Working Out: Expectations vs. Reality

So you’re going to start working out, good for you and you should! It will change your life, I promise. But you should know what it’s really like. There are a lot of ideas out there that make it seem all sunshine and rainbows. I want to let you know that what you’re experiencing is normal, sometimes things suck but also how much better they get and why a lot of theses expectations are actually rooted in reality.

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Boundless energy will be the new normal

Expectation: Everyone that is a regular exerciser seems to be positive, upbeat and full of energy. Once you start getting fit you’ll join the club and feel like you’re on a mild, pleasant stimulant, like all the time.

Reality: Ha ha ha no, probably not, probably, definitely not at first. Working out can take a lot out of you especially at first. Even if you feel full of energy after, you might find an hour later your nodding off while crushing candy. This depends a lot on your own physiology. Some runners training for distance races like marathons require 10 hours of sleep a night and take extra naps. Exercising in the morning might leave you wiped for the rest of the day. You might find your self really drug out for weeks of months after starting a fitness program and you might have to make some life changes to go with it.

Why it’s true: This one is mostly true after the initial transition. You might always find you have to sleep an extra hour a night once you establish a routine. But once you increase your overall level of fitness you will personally have more energy than ever before. You also might find that you drop like a stone into bed at night and sleep wonderfully. Personally I’m a super high energy person and only a hard and long race drags me out.

The weight will melt off

Expectation: Almost as soon as you start working up a sweat you’ll be melting off the pounds. Just watch an episode of the biggest looser right?

Reality: Nothing could be farther than the truth really. Working out can be a compliment to a healthy diet in a weight management strategy but most of the work is done in the kitchen on this one. In fact exercise is known to stimulate your appetite and lots of endurance athletes like marathon runners actually gain weight running 100 km a week.

Why it’s true: You do burn a few calories working out, once you’re on a healthy diet those calories can help you relax a bit and earn you your treats. Make a plan for a healthy snack after your workout or do it right before mealtime with a mental reminder not to overeat just because you worked out. Being slim is a diet thing (mostly) and being fit is a movement thing. In the meantime you can certainly make yourself fit while your getting slim.

That toned bikini body is right around the corner

Expectation: If you put in the work a fitness magazine cover will come out the other end. Abs, toned arms and a thigh gap are just a matter of time and energy in.

Reality: Oh if that was true… The thing is those fitness covers aren’t even the truth and even for those ladies and gents are unattainable. Even fitness models who haven’t been photoshopped are doing inhuman things to get there for that photoshoot or fitness competition. Let’s even leave out the drugs for a moment but typically these people undergo a ‘cut’ ranging from a few weeks to a few MONTHS to get looking like that. It’s not to say they aren’t in the gym 6 days a week sweating it off year round but during a cut they limit their diet to near starvation levels, increase their cardio to burn of almost every single calorie they do eat AND do their regular workouts. In the days leading up to the big event they water load to extreme and potentially dangerous levels artificially lowering their body’s production of ADH (antidiuretic hormone) to eliminate all that water. Then 24 hours before they stop drinking entirely to shed all their water for the picture. Once they go back to normal after the competition they blow up like balloons gaining about 15 pounds overnight. Then they are spray tanned, contoured, photoshopped and yes it’s as dangerous as it sounds.

Why it’s true: You’re still going to be in the best bikini shape of your life and have way more confidence and swagger! But you are still a human dealing with reality. You can expect to look more toned, slimmer and fitter than you did before and that feels awesome!

Amazing selfies in super cute workout wear

Expectation: #Sweatyselfie, #Gymrat, #Trainhard. Or at the very least super cute gym outfits and a perfect dewey glow.

Reality: Perhaps this will be you, #goodluckwiththat. For me the top half and bottom half of the cute outfit are never clean and located at the same time. The sports bra always wears out first and my first choice is always the most comfortable even if the bottom is peach is the top is black and has neon yellow, I love that outfit BTW. Also your mascara might run into your eye and sting ending up a smeared mess. There’s a fine line between cute sweaty and smelly sweaty plus ALL THAT laundry. But after a workout you feel like you look that way, then you pass a mirror, OUCH!

Why it’s true: Some times the stars align often when you plan and do a race. Then people are there to notice you and compliment you!  Plus feeling like you look that way is good enough. Know what makes any picture a winner? I great big, ‘I earned this,’ smile!

You’ll get more done in a day

Expectation: All this energy a early morning workout, check, and then all of that to do list.

Reality: Working out takes time not gives you the super special secret key to a 26 hour day. You have to schedule that s&^@ if your going to get it done. Plus if you do get up an hour earlier to workout chances are you’ll end up in bed at least an hour and a half earlier too. When I’m training or even just in running season really house cleaning, work, cooking and social stuff suffers. And I don’t really care. I’m lucky to have found a super awesome partner with the same values as me. So when the house is a true and proper shambles he genuinely wants me to take care of myself and reminds me the mess will still be three tomorrow, sometimes for a week at a time. Then if it bugs him, he just cleans it himself.

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It takes resolve and being tough as steel to stick to a fitness plan!

Why it’s true: Working out, taking care of yourself and bettering your health is getting stuff done, big stuff. And it’s true that after a good workout you do get a burst of energy that makes you feel like you can take on the world. Perhaps if you harness that energy you’ll get more done.

After a while it’s addictive and that will be a good thing

Expectation: After three weeks, or three months or whatever the current thinking is exercise will be your new habit and then after that you’ll become addicted to your new routine and that’ll be great!

Reality: The truth of it is that for most people sticking to an exercise routine takes work. It’s hard to get up when the alarm goes off before sunrise, or to leave your warm couch when the weather sucks. Chances are better than not that it will continue to take effort to stick to your routine in the long term rather than becoming automatic. Now onto the idea that working out can become an addiction, and that that might be a good thing. Working out can become an addiction in your life but that ISN’T a good thing! Check out this post if you feel like you might be close to the line to get back to a healthy place. If you are crossing that line you might feel like your mood or how you feel about yourself on a given day depends on your workout that day. At that point missing a workout, even for a really good reason, might cause a huge degree of stress in your day and you might end up doing crazy things to get it in. That’s not a good thing!

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Why it’s true: If you find a workout that you love, it does become a lot easier. You do fall into a routine and when the time of day comes for your workout you might feel yourself looking forward to it. Getting moving is a great way to work through stress, take time to think about and solve problems and it does become your me time. At some point and on some days you might find yourself craving a workout and that’s okay too but pull back a bit if your walking that fine line where exercise is becoming an addiction for you.

You’ll feel healthy and like a million bucks 

Expectation: Any and all health problems you have will magically disappear and you’ll feel amazing all of the time.

Reality: This idea can be something that actually makes you less healthy at least in the short term. Jumping head first into a workout routine can be mega-bad for your health if you’re living with certain health issues. It can be a major, major lifestyle change to jump up and start running 5 days a week for example. If you have any major health issues like heart problems, respiratory issues, obesity, high blood pressure or anything else major it’s worth a doctors visit to check out how you should start. If you are out of shape and start moving your heart rate and breathing rate go up higher, more quickly and your body isn’t used to that. Start slow with a brisk, or not that brisk walk, it’ll do you a world of good too. Read more about why it can be dangerous here.

The other side of working out is that from time to time you might deal with injuries, it’s just sort of part of the deal really. Injuries suck and you might end up doing physiotherapy exercises to deal with it. So that stinks but it does happen.

Why it’s true: In some ways disregard everything I just said once you get past the short term and into the medium term. You really will feel like a million bucks and almost every health condition is improved by physical exercise. Things you would think of like heart disease and diabetes and blood pressure issues are dramatically improved if not corrected with regular exercise. But lots of things you wouldn’t think of too, things like IBS, chromic fatigue, arthritis and depression are dramatically improved by regular physical exercise. Just be careful not to jump in too fast even a 1 km walk at the start is infinitely more than you were doing before and a great place to build from.

It will fix all (or most) of your other problems.

Expectation: There’s a few variations on this one but they each go something like this… Once I start working out I’ll (look, feel, act, think) better and then I’ll be more (attractive, attentive, happier, energetic, balanced) and then my (relationship, work, family, social life) will improve.

Reality: Somethings will improve when you start working out, some things even dramatically improve. But it’s no snake oil short cut to a perfect life. If someone is selling you the idea that it is, run in the opposite direction. Just like gurus, pyramid schemes and lifestyle books sell you the world and then just seem to fall short no workout program is going to fix your whole life. If you expect it to you might be disappointed and quit and that’s not what we’re after is it? But…

Why it’s true: Getting fit and working out can improve so many aspects of your life, some you would never even think of. For me it improves my relationship by giving me some time to myself, more of my own identity and an out for an hour or so if I see a fight brewing. Plus I come home in a great mood. It gives my partner a way to show his support for me at races. It obviously improves my physical health but my metal health too. It helps me deal with stress, is a form of self-care and boosts my confidence. It has actually improved my relationship with my non-fitness-y family. It makes me take better care of myself physically generally since I love to train for bigger and bigger challenges. But the time I spend exercising (running mostly) gives me a lot of time at peak clarity, with perspective built in to think about and craft a good plan to deal with my problems that come up in everyday life.

When you first started working out did your expectations mesh with reality. What were the disconnects you encountered? What expectations would you caution a new fitness enthusiast about?

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