By: Kathleen Trotter
Anyone who reads my work regularly knows that I LOVE helping people adopt a healthier, more active lifestyle. In fact, some might call it my life’s mission!!
One of the most important things to remember when you are trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle is that your age, gender, activity level, nutritional habits, genetics, and fitness and health history will affect how you respond to exercise. No two individuals react to an exercise regimen in the same way — everyone’s fitness and health journey will be unique. No one exercise, workout regimen or diet can make you look like Megan Fox if you don’t have her genetics.
The trick to successfully adopting a healthier lifestyle long-term is to find a ‘recipe for success’ that works for your individual body.
I get frustrated by fitness advice that is written in a way that makes it seem like every ‘body’ reacts to exercise in the same way. A perfect example of a post that frustrated me is the “30 day squat challenge”.
You are probably wondering why a trainer would think a ‘squat challenge,’ or any challenge that is attempting to get people moving, could be a bad idea. I love functional exercises like squats. In fact, I am sure many of my clients feel I like squats far too much!!
What I don’t love are posts (like the squat challenge) that contain an element of truth, but don’t contextualize the information given. The element of truth means that people are more likely to accept the information given without realizing that it needs to be understood in relation to other fitness variables such as age and genetics.
As much as I hate to say this, unless you are monitoring your food, doing additional forms of exercise and/or have excellent genetics, simply doing squats will not aggressively change your body or make you look like the model in the ad.
An individual’s age, gender, activity level, genetics, nutrition habits and fitness and health history effect how they will respond to any exercise program.
Another problem with the ‘squat challenge’ is that, if your goal is to lose weight and tone up, doing 250 squats is not the best method of achieving your goal. To lose weight you need to increase your lean muscle so that your metabolism improves. Hundreds of squats (probably done with poor form) are not the best way to increase your amount of lean muscle. To complete 250 squats properly you would need to hold little to no weight, but to increase lean muscle you need a strong enough stimulus. As your fitness level improves, you need to hold dumbbells. A better way would be to do 3-5 sets of squats with a weight you could lift for 12-20 reps.
Plus, you don’t become fit by doing any one single exercise. Sure, squats are great, but only when done in conjunction with other exercises.
Another problem with the challenge? The expectations are not SAFE!! On the first day of the challenge you are expected to do fifty squats. Most newbie lifters can barely do ten squats with perfect form, let alone fifty. The challenge builds up to 250 squats. Almost no one can do 250 squats with good form. Doing 250 squats will almost certainly contribute to an injury. You are better off doing less squats, properly.
Lastly, the advertisements for the challenge feature a woman posing in a bikini and connect the desire to be active with the desire to look a certain way. I truly believe that fitness should be just as much about how you feel — increasing your energy, sleeping better, decreasing anxiety — as how you look.
So, in short, when reading any fitness information, remember that adopting a healthier lifestyle is not just about making one change, such as doing daily squats. Think big picture. You need to sit less, become more mindful of your daily health habits, improve your nutrition and move more.
Also, always remember that how your body responds to any exercise will be influenced by your age, gender, genetics, fitness history, nutritional habits, and current activity level.
Don’t misinterpret my advice. I am not suggesting you throw in the towel and decide you are simply a product of your genes, and therefore all exercise is futile. I am simply suggesting that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others — especially those with completely different genetics. Learn to appreciate and love your body. Appreciate your genetic window. Work to be the best possible version of YOU!! Become more fit because you want to become healthier, not simply out of a desire to look like your favourite actress or model.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal Trainer and pilates equipment specialist for over twelve years. Kathleen is the featured personal trainer in The Globe and Mail’s online ‘Fitness Basic’ series, writes two weekly pieces for the Globe, blogs regularly for The Huffington Post and Healthy Directions magazine and has contributed articles to magazines such as Canadian Running, Today’s Parent and Chatelaine. Kathleen recently completed her Masters at The University of Toronto. Kathleen is currently working to become a registered Holistic Nutritionist from The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.