10 Lessons I’ve Learned About Health and Fitness

10 Lessons I've Learned About Health and Fitness | Sarah Wyland

Five years ago, I would have laughed if you’d told me I’d be a fitness professional with an online personal training and nutrition coaching (coming soon!) business and a barre studio. Now, I couldn’t imagine not moonlighting in these roles. Moonlighting because hey, I’m still employed full time.

I’ve learned a lot over the years about the body, how it works, and how to be a better coach. I continue to learn something new each and every day, but here are 10 things I’ve learned about health and fitness over the years that stand out as major lessons in both my career and my personal journey.

Lifting weights is awesome.

Way back when, I was the girl that stayed away from heavy weights and believed things like “light weights will help you tone but not bulk up.” A couple of years into my health and fitness journey, I ended up in a powerlifting gym and quickly got hooked on lifting heavy things. Now, I’m a competitive weightlifter. Who would have thought?

Strength training has a number of benefits, but it is also empowering, whether you’re doing bicep curls or attempting a heavy clean-and-jerk. I’m a proud female strength athlete (weightlifting these days) and am committed to both bringing the sport to women and youth and helping women incorporate strength training into into their workouts.

Weightlifting is awesome. The end.

RELATED: 7 Reasons Women Should Lift Weights

You don’t need all the cardio.

I was a cardio queen when I first started trying to get healthy. I’d walk a few laps, get on the elliptical for a half hour, walk a few more laps, and call it a day. Looking back, I didn’t know how to use a lot of the equipment and was too afraid to ask. Plus, there was that whole “I don’t want to get bulky” thing.

If cardio is your jam, go for it. But you don’t have to do tons of cardio to lose weight. Diet is the most important component, but strength training and incorporating progressive overload is important for body composition – you want to gain muscle, but lose fat. Plus, strength training and high intensity, short duration workouts like HIIT or a CrossFit WOD have the bonus effect of continuing to burn calories well past the end of the workout while cardio workouts such as a thirty minute run burn calories during, but then stop after.

I’ll do a post on the whole anaerobic versus aerobic thing and how it affects calorie burn soon!

There’s something to those expensive leggings.

I used to be dead set against paying more than Old Navy prices for a pair of leggings. If they didn’t actually do the yoga for me, I wasn’t paying $90 for them. Then I was gifted a pair of lululemon leggings and I got it – you get what you pay for. My favorite leggings are Athleta’s ⅞ Elation leggings – I can wear them from the barre studio to the CrossFit box with 0 stops for a wardrobe change and they hold up fantastic.

I’m not advocating everyone go out and shell out an obscene amount of money on workout clothes (Disclaimer: I do get fitness professional discounts at lululemon and Athleta) but I could have saved myself a lot of money over the years if I had invested in quality pieces instead of pieces that didn’t hold up to my training schedule more than a few months.

Food is fuel – eat it.

I lost almost 100lbs through calorie restriction. It’s the whole calories in versus calories out thing. But now that I know more about food and how it fuels us, I would have done things a lot differently. I’ve damaged my metabolism through years of restrictive dieting and now I’m in the midst of the slow work of repairing it (another post!).

Food truly is fuel. The body is a machine, and it needs energy (calories) to carry out its day-to-day functions, let alone carry us through our workouts. Don’t be afraid to eat food, even carbs. There is a better way to lose weight, lose fat, and get healthy – and that involves eating good, whole, minimally processed food.

Rest days are necessary.

I recently took two days off of training in a row. I typically train Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. But on a recent Monday, I just wasn’t feeling it. We’ve been training heavy and with volume, and I just felt it in my bones that if I went to the gym that day, I’d leave frustrated. So I made the executive decision to give my body another day to pull itself together and in turn, I had a better workout the next day.

We underestimate the importance of a good rest day. Just like our bodies need food for fuel, they also need a window of recovery. Even elite athletes that train twice a day take rest days. Don’t fall victim to the “no days off” mentality. If your body feels like crude, take a day off. Relax. Let your body recover.

Mobility trumps everything.

If you can’t move well, you can’t lift well. But if you can’t move well, you’re also going to suffer in day-to-day life. I spend time every day, regardless of whether its a training day, working on my mobility. I personally like ROMWOD workouts or I’ll take some time at the gym to give my shoulders some extra attention, or maybe my hips. While this helps me catch my snatches in a strong position, it also helps me do things like stand up from my chair or carry my groceries.

Can mobility work be boring? Yes. Is it important? Absolute. Will you have mobility programmed if you train with me? Yes times a million. Moving well will help you move well in life as well as the gym and that’s the ultimate goal.

Workout for wellness, not aesthetics.

I wasted a lot of years trying to achieve a certain look. It took a long time for me to realize my body is built for strength. I’ll never have “long and lean” legs – genetics, but also, you can’t lengthen a muscle (still another post) – and I’m certainly not going to sprout up another four inches. I’m always going to have strong legs and a small waist, and that’s basically that.

Now, I understand that exercise should, ultimately, be for overall health and wellness. A regular exercise routine will improve overall health and longevity and as the infamous Elle Woods says, Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Workout for health, not to achieve a certain reflection in the mirror.

Sleep is important.

I used to be team ‘sleep when I’m dead.’ But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how important sleep is. Your body heals while it sleeps. Adequate sleep helps control stress levels, hormone levels, even glucose levels. Basically, sleep is really important and I try to get at least seven hours a night, up from the “five hours is a good night” routine I had a couple of years ago. While it can be hard to turn in early sometimes – FOMO is real, y’all – it’s amazing how the email you didn’t reply to is still there in the morning, not to mention how great you feel when you’re rested.

RELATED: Why Sleep Matters

There’s a difference between fitSPO and fitPROS.

Instagram is a black hole of “fitness” influencers. There are an awful lot of posed figures showing off popped booties, jacked arms, tiny stomachs… And there are even more people telling you how to get a body like theirs – just swipe up.

Before you click their affiliate link, check where they got their knowledge. Anyone can post a workout video, but not everyone is qualified to talk to you about health and fitness. Look to the fitPROS for advice – you’ll know them by the truth bombs they’re dropping, valid credentials by their names, and genuine concern for their followers’ health and well-being – not how perky their booty is or how separated their quads are.

Anyone can be a personal trainer.

It’s relatively easy to become a personal trainer. Read a book, take the exam, get your certificate mailed to you. But the book doesn’t well-prepare you to be a good trainer. You need experience. A mentor. Coaches need coaches, as I like to say. I don’t write my own programming and I let my coaches coach me.

I also constantly observe other coaches and ask questions because I don’t want to be a lackluster CPT. I want to be the one clients tell their friends and family about. It’s just not enough to read a book and take a test. You need to learn to coach, too.

RELATED: Tips For Passing the ACE Certified Personal Trainer Exam

These 10 lessons I’ve learned about health and fitness have largely transformed my views on the field over the years. I’m passionate about healthy living, living well, and having the education to back it up.

What health and fitness lessons have you learned?

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