I was suddenly yanked out of my meditative warrior III pose by the unexpected "encouragement" from my yoga instructor: "You are strengthening your core in time for bathing suit season!" I was immediately transported from my mat to a dressing room at the mall. I actually felt my pulse increase and my mood shift.
I wanted to cry, "Foul! There's no bikini talk in yoga!" I made a mental note of the effect of her well-meaning comment. I promised myself I would write an article about the things I wish fitness professionals wouldn't say then returned to my mat.
Several weeks later, I had a similar reaction to an email from another yoga studio where I also regularly practice. The subject line was "Shorts... Tank tops... Swimsuits..."
Where is the joy and motivation in that? No wonder so many people hate to exercise!
Personally, I do yoga for strength, flexibility, balance and focus. I also love hiking, and lately, even high-intensity interval training. However, I don't exercise for a "summer body." In fact, I prefer a strong, healthy body year round, thank you very much.
I know that most fitness professionals are caring and truly have their clients' best interests in mind, so I wondered why some exercise studios and fitness instructors think this kind of thing is motivating. I searched for "exercise motivation" online, and found hundreds of great articles by fitness professionals, and not one of them referenced "Get a beach body!"
However, I found lots of appearance-focused headlines on the covers of women's magazines. My conclusion: It may motivate people to buy a magazine or even a gym membership, but it doesn't motivate sustainable change.
10 Things I Wish Fitness Instructors (and the Media) Wouldn't Say
(Play along with me and see if any of these pop up in ads, articles, or links as you are reading this article!)
What: Swimsuit season is coming (or worse yet, bikini-season)!
Why? Exercise is for fun, fitness and health and those benefits are year-round and lifelong. Many of us will never wear a bikini again (if we ever did), but we all deserve the benefits of exercise, including stamina, strength, flexibility, physical and mental health and enjoyment.
What: Walk off those holiday pounds!
Why? Exercise is not punishment for weight gain. Nobody is motivated by punishment for long.
What: Keep moving! Let's get that extra weight off!
Why? Exercise is beneficial whether a person loses weight or not. If you reinforce the belief that exercise is for weight loss, people will yo-yo exercise when they yo-yo diet.
What: Look great in those skinny jeans!
Why? Exercise is beneficial no matter what you weigh. You are scaring off people who know they will never wear skinny jeans and/or don't care about that.
What: Sculpt your body!
Why? My body is not a lump of clay that I can mold at will to fit society's definition of beauty, even if I wanted to.
What? Burn off those chocolate bunnies you ate!
Why? Please don't steal my pleasure from my exercise by trying to make me feel guilty about something I ate (or that you assume I ate) two days ago. I did, but it's none of your business and I don't feel guilty.
What: Work up a sweat so you can have dessert tonight!
Why? Exercise should not be used to earn the right to eat, especially not something that has been arbitrarily defined as "bad." I believe that all foods can fit into a healthy diet and I already have the right to eat what I want.
What: No pain, no gain!
Why? Exercise doesn't have to hurt to be beneficial. Learning to listen to and trust my body is important for my long term health.
What: C'mon! Get those flat abs!
Why? Because I already have flat, strong abdominal muscles. You just can't see them under my layer of belly fat. But it's fun to see the surprised look on your face when I hold a plank for a minute or two!
What: Do this move and you'll look hot!
Why? I'll get hot but I probably won't look hot. Besides, you took me right back to grade school: "We must! We must! We must increase our bust! The bigger the better, the tighter the sweater, the boys will like us!" That didn't work either.
Download a one-page version of this article called 5 Things Fitness Professionals Shouldn't Say.