, good and bad, so you can retrain yourself for sure. It just takes a bit of effort, but it’s worth it!
- Notice every time you do your bad habit & take note!
This takes a level of mindfulness, as we don’t even realize we’re doing our habits sometimes. It’s normal for me to pick up my phone without thinking about it. But making a point to NOTICE each time you do it is the first step. Once you start noticing, you realize just how much you may do your bad habit.
You can even make note of each time you do it. Whether it’s a daily occurrence, mark on the calendar the days you do it. If it’s multiple times a day, make a tally on a sticky note or on your phone. Seeing on paper or on a list how many times we do our bad habits sometimes gives us the motivation to make a change (it can be shocking seeing how much we do them!).
2. Action – find a replacement!
Finding a replacement is SO effective. Taking action and changing the behavior is ESSENTIAL to breaking your habit.
Say you want to be on your phone less. So, out of every time you reach for your phone, you notice that 80% of the time it’s for mindless scrolling on social media.
Each time you go to pick up your phone for no REAL reason – come on, a new TikTok post or an IG comment is not urgent – so notice your bad habit when you do it, accept that you’re working on it, and pick something you can do instead.
Really good options for replacement (for ANY habit) include:
- getting up to walk around (can be inside around your house, outside, anywhere)
- getting a glass of water
- check your to-do list, pick your next task/goal
- call a friend/family member (I always walk while I’m on the phone!)
- do some stretches
- plan out the rest of your day (grocery run, when you’ll workout, what to make for dinner)
- pick up a book
- listen to a podcast
Obviously your replacement will depend on how often you do your habit. If you bite your nails, that probably happens often. When you notice you’re biting, occupy your hands. You can sit on them, clasp them together, start writing on paper or on your phone/computer (about anything! I suggest about why you want to stop biting your nails lol). I’ve found doing gel manicures at home has SIGNIFICANTLY reduced my nail biting, I am just diligent about redoing them when they start chipping.
If your bad habit is drinking every night, you need to find something to fill that time better, not just distract your brain from biting your nails for a few minutes. For this one, I suggest setting a goal before having a drink. Tell yourself you need to drink 5 glasses of water after work and before you pour a glass of wine. That way you’ll spend quite a bit of time getting through all of the water, and you’ll likely also be full/not feel like drinking as much. You could also set an alarm every day to do a walk/stretching/workout in the evening. This also takes up time and you’ll be less inclined to drink after doing something so healthy for your body. Or you’ll at least drink less! I also always have other drinks on hand that I find I’m satisfied with most of the time when I think I want alcohol – tea, sparkling water, etc.
Remember: taking this action will only come from motivation to change, to be better. Always remember WHY you wan’t to break the habit. Do you want to be addicted to what you’re doing if it’s harmful? Find your why, find your healthy replacement.
3. Accountability – do it for you
Oftentimes when we create daily goals for ourselves, we are more likely to partake in actions that will get us to those goals, ESPECIALLY when we hold ourselves accountable.
One way to hold yourself accountable is by telling someone close to you that you want to break your habit. Once you speak it into existence, it makes you more likely to realize it and it also allows someone to check in on you.
I told Keir that I hate that I bite my nails. So every time we are together and I start picking/biting, he grabs my hands. Sometimes he just holds them and other times he makes me massage him, but same same. My hands are occupied and I want to make myself and now him proud, since I asked him to hold me accountable, by changing my habits.
Always mentally return to why you want to stop. This habit isn’t healthy, it’s not serving you, it’s not as helpful as it could be. These should be more than enough to motivate you to be better. You know you can, and it’s up to you to make it happen.
Let’s get down to business – YOUR bad habits
I asked my following to tell me about the bad habits they’ve acquired during lockdown. I’m going to go through each one and provide the best advice I have for each!
Bad habit: eating sweets/dessert every night
They’re in the cupboard – why not?! Well, it’s probably not the healthiest to eat excessive sweets every day.
I like to find ways that actually make the habit impossible. So here, you have to have some self restraint at the grocery store. Don’t let yourself buy sweets every trip, don’t set yourself up for failure at home.
Replacement: if you do want something sweet at home, tell yourself you want to eat a piece of fruit first every time. Odds are, once you eat the fruit (pick one you love & satisfies you!), you won’t be as hungry/craving for something sweet.
Bad habit: using your low energy levels as an excuse
This one is tough, especially during winter and when we have basically nothing to do that normally would energize us. Again, I like the proactive approach on this one.
If we can raise our energy levels, we won’t have to use low energy as an excuse as we won’t be lacking! Ways to do this include prioritizing a good night’s sleep (length of time AND quality), moving our bodies throughout the day to energize ourselves (mind AND body), and fueling our bodies with all things energizing (carbs, proteins, micronutrients).
Once you have started to change your routine to cater to a more-energized state, you need to replace the excuses for low energy. Even if you do feel low one day, think about something that fulfills you. Sometimes we’re tired and don’t want to do anything. But in reality, once we get one foot out the door, we are energized and finding meaning in what we end up doing.
I find that sometimes I feel too tired to chat with a friend, when really once we’re talking it makes me so happy. When I’m tired I don’t feel like working out. But once I turn on my music and set up my space, I’m motivated and remember why I workout and how good it makes me feel. These initial steps (hitting call, pressing play) are what we replace our excuses with, and it gets us on our way to braking our habit.
Bad habit: laziness/not moving enough/not taking enough steps
Getting enough movement during the day is so, so important. Unfortunately, lockdown doesn’t cater to lots of step-taking during the day when we work from home and have nowhere fun to go.
Noticing your lack of steps during the day is important. Maybe you go on your phone and check this time last year on the Health app – how are your average step counts different? This will help you internalize your desire to get more steps in.
Set alarms during the day. If you have meetings, set an alarm for when you have some sort of a break during the day, and go for a quick walk. This can be outside or literally just around your house. If you have a phone call to take, take it on your headphones and make sure you can walk around. If you can’t walk until the evening, dedicate time (pre-dinner OR post-dinner and pre-Netflix) for a walk and make it happen by setting an alarm, waiting to watch TV until your walk is done. Walk with a friend (in-person or virtually) for accountability, or spend some quality time with your partner, away from screens, getting out for a walk. It becomes fun and not a chore!
Bad habit: not sticking to my workout routine
This one is hard because most of us have had to adjust to home workouts. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Read about why home workouts are good for you and good for the environment here.
But we may not always know what to do, how to do it, etc. when working out from home. But again, it’s called a routine for a reason, and we need it to be habit to stick.
Accountability is huge for working out. I have so many reasons that are so important to me for why I workout. They include:
- being strong for myself
- being healthy long-term – I really want to be able to keep up with my kids in the future
- creating confidence mentally
- sense of independence
- sense of security in myself and capabilities
- avoiding injury (didn’t quite work for my foot, but usually does!)
You really need to find your reason for working out. It isn’t a punishment, and it shouldn’t feel like one. It should be providing you with something that other things cannot (like the items above). Finding reasons that are important to you, and being truly healthy, will motivate you to stick to creating a habit to workout.
Next, you HAVE to have a plan. Without a plan, you’re destined to fail because you don’t know what to do, don’t have equipment, have to spend time researching/planning. It doesn’t work. Create a plan (or ask me for my home workout guide, reference this article and I’ll send it for free!) and schedule your workouts.
It’s helpful to have them at the same time every day – that way you have the same energy levels, you know what happens at what time, and you can prepare for a routine to fall into place.
Bad habit: sleeping in late
This one pretty much only has one replacement…which is waking up early. But it’s not so hard after a few days when you have a REASON to wake up early.
It doesn’t have to be to work or workout or something insanely productive. But use it for something that you enjoy. Maybe you get to spend an hour alone without your kids. Maybe you get to spend an hour without screen-time, when no one is posting anyway. Or maybe you just sit and enjoy your coffee and enjoy the sun rising.
Set a reasonable time, don’t go wild and think you can get up at 4am every day (unless that fits your schedule). Be reasonable, and maybe do it in phases where you get up 30 minutes earlier each day.
Also, the snooze button is the devil. Don’t do that. Put your phone across the room or turn on a light or do something that makes you get up when your alarm goes off, and gets you up for your WHY. And then go to bed earlier (put your phone away, read a book, drink some sleepy-time tea) to set yourself up for success the next day. Don’t make it hard to get up from lack of sleep.
There you have it!
Did I leave out your quarantine bad habit?!
I think we’re all working on ourselves, all the time. Sometimes we just need a bit of direction and a bit of encouragement. We’ll get there soon! Don’t forget to be kind to each other.
Everyone has heard this one. Whether it’s a trainer at your gym, your friend’s mom who always comments on your snacking, or a fitness influencer screaming it at you, you’ve heard it.
So, is it true?! What kitchen appliance do I need to make abs in the kitchen??? Is it a Ninja product, a George Foreman…. Help me out here. Someone whip me up some abs.
This saying definitely has some weight to it. However, I don’t like the way it can be misleading to some.
This phrase came from the fact that your abs will be more visible the less body fat you have. And what is the one sure way to lose body fat? To eat in a caloric deficit.
But before I dive into that fully, I suggest you read this article on why you should train your core.
The most sure-fire way to lose body fat is through a calorie deficit. This is proven time and time again through countless research. Energy balance is the most important factor in weight loss.
People love to say that they didn’t do a calorie deficit for their weight loss – they did a keto diet, a celery cleanse, a detox kit, a low-fat diet, etc.
Whatever way they achieved their weight loss is valid as it worked for them! HOWEVER – what all of these different diets do is… create a calorie deficit.
A keto diet oftentimes reduces the dieter’s energy intake as maybe they binged on carbs before, and that’s why the low-carb restriction works for them.
The celery juice is usually used as a replacement for breakfast in the morning, therefore greatly reducing their calorie intake at the start of the day.
A low-fat diet may involve the dieter eating foods that are healthier and more “whole” as they include less fats – and usually less calories.
All of these fad diets don’t like to advertise that the mechanism that actually induces weight loss is the decrease in calories.
Compare a calorie deficit (no matter what diet you decide to do!) with exercise and you have a great recipe for weight loss! For more on this, read my diet do’s and don’ts here.
80% nutrition, 20% exercise
This popular saying goes along the same lines as “abs are made in the kitchen.” There is not really any research that can back this up – that weight loss or visible abs are 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.
However, it is easier to regulate your energy intake (nutrition) than your energy output (exercise).
It is a lot easier to lose weight if you focus on eating less calories than if you didn’t focus on calories at all and instead spent the whole day working out multiple times, endless cardio and trying to compensate for more calories with more exercise.
More exercise is usually a good thing. Most of us can move more, be more active and sit less. But the idea of eating whatever you want (not in moderation) and then trying to make up for that with exercise is a bit unrealistic.
So, hence the 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. You can better regulate what you put into your body (less calories) and then top off your energy output with added exercise. Rather than not paying attention to your nutrition at all. This also allows you to focus on specific training goals such as getting stronger, learning a new exercise, etc, instead of just trying to do whatever burns the most calories.
Can you create visible abs in the gym?
The entire explanation behind visible abs is a low body fat percentage. The less body fat you have, generally, the more visible your abs are going to be.
So if you have a high body fat % yet you train abs in the gym every single day and have a super strong core, you still may not see your abs. And this is okay! Abs aren’t everything (obvi), and your core unit is strong and functional.
If you have a low body fat %, odds are your abs are visible. But even then, if your genetics don’t really predispose you to chiseled abs, you won’t have them. Every body is different.
The other component to your abs, considering genetics, is your ability to build muscle. Your abs are a muscle group that build up and bulk up with the implementation of progressive overload. With consistent training, your abs will get bigger and more pronounced. The extent to which they’ll “grow” sometimes is limited by genetics, and therefore many people don’t end up with an entirely chiseled look even with a low body fat percentage.
The best bet for visible abs is consistent training and a lower body fat percentage.
How to get a lower body fat percentage
The good news is that to lower your body fat, you get to choose how you want to hit your calorie deficit!
- Choose your method
You could choose a specific diet, or focus on whole foods and balance (my favorite method :)). You could eat less than your target throughout the week so that you have more wiggle room on the weekends. You can eat your favorite foods, just in moderation, so long as you stay in your deficit.
2. Start small
Start with a doable deficit – you don’t want to restrict your calories so much that it’s miserable and you quit after 2 weeks. Make is sustainable and doable long-term. You’ll be much happier, you’ll see long-lasting results, and you’ll feel great about your continued progress. If you don’t see results with a calorie deficit, you likely aren’t properly tracking your calories.
3. Move more
The other good news is that you get to move more! Increasing your energy expenditure is a great way to facilitate fat loss with your calorie deficit.
A hugely successful method is increasing your daily step count. And this is so easy, it’s literally just walking! Spending more time on our feet and less sitting down can greatly influence the rate of fat loss. Go for a walk while you scroll on social media, call a friend, FaceTime family or listen to your favorite podcast.
Abs are made through consistent energy balance
No matter how the individual does it, they are balancing their energy input/output and consistently keeping a strong core and a lower body fat %.
Maybe someone with visible abs loves running and burns a ton of calories doing their hobby, creating a low body fat simply from lots of exercise.
Maybe someone with visible abs doesn’t like exercise much, so they solely focus on nutrition and creating a calorie deficit through their diet.
Maybe someone with visible abs has great muscle building capacity of their abdominals, and trains them nonstop, working super hard to achieve their chiseled look.
There are so many ways to lower your body fat or create an environment for weight loss. It depends on your preference, what you truly enjoy and will adhere to.
Experiment with what works best for you, your body, and your happiness, and see what happens!
We love a sustainable life balance of allll the fun things (lifting heavy, eating pizza, being active, getting good sleep, social drinks, lots of water).
Just remember that abs aren’t a direct indicator of fitness, and don’t determine our happiness.
Minderis P, Fokin A, Dirmontas M, Ratkevicius A. Hypocaloric low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets with fixed protein lead to similar health outcomes in obese mice. Obesity. 2020;28(8):1494-1502. doi:10.1002/oby.22872
Romieu I, Dossus L, Barquera Simón, et al. Energy balance and obesity: what are the main drivers? Cancer causes & control. 2017;28(3):247-258. doi:10.1007/s10552-017-0869-z
Soenen S, Bonomi AG, Lemmens SG, et al. Relatively high-protein or ‘low-carb’ energy-restricted diets for body weight loss and body weight maintenance? Physiology & behavior. 2012;107(3):374-380.
Your core is arguably the most important aspect of your body that you should make sure is strong and stable.
Don’t believe me? By the end of this article you should be convinced. In fact, you should be itching to do a core workout by the end of this (I even give you a killer ab routine for you to try).
If you’re not, you can have your money back 😉
Feel better in your daily life
A strong and stable core doesn’t just mean that you can get in a few sit ups, it means creating an entire functional unit from your chest to your hips, around from your belly button to your spine, and everything in between.
Have you ever wanted to pick something up off of the ground? Squat a barbell? Pivot in a basketball game? All of these movements require support from your trunk, and you need to have a certain level of strength and stability in order to be able to safely perform these actions.
Have you ever had lower back pain, hip pain, or sciatica? The most common problem that causes these ailments is a weak core.
And again, when I say a “weak” or “strong” core, I mean as an entire functional unit. This means that every direction your core can move – flexion, extension, rotation – your core is able to adapt and move through the motion with strength.
There really is endless research about training core strength and stability for minimizing back pain and carrying out daily tasks.
Training the muscles that stabilize the trunk is also important for both muscle and joint injury prevention. A strong and stable trunk allows for better posture, increased mobility, and in some cases, increased performance. It improves balance, stability, coordination and body awareness.
Eliminating weak links between the trunk and the extremities allows for greater force to be used by those extremities, resulting in better performance. Finding the weakness, addressing it, and building strength is crucial for a well-rounded individual or athlete wishing to maintain a healthy and pain-free stature.
How should you train your core?
Two words: functional training.
This is a slightly overused term in the fitness world (especially on IG, sometimes I’m like how on earth is that movement functional sis). I find it can be confusing for some people as it is such a broad and vague term for describing exercise.
What is functional training?
To be fair, functional exercises cover a huge range of movements. Functional training just means that the exercise you’re performing can have a benefit to your daily life outside of your workout.
It’s not simply a movement that just gets your heart rate up or makes you sweat. It actually has a purpose in strengthening, stabilizing, or mobilizing a specific area of your body in order to make it better, or more functional, in your daily living.
Examples of functional exercises (for the whole body) include many compound exercises: such as
- squats and deadlifts,
- exercises that engage multiple planes such as forward/lateral movements (think lunges),
- rotational exercises that require the use of a twisting trunk such as medicine ball throws.
All of these movements can be mirrored in daily life: squatting down to pick something up, lunging to the side to reach something on a low shelf, reaching up high and twisting to place something on a tall shelf, etc. Other functional movement patterns are hinging, pushing, pulling and walking.
So how do these relate to your core?
Basically you want to train the core in every plane to strengthen the whole trunk. Simply doing crunches every workout won’t really give you the functional stability we’re looking for.
Try to do every movement and its opposite. If you’re doing crunches (trunk flexion), also do supermans (trunk extension).
If you like doing russian twist (rotation), also do a movement that is anti-rotation, like a pallof press or plank shoulder taps.
Any exercise that utilizes your core strength through the motion of the exercise is a great way to stabilize the core over time.
How often should you do abs?
There’s really so many variables that determine this answer. If you’re doing all of the compound lifts as stated above, then my answer would be rarely.
If you don’t lift weights and aren’t training your core indirectly, you’ll need to incorporate functional core training in your routine to eliminate risk of injury (don’t end up like me, read about my injuries!).
In general, I’d say to make sure you are targeting your core (no matter the method) at least 1-2x per week. It really depends on how much you train and how experienced you are, but everyone can benefit from a stronger and more stable trunk.
Best core exercises
Ideally, like I said above, if you’re weightlifting (which everyone should be!), you’ll be doing squats, deadlifts, RDL’s, and lunges.
These exercises are INCREDIBLE for your core, and so long as you’re doing these lifts with a few extra functional core exercises for good measure, you’ll have a super strong and stable core.
If you’re not comfortable with doing these compound movements with added weight, try some of these:
This can be a KILLER workout if you focus on slow and controlled movements! Try to aim for 2-3 sets of 10 reps for each exercise (each side if it involves unilateral movements). Have fun!
Plank hand reaches (anti-rotation)
KB pull through (stabilization)
Plank slider walk (strength in motion)
V-up rolls (total trunk)
Your abs are a group of muscles that will grow with progressive overload, just like any other muscle group. However, how visible they are depend on your overall body fat %.
If you have a higher body fat percentage, you likely won’t have as visible abs as someone with a very low body fat percentage.
Genetics also play a role – different bodies store fat in different areas. Some people store more fat around their butt & thighs. Others on their abdomens. And even others on their arms. It really depends on the body, and some of us just don’t have the genetics to have a chiseled six pack all the time.
Please remember that visible abs aren’t necessarily an indication of how strong/fit someone is! Focus on your own journey, creating a stable and strong core.
Make sure you get to see every gym session. Make sure you’re able to move your belongings when they’re packed in heavy boxes. Make sure you can play with your kids and run around with them. Take care of your body for the reasons we need it most. And give it lots of love.
You want to train your core. Less for the visible abs, more for the long-lasting and life-changing effects it can have on your health & mobility.
Experiment with new exercises that challenge you – don’t simply search for the “burn,” think about why you’re doing every movement. How is this going to help you move better in daily life?
Have fun with your training! It’s incredible the mental and physical barriers we can break when we get out of our comfort zones. Test your body and make it the best it can be.
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Oliver GD, Adams-Blair HR. Improving core strength to prevent injury. Journal of physical education, recreation & dance. 2010;81(7):15-19.
Peate WF, Bates G, Lunda K, Francis S, Bellamy K. Core strength: a new model for injury prediction and prevention. Journal of occupational medicine and toxicology. 2007;2(1):1-9. doi:10.1186/1745-6673-2-3