Whether you think exercise needs to hurt to “count,” or that walking isn’t good enough, get ready to open your mind to some new—and freeing—fitness possibilities.
Every season, it seems like there’s a new fitness tenet to follow or must-do mantra to guide us. But what if those golden rules are really sapping your physique changes, harming your recovery and sabotaging your wellness journey? We asked the experts to walk us through a few of the classic fitness rules that should be smashed, immediately.
OLD RULE #1
IF YOUR MUSCLES ARE SORE, YOU NEED TO STRETCH
“People think that when they feel stiff and tight it’s because their muscles need to stretch,” says Miranda Esmonde-White, a Canadian fitness pioneer and author of The Movement Miracle, a new book on stretching and strengthening. Unfortunately, the benefits of traditional stretching for stiffness are fleeting, and don’t really address the problem, she says. “Stiffness is caused when a joint is tight and losing its mobility, it’s not about one or two muscles.” Once a classically trained ballerina with the National Ballet of Canada, Esmonde-White understands flexibility. Instead of static stretching of isolated muscle groups, she recommends working on dynamic movements to stay limber and pain-free, particularly as we get older.
“Whether it’s the primary part of your exercise routine, or it’s a secondary piece you layer in, there are so many benefits to walking.”
OLD RULE #2
KEEP REST DAYS TO A MINIMUM
“We think that all the work is being done in the gym,” says Sonia Jhas, a Toronto based health and wellness expert and author of I’ll Start Again Tomorrow (And Other Lies I’ve Told Myself). “But the actual change happens when your body is resting and recovering,” she says. That’s when your body is tending to muscle and tissue repair, and strength building, and why the days when you’re not exercising are crucial. Whether you’re a jogger, logging kilometres on a bicycle or working on your tennis game, you need to give your body a rest between big sweat sessions. (If you’re lifting weights, that’s why you don’t target the same muscle groups two days in a row.) If you’re not resting and recovering to the degree your body needs, you’re really just taking one step forward and one step back, says Jhas.
OLD RULE #3
WALKS ARE FOR WARMING UP
Walking isn’t just good prep for a Pilates class, or an excellent cool-down after a session at the gym. Walking itself really can be counted as a workout, too, says Jhas. There’s plenty of research to back up the fact that walking has big health benefits that range from boosting energy levels to improving mood. “I think it’s so underrated, because ultimately that daily movement, getting the steps in, roughly 10,000 a day, shifts your body composition, the strength in your lower body and in your core,” she says. Walking for fitness can look like a brisk 30-minute session over your lunch hour or a series of short, leisurely strolls throughout the day, or anything in between. “Whether it’s the primary part of your exercise routine, or it’s a secondary piece you layer in, there are so many benefits to walking,” says Jhas.
OLD RULE #4
IT’S ONLY AN EFFECTIVE WORKOUT IF IT HURTS
“The fitness industry promotes the concept that more is better and that we can always push ourselves a little bit further to become stronger—more reps, more weights, go faster and sweat more,” says Esmonde-White. But if we’re constantly driving ourselves to the limit in the gym or on a spin bike, we’re bound to cause injuries. “We’ve all heard the ‘no pain, no gain,’ mantra, but I believe this is outdated,” says Esmonde-White. Pain is a neurological message telling us that something is wrong with our body and warning of potential damage, so it should be treated as such, she says. Instead of working harder, we should be working smarter—and pain-free.
OLD RULE #5
LIFTING HEAVY WEIGHTS IS THE BEST WAY TO GET STRONG
“People know that they need to gain strength, but they perform exercises with machines and weights, which contract and shrink the muscles around their joints,” says Esmonde-White. Of course, there are several methods of strength training using equipment in the gym and at home that are safe and effective for building muscle, but they shouldn’t sacrifice mobility. Ongoing research shows that you don’t need to lift heavier to get stronger. Body-weight-based moves (think planks, squats and push-ups) that utilize a full range of motion can be just as effective.
OLD RULE #6
YOU MUST STICK TO A STRICT FITNESS ROUTINE
Consistency may be the backbone of any healthy habit, but a stalled routine can hinder your fitness journey in a couple of ways. For one, doing the same thing all the time will eventually lead you to a plateau in your training. It’s important to mix it up to keep your workouts challenging for your body, while a bit of variety also makes exercise fun. Studies have proved that mixing up your workouts can increase your motivation without getting in the way of results. “It’s about discovering for yourself a system and a rhythm of working out that has you feeling energized and strong,” says Jhas.