When I became a personal trainer, my fitness goals shifted. I had in my mind that I needed to get the ripped and chiseled abs that are so popular and shown off by other fitness trainers on social media and in magazines. About a week into the extreme dieting that it would take to get those ripped abs, I felt miserable, I had no energy, and was not enjoying my workouts. I realized that it just wasn’t going to happen. Based on the response I got from this Instagram post, I know I’m not alone.
This isn’t a dig at other fitness professionals or others who have attained that physique. It’s commendable, and can be very motivational. However, it’s important to remember that everybody (or, every body) is different. Genetics, age, and other factors play a big part in our body composition. So if you’re not careful, comparing yourself to someone else’s fitness can be discouraging and in fact have a negative impact on your fitness progress. In this excellent article by Jeanne Bellezzo on ACE Fitness “Is Comparison Sabotaging Your Success?“, she highlights the truth that we need to remember about the super fit person we see at the gym or on the internet:
The woman with the toned abs you compare yourself to at the gym most likely inherited a different body type than yours, so she builds muscle more easily or burns fat more quickly. The images you see on social media are usually significantly altered and filtered to look perfect. (Remember, nobody is perfect. And the woman with the great abs undoubtedly has a body part she’s not happy with.)
For me, being body positive means being comfortable in your body, and recognizing that it’s important to be healthy and active. I may never have the chiseled six pack abs, I may never be able to lift as much weight as the big guys in the gym, I may never be able to go as all out in my workouts like I used to; but I can run, play sports, and do the everyday activities of daily life without pain or fatigue. That’s what’s important to me.
So what should be your take away? How can you counteract these negative body comparisons? Here are three things I’ve applied in my life that might help you:
- Adjust Your Focus – Rather than compare yourself to others, compare yourself to yourself. Look at the progress you’ve made today, and compare it to where you were last month, six months ago, a year ago. How have you progressed? Are you stronger today than you were last month? Has your endurance increased? For me, I reflect on how 10 years ago, I couldn’t run 1 mile without stopping. Today, I can roll out of bed and run a 5k with no problem.
- Be Healthy – Focus on healthy habits, like regular exercise and making healthier meal choices. Regular exercise means 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week; preferable alternating 3 days or cardio with 3 days of strength training. Making a healthier food choice could mean choosing a salad or fruit for your side rather than fries. Make this your goal, and build from there.
- Do What Works for YOU – A marathon runner has to run at a pace he can maintain for the entire race. If he sprints off the starting line as fast as he can, he’ll burn out, slow down, and maybe even drop out of the race. This is true with your fitness journey as well. You have to run at a pace you can maintain indefinitely. Is the short term diet plan sustainable for you? How does it make you feel? Do you have good energy? It’s important to find out what works for you and your body that’s going to keep you healthy and fit and feeling good.
So don’t focus on the beach body, give the beach the body you have, and enjoy living an active, healthy lifestyle.