My Biggest Fitness Mistakes

I thought I would share some of the biggest fitness mistakes I have made over the years. I know no one would probably look at me and think I was the epitome of fitness, but the fact is I have indeed come a long way, made a lot of mistakes, and also a lot of progress! If I can save one person the wasted time by not repeating my mistakes that will be worth something!

Trying to Out Exercise a Poor Diet
When I was twenty years old, I took a basic physical education class in college as a pre-requisite. I remember my instructor, his name was Buzz. Buzz was in probably his late 50s and was strong and fit looking. I remember what he most seemed to want was to inspire a love of physical activity in us. During one of his lectures, he made a comment that unfortunately I took a little too seriously. He said, "I workout so I can eat whatever I want."

Well, that worked for me. I love food. All food. There are like literally five foods I won't eat. And I love being active! This seemed a perfect deal to me. I will be active and not worry about what I eat.

However, it doesn't quite work that way. While it is true that being active permits us to either eat more without losing weight or potentially help us drop some weight, the measure of it is quite unbalanced. For example, let's say I eat 800 calories over my caloric maintenance (easily done if you give me some nachos!), but I say "Oh, well I am going to do an hour on the treadmill." It is extremely unlikely I am going to burn off the excess calories (and it's also an unhealthy mindset that exercise should be used to punish ourselves for eating). On a regular basis, this is going to lead to a lot of cardio and still being in a caloric excess - which will lead to fat gain. It is very easy to slide yourself into a tiny 100-200 calorie surplus everyday, which over the year leads to a lot of weight gain - and leads this country right into an obesity epidemic.

It literally took me over a decade to let go of this sweet fallacy. How I still wish it were true!

Miscalculating Caloric Maintenance
People talk a lot about metabolism - fast, slow, damaged, improved. And most of it it nonsense. The fact is, we all have a caloric maintenance (that is, a certain number of calories we need each day to maintain our current weight) and it is determined by numerous factors including age, weight, body composition, health factors, activity level, etc. As any of these factors change, so will your caloric needs to maintain that weight. That only makes sense, right? The word metabolism literally refers to the chemical and biological processes of our bodies to live - it is not set in stone, it changes as factors change.

Taking my factors into account, one might surmise I have a caloric maintenance of about 2200-2300 a day. However, at this time I believe this to be incorrect. Despite my level of activity, and weighing in my changing body composition and my health factors, I believe my caloric maintenance is around 2100. This doesn't make me broken. It doesn't mean my metabolism is slow. And it isn't an excuse. It is simply a fact I need to be aware of so far as weight management is concerned.

And here is where I made a mistake, even when I was starting to figure out the baloney of the first mistake I mentioned. We all know I love my Fitbit. I have been wearing a Fitbit everyday, without fail, for 6 years (I just recently got the Versa 2 and love it, by the way). However, for a long time, years to be honest, I relied on my Fitbit to tell me my daily calorie burn (taking into account my time at rest, asleep, during physical exercise and daily tasks). This despite it being no secret that trackers and exercise equipment are notorious for over estimating calorie burn during exercise. So, let's say I tell my Fitbit I want to lose 1 pound a week, which is going to mean it will calculate for me to be in a 500 calorie deficit each day - this is accurate. But let's say it tells me that I burned 2600 calories one day, and so I therefore eat at 2100. If that 2600 is too high, I am no longer in a 500 calorie deficit.

When I was heavier, this was less of a problem. At my higher weight, I burned more calories just breathing everyday than I do at my current weight. And therefore, it was much easier to be in a 500 calorie deficit. At my current weight and activity level, I struggle to even be in a 250 calorie deficit some days, so a miscalculation could not only put me out of a deficit but into a surplus!

To correct this I did some research about how to calculate my caloric maintenance on my own, and I adjusted over time to determine accuracy by tracking and weighing myself. I still love my Fitbit, but I don't get lured in when it tells me I still have 400 calories left. I eat the amount of calories I believe I need to reach my goals. And I don't eat back my exercise calories. This has been a HUGE breakthrough. My current caloric intake is a slight deficit - enough to fuel my workouts when I am lifting, and yet just slight so I continue to lose body fat slowly.  In the coming weeks I will actually be adjusting this to eat at a strict maintenance, so I can build muscle for a while and not worry about losing body fat for a few months.

Over-Prioritizing Cardio
I love cardio, and I know that makes me a weirdo. I own a treadmill and an elliptical and I love them both. In the past, I have also leaned heavily toward putting boatloads of cardio before anything else. And cardio is good for you, but my fitness goals won't be achieved by doing 12 hours of cardio a week (which no lie, is what I was doing last summer and quite happily so!).

The fact is, nutrition needs to be priority one - for all of us, regardless of our goals. As I always say, you cannot eat like a shitbird and expect to get results. Even if you are one of those naturally lean people, eating crap is not good for you, period. And I say this knowing full well I organize my diet each day to include some chocolate. But it fits well within my macros, which are set up to hit my goals.

Secondly, I should have been prioritizing strength training. For most people, strength should be priority over cardio. I have always enjoyed weights, and I have always enjoyed feeling strong, but truthfully, strength training came after cardio - or as Austin Powers says - if it came at all! (Couldn't resist the joke!)

My dad had a stroke and a heart attack in his 40s and for that reason also I have always felt like cardio training should be my priority to avoid this, but I am starting to realize this isn't true. Yes, cardio is important and I do make time each week for it, but nothing like I used to.

Nowadays, I prioritize strength over cardio. I pre-plan a strength workout for 5 or 6 days a week and often end the session with 20 minutes of cardio (whereas before I would do it first and wear myself out). Whereas just last year I was easily logging 12 hours a week of physical activity, I am doing much less now, but much more effectively and strategically. I eat well, I lift, I do much less cardio - and my weight has come down and my body composition is changing. I am more muscular, less body fat. And spending far fewer hours working out than I ever have!

I hate admitting that I have made so many big mistakes over the years, and I so wish I had known better even a few years ago so I could be further ahead than I am today. But the good news is, I have learned, I no longer feel like I am getting lucky when I see results, and I am on the right track (my physical results, my blood work, how I feel - they all point to it). However, if I can help one person overcome one of these, then at least that will be worth something!