What Works & What Doesn't Work: Part 2...Fitness

Megan Dahlman
June 28, 2016

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​Last week I started the “straight talk” conversation about what works and what doesn’t actually work in fitness and nutrition. As you know, the fitness industry is totally clogged with “solutions” to help you get fit, lose weight and feel healthy. How are you supposed to know if any of these solutions actually work or if they're just a waste of your time and money?

In last week’s blog post, I unveiled the nutritional strategies that simply don’t work. You might have been surprised at some of the very popular eating tactics that you should probably avoid. Click here to read What Works and What Doesn’t Work: Nutrition.

Today, I want to be brutally honest with you about what works and what doesn’t work with fitness.

(Fitness is a simple yet all-encompassing term referring to working out, exercising, training and physical activity in general.)

Some fitness plans simply do not work. They are a flat out waste of your time, or mediocre at best. Some tactics may cause you to plateau very quickly, while others might actually cause you to gain weight. Yikes!

Let’s go with the assumption that you would like to be in really good shape. Your reasons for working out are probably too feel more fit, strong, resistant to injury and perhaps even lose some fat and tone up. Your goals determine the best modality for training. If your goals are to increase your fat stores and feel marginally stronger, this would be a different conversation. But I have talked with enough of you mommas that I don’t believe this to be the case.

Let’s nail down what fitness strategies do not work and why.

At the top of the list is doing anything without consistency. Yes, there are some sub-par training methods out there, but some people see results simply because they’re consistent. However, you will never get in really good shape doing one workout this week, two workouts next, skipping the following week, and so on. Inconsistency just doesn’t work.

Similarly, doing random workouts here and there doesn’t work very well either. I know moms that sometimes put in a workout DVD, head to a bootcamp or yoga class, go for a run…always trying this or that. It’s another type of inconsistency. There is no “training” here. Sure, you might be breaking a sweat every time, but your body is not steadily improving or progressing. This is a surefire way to plateau.

Cardio alone does not work. Yes, your lungs are burning and you’re dripping sweat, but it only takes about ten days of cardio training to plateau. This happens even if you go farther and longer. The way your body adapts to steady state cardio training (like running, cycling, rowing, elliptical) is to slow down the metabolism, which is the last thing you want if you’re trying to achieve optimal fitness. Plus, it completely ignores the big picture of a truly healthy body, which is a strong, powerful and injury resistant body. Cardio training is fine, but if your goal is not to run a marathon, your efforts are better spent elsewhere.

Doing activities out of your ability level does not work either. Frequently women show up to workouts that are either way too hard (so they modify everything and get a mediocre workout) or way too easy. Their body may be simply asking for more. You should be tackling workouts that are about half a step above your ability level. You need to constantly be challenged, but not so much that it feels impossible or you will hurt yourself.

Here is an example: I like to think that I’m in pretty good shape. I’m not in my best shape, but I’m strong and fairly fit. If I stopped what I was doing right now and started only doing Zumba and a bootcamp class once a week, I would start to lose a lot of my strength and current fitness level. It’s just not where my body is at. On the flipside, a friend of mine might similarly get minimal benefit out of doing these same workouts because they’re way too hard. Also, not where her body is at.

Avoiding strength training simply will not work. Being at your fittest requires muscle mass, and this comes from resistance. Unless you pick up a weight or use your own bodyweight in a very challenging way, you will not push your muscles to grow and get stronger. Plus, you will never be leaner than when you are strength training. It is the number one thing that boosts metabolism, so it takes care of any excess body fat quite quickly. To be in your best shape, you cannot avoid strength training.

Now for what works...

I’m sure you can now deduce what actually does work, but let me break it down, anyway. (Keep in mind, these fitness strategies work for someone that is pursuing the fittest version of themselves…stronger, leaner and more fit.)

Getting a thorough training plan that lays it out for you and progresses appropriately. Do you know how satisfying it is to look at an entire month of workouts all planned out? When you have a set plan, you know exactly what you are doing, what days you are doing it, and how you will progress.

When I design workout routines for my clients, we stick with a four-week format. The first week is for learning, so it’s somewhat easy. The second and third weeks are for building upon that technique foundation and starting to push your body a little. The fourth week is all about giving it the gusto. You have this one week to hit it hard and make a lot of progress. Then you begin a new month, harder than the last. Having and sticking to a plan like this makes all the difference.

Being consistent with whatever you choose—no bouncing around from thing to thing. Choose something that you love and that actually progresses (it provides a way to get harder), and then stick with it. In my experience, it takes a minimum of three months consistently training with a certain strategy to start to reap the benefits. Stick with it.

Strength training. Clearly I’m a huge fan of strength training, but that’s because it works! It makes you leaner, increases your metabolism, makes you stronger and less prone to injury. You don’t have to strength train all the time, but you will be pleased with how you feel when do it just two or three days per week.

Obviously consistency is important, but so is frequency. Working out just one day per week (even if you are as consistent with that one workout as a loyal dog) will not get you in really good shape. For you to feel your strongest, leanest and most fit, it requires four or five workouts per week. Sorry, but I’m just being honest.

If that is too much to commit to, that’s alright. You can still lose weight, feel more fit and strong with just three workouts per week, if they’re really well-designed routines. But four or five workouts per week is what truly works to see significant change. These don’t have to be long workouts, but intense.

Having a routine that meets you where you are. Be honest…are you a beginner? Are you more of an intermediate? Or should you start to dabble with some more advanced techniques? Wherever you’re at, do something that feels half a step ahead of you. You should feel challenged with every workout, but not scared.

Don’t waste your time with your workouts anymore. According to the criteria above, are you doing something that’s actually working for your body, or could you do better? Are you strength training? Are you consistent and doing enough? And are you feeling challenged? If the answer is no, you may need to make some adjustments.

​Get a real fitness plan that will put you on the right path for being in really good shape. 

Need somewhere to start? Be sure to grab your full month of free strength training workouts by clicking on the Free Workout banner at the top of this page. These workouts are designed exactly how I design them for my training clients. 

You might also be interested in reading: 

What Works & What Doesn't Work: Part 1...Nutrition
The Beauty of Muscles
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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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