Are Fitness Plans Unintentionally Setting Us Up for Failure Before We Even Begin?


Have you tried to start a workout program only to end up too sore to move for days afterward? Does struggling through a “beginner” workout do more harm than good to your overall feelings toward exercise? The truth is, most of us are unknowingly being set up to fail from the start. Most of us are trying to jump into workout programs that are not designed for where we truly are in our journeys. Does the pursuit of specific physical results lead to failure before we even start?

Often, by the time we are motivated to the point of starting a new routine, we want to jump in and really give it everything we’ve got. And look – this is great – but the problem is that we naturally want to bite off more than we can truly chew, while also being presented with so many of these workout options that inspire us to get strong/fit, etc. in 12 weeks or 90 days or whatever, but likely aren’t designed for *us* and where we are right now.

And really, why the rush? I mean, if jumping in literally hurts us, it can’t be about feeling good. Because we want to *see* results? Because we need to see a number on the scale move? I understand that when weight management is critical to health, the scale does need to eventually move. But here’s the thing: if we are following a plan – an evidence-based plan that is safe and effective, based on *our preferences* – and we are focusing on expending more energy than we consume, the scale will move; we don’t have to make it a focus at all because it’s an inevitable result of putting in the other work that makes us feel good.

So why do I say we are often setting ourselves up for failure? Because research has shown people to be almost twice as likely to stick with a moderate intensity program than vigorous-intensity when getting started (American Council on Exercise). And remember – intensity is relative to us, so moderate intensity when beginning to get active will be different than moderate-intensity a few months in. In addition to moderate-intensity increasing our odds at sticking with a new routine, choosing our activity makes us *six* times more likely to start a program/routine at all (American Council on Exercise). It isn’t about forcing ourselves to do what’s popular, or what we feel like maybe we *should* be doing based on what we see on social media – it’s about doing what we enjoy at an intensity that is safe, sustainable over the long-term, and will provide the physical benefits we need.

As an aside, I think I’ll do a follow-up post about healthy weight loss goals, how to calculate a resting metabolic rate, and how to gauge the amount to eat for loss/maintenance/gain. Expectations are the biggest issue I see. People expect to be able to have weight melt off, and depending on where you’re starting from, that may happen initially, but it will eventually wane. And for individuals who aren’t categorically “overweight”, it’s even more difficult to change body composition. Here’s the thing though, fat loss itself is not an indication that the internal benefits we’re getting from exercise are not still at play. And if we *aren’t* moving our bodies just to see results in the mirror or on a scale, this should be incredibly motivating. Okay, I digress.

I’ve talked briefly in previous posts about how I don’t do exercises I don’t enjoy anymore and this is why. I don’t need to force myself to dread the burpees – I can choose something else that does the same thing for my body. Fitness and being active isn’t about forcing ourselves to do things we hate – and it certainly isn’t about forcing ourselves to do things that are painful. There are far too many ways to stay physically healthy; it just isn’t necessary, and messages to the contrary are lying, likely because their aim is a perfect body, not overall health.

This brings me to the point of “beginner” programs. If the intensity is relative, so is the term beginner. Beginning from what? Beginning after a few weeks off? A few months? Ever? Post-injury or pregnancy? These are very different but are rarely differentiated within the fitness industry outside of 1:1 personal training. And if you’re not in the former couple of categories where you’ll benefit from muscle memory, you likely find yourself continuously frustrated and discouraged by programs that leave you too sore and feeling inadequate. The truth is, these programs really aren’t designed for folks outside of those first couple of categories, and choosing incorrectly can kill our chances at success before even getting started.

If we’ve been inactive for more than 6 months, or are coming back after an injury or pregnancy, we must ease back into things. This may mean starting with as little as 10 minutes per day to safely work our way toward increased duration. We have to focus on ensuring we are stable with a sound foundation before literally jumping in with squats and jumping jacks. We have to ensure proper ranges of motion and stability for the lumbar and thoracic spine, shoulder complex, knees, ankles, and hips *first*. This also means focusing on the cardiorespiratory base and increasing capacity. These things are not about vanity – these things are about daily functioning, helping us live less painful, more enjoyable lives.

As a personal trainer, I follow the American Council on Exercise’s Integrated Fitness Model, which has four phases for both movement/resistance training and cardiorespiratory training. I like to think of the phases as a spectrum, which are: function, health, fitness, and performance. The idea is to move through the fitness spectrum, accumulating along the way. After we build our base in the stability and mobility phase and progress to functional movement, we don’t abandon the work we did previously; that phase 1 work is further incorporated into functional movement so we are continuously building on our foundation, not adding bricks to different sides. For example, I build a lot of stability and mobility work into my warmups and functional movement workouts.


The goal is to get most people into the third phase of resistance training, and at least the second phase in cardiorespiratory training. Getting through the second phase of each covers function and health, which is the minimum. It is up to the individual if they’d like to delve further into that spectrum, which is why I say it is not *necessary* for general health. I do highly recommend all individuals (unless medically prohibited) progress to the third phase for resistance training because there are so many benefits of load training – especially as we get older. It certainly helps with weight management/body composition, but beyond that, it helps counter the bone density and muscle loss we all experience over time. This doesn’t mean we have to go to the gym and “pump iron” – it simply means intentionally combining resistance with functional movement to ensure we are challenging our muscles, whether that’s in the form of bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.

In addition to moving through this spectrum to feel better, we must also address the five main components of fitness through our routines: cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and body composition**. A well-rounded fitness regiment should include all, but I have found that many workout routines on the market don’t provide for an all-in-one, or if they do, they require more time than many have or want to devote. It’s a lot to ask of a person to do a 10-minute warmup, 30-minute workout, 10-minute cooldown, plus additional stretching, 5+ days per week. And look, some people enjoy devoting that much time, and there’s *nothing* wrong with that, but not everyone wants to or can, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.

 The other thing I’ve found as a trainer is if I don’t provide for *all* of those fitness components, they are less likely to get done. I can tell a client they need to stretch in addition to the muscular strength/endurance workouts they’re given, but 1) will they truly have the additional time? and 2) do they know what to safely do for efficacy and efficiency? People are often unintentionally left to figure it out on their own or worse yet, ignore these other vital components of health because of the additional time required and/or uncertainty… which I know very well because this was me for years. I also think workout regimens primarily addressing components more likely to quickly influence body composition are more popular and seen as “superior”. But the truth is, comprehensive health is about more than just a percentage of body fat or how much weight a person can squat. And as I’ve demonstrated, these aren’t necessary for general health anyway.

So how on earth can we address ALL these components of health in a routine without spending gobs of time on our bodies every day!? Well, I believe strongly in breaking things down into bite-sized chunks when need be, which is also the place I start my clients who are working to get active for the first time in a while. There has been a lot of talk recently about these bite-sized workouts – or workout snacks – which is something I’ve espoused for some time for many reasons. One of the primary reasons I love breaking things up is, provided the activity and intensity are appropriate, these bite-sized movement sessions are often less intimidating and much easier to fit into daily life. It also affords the opportunity to add on more easily as we want to increase duration and intensity.

I’m currently working on creating mix-and-match, bite-sized modules to address specific needs within the integrated fitness model, and I’m starting with true beginner modules.

If walking for 10+ minutes at a time isn’t easy, I’ve got you. If chronic low back pain has become a way of life, but yoga is out of the question, I’ve got you. If you want to have better control over what happens when you sneeze in public, I’ve got you. If you want help managing chronic conditions without a primary focus on weight and measurements, I’ve got you. If you want to feel empowered to take control of your health and happiness, I’ve got you.

We are building from the ground up – modules that will work for almost everyone without leaving you overly sore and discouraged. And we are getting personalized. It’s high time we started designing fitness plans that can be integrated into life rather than trying to integrate life into the plan.

Please sign up for exciting news and to learn more about the modules as we get closer!

[**Personally, I have issues with this as a component of fitness… it certainly plays into things, but more so in the sense that it’s influenced by the other components rather than working in tandem with them. So just something to keep in mind here as to why I don’t address it other than recognizing it as part of the widely accepted components.]



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