Most of us go through exercise phases: it's the new year and you decide to get that gym membership; you hear about a new workout and splurge on a class package; you're in a rut and decide to train for a race; or you have an important event coming up and are compelled to bump up your workouts so you feel your best. At the time, it seems like diving into a new exercise programme and really giving it your all is your only option — so, you crash-exercise.
What usually ends up happening when you take on an ambitious exercise goal over a short period of time is you crush yourself, and then stop when you haven't accomplished your goals as quickly as you wanted to. You might beat yourself up for not starting sooner, or write off exercise altogether because your effort feels pointless, says Ben Lauder-Dykes, NASM certified personal trainer at Fhitting Room, a HIIT studio in New York City. "It creates that negative feedback loop," he says. The whole concept of a "bikini-ready workout" or "shredding for the wedding" is built on the fact that people feel an intense pressure to crash-exercise. But the truth is, while external factors might be good motivators, they don't lead to habits that are sustainable long-term, he says.
From a practical physiological standpoint, there's really no point in forcing yourself to work out every day to make your goal. You might feel like you're sweating daily and using up your energy, but you likely won't be able to maintain it and could end up burned out. "It’s tricky, because short-term strategies have short-term lifespan,"says Lauder-Dykes. Any lasting changes, like increased muscle mass or improvements in aerobic fitness, require time, he says.
So, whenever you're setting a new fitness goal, whether it's to run a mile or finally touch your toes, it's important to manage your expectations and have patience, Lauder-Dykes says. This is a smart approach because it ensures you won't injure yourself by going too hard too fast, and also keeps your spirits up. "If people have a bit more patience, and could have a more positive outlook on everything they achieve — and celebrate it rather than just looking at it from where they want to be — only at that point will they be happy," he says.
If you already have a regular workout routine, your best bet at safely preparing your body and your mind for a big event would be to just keep doing what you're doing. "If you can invest in the right types of activities for longer periods of time, you'll be able to maintain what you have already achieved, versus constantly going back and making progress, then losing it," Lauder-Dykes says. "With that, it ends up breaking confidence." Although your instincts might tell you to push through workouts every day, it's more important to build rest days into your workout schedule so your muscles have time to recover.
And also, not to get all deep, but it's worthwhile to ask yourself why you're exercising in the first place. Many of us operate from a place of obligation, because we feel like we have to lose weight before a wedding or look a certain way in order to be accepted — which is so not the case, but often bears repeating.