I started my career in health as a trainer at Equinox Fitness Clubs, in New York City back in the 1990’s. It was a great time to be a personal trainer. Interest in fitness was exploding, there was tremendous competition among gyms, and everyone was looking for the best way to get fit.
We trainers would passionately debate the pros and cons of high reps, low reps, split routines, heavy weights, light weights, Nautilus, free weights, rock climbing, spinning, circuit training, step aerobics, kickboxing… you name it.
All in the name of finding the perfect workout.
One day, the fittest women any one of us had ever seen walked into Equinox.
All of us were just dying to know what the heck this woman did to get into such awesome shape. We wanted to steal her routine so we could use it with our own clients.
Finally, one of the trainers got the nerve to go up to her.
“Excuse me”, he said, “would you mind telling us…. How did you get in this kind of shape?”
The woman smiled graciously, and said, with a Texas twang….
Which leads me to the punchline of this story: There is no perfect workout.
The perfect workout is the one you will actually do. The perfect gym is the one you will actually go to. The perfect diet is the one you can actually stick with.
And it’s different for everyone.
It’s even different at different times in your life.
Take me, for example. When I first got bitten with the fitness bug and started to change my life, I lifted the heaviest weights I could manage and followed the super-intense routines I read about in Muscle and Fitness and Flex magazines. I spent at least an hour in the gym five days a week, alternating between “leg day” and “upper body day”, and typically doing several exercises per body part.
And I jogged in Central Park (which, by the way, I hated).
Now, 32 years later, I don’t jog at all. I play tennis about 12 hours a week. I lift weights twice a week (a basic circuit of seven exercises, 2 sets each—total time per session about 20 minutes). And I take moderate paced walks in the hills around my home.
And here’s what I’ve learned.
We spend way too much time worrying about the “perfect” workout, just as we do worrying about the “perfect” diet. And with all the information out there, we often succumb to paralysis by analysis… should we do aerobics before weight training? Will weight training make me too muscular? Should I do high intensity bursts? What about this Crossfit stuff? Can I lose weight doing Pilates?
We basically make ourselves nuts with all this stuff.
So here are three suggestions. Number one: Stop thinking so much. Number two: Find something you can do regularly and then do it. Number three: Relax.
Remember, our goals change, our bodies change, our hormones change, and our needs change. What worked for you at 20 may not be so great for you at 40 (or eighty). Most of the 20 year old guys I used to train just wanted bigger pecs so they could look good at the beach. Most of the 70 year olds I used to train just wanted to be fit enough to play with their grandkids.
So here’s the bottom line. Accept that “the perfect workout”—much like “the perfect diet”— doesn’t exist.
The human body was meant to move. Whether you’re dancing like no one’s looking, gardening, climbing hills, tending sheep, roping cattle, square dancing, Crossfitting or doing the Macarena, find something you can stick with and then do it.
The best advice you can follow actually doesn’t come from trainers or nutritionists, it comes from Shakespeare: Know thyself.
You don’t need to find “perfect”.
You just need to find what works for you.