Workouts that you don't enjoy but do anyway can actually work against you.
In the age of Classpass and boutique studies aplenty, it can be hard to pick just one workout you want to stick to. In fact, it's actually a *good* idea to mix up your workouts to keep your body guessing and to avoid overtraining. That being said, it's definitely possible to go overboard with workout variations, especially when factors like social media and peer pressure come into play. If you're not into heavy lifting but all your friends are, it can be tempting to make yourself join an expensive CrossFit box, even if you don't really want to. We're all for trying new things, but there's a fine line between experimenting with new ways to get your sweat on and forcing yourself to do something that you don't enjoy. So how can you tell the difference and why does it matter? We talked to experts to find out. (BTW, here are five telltale signs you're exercising too much.)
Why do you want to do everything?
The biggest reason people try to fit in lots of different workouts is one that actually makes a lot of sense. "While there are benefits to cross training, one of the primary reasons people tend to try to do it all when it comes to fitness is that they are seeking the most optimal results, often in the shortest amount of time," explains Jessica Matthews, master trainer and health coach for the American Council on Exercise and professor of kinesiology at Point Loma Nazarene University. Unfortunately, squeezing in all these various workouts doesn't guarantee better results than just sticking with a few different activities that you like and that balance each other out. "People tend to feel a sense of pressure or an urgent need to explore every fitness trend because each class or approach to training is touted as being 'the best' or 'better than' what they've done before or are currently doing," says Matthews.
Outside influences can persuade you.
Ah, social media. Facebook and Instagram have created incredible fitness communities that are motivating, supportive, and full of helpful info. At the same time, it's important to be smart about which sources you trust and remember that you don't have to actually use all the advice you get on the internet. "The dieting and exercise industry thrive by selling the idea that some trendy new technique is the secret to change," notes Danielle Keenan-Miller, Ph.D., director of the UCLA Psychology Clinic and therapist in private practice. "The trend towards 'fitspo' posts on social media has increased our daily exposure to messages about diets and exercise, and those suggestions can feel even more powerful when they come from people we like or admire." But Keenan-Miller says it's important to remember that what works for someone else might not necessarily work for you. There's no one-size-fits-all workout, and it's more important that you find something you love and will want to stick to, rather than going for whatever is on trend right now.
The "best" workout is the one you actually like.
It might not seem like it matters that much whether you have fun during your workouts, especially since tough exercises aren't necessarily designed to be enjoyable (looking at you, hill sprints). But how you feel before, during, and after your workout is quite significant. "From a behavioral perspective, research indicates that the more you enjoy physical activity, the more likely you are to adhere to a regular workout routine long-term," says Matthews. We know that the ability to stick with a plan over a sustained period is how you achieve the best results, regardless of whether your goal is weight loss, PR'ing a lift, or finishing a race in a certain time. "At the end of the day, the 'best' form of exercise is the one which you consistently do and enjoy doing," she adds.
What happens when you do things you hate?
Aside from making it less likely that you'll make it to the gym in the first place, workouts you dislike can also have a negative effect on your mental health. "Trying to do it all can lead to burnout, anxiety, and even low self-worth," says Mike Dow, Psy.D., brain health expert and author of Healing the Broken Brain. Plus, when you spread yourself too thin, you're setting yourself up for failure. "Taking on too much and then failing can make you feel bad about yourself, but setting an attainable goal you can achieve (and sustain) is more likely to help you achieve physical health and mental well-being at the same time." In other words, keep it balanced and you'll end up happier and healthier. (Here's more info about the mental health benefits of exercise.)
Checking in with yourself is important.
So how can you make sure you're not falling into the "do everything" trap? "I tell my patients frequently: You are the expert of you," says Dow. "Human beings are likely to be happy when their life is matched to their own interests, likes, passions, and strengths. Take a moment to check in with that still, small voice within—your own true instincts—to help determine if a certain workout is something you truly love to do." Being mindful about your exercise choices can make all the difference. For a concrete example of how you can do this, Keenan-Miller suggests that you ask yourself whether you want to try something new because that process is exciting to you or because you're hoping it leads to a particular goal. "If you truly get excited about what it would be like to try a particular workout, go ahead and give it a shot," she says. "If only the goal feels exciting, it's important to realize that it's not usually the case that there's one best path to any fitness or diet goal." After all, every person, and what works for them, is unique. "Choosing a method that fits with your own strengths and weaknesses is more important to success than following a plan that worked for someone else."