10 Unhealthy Fitness Self-Talk Traps to Avoid

It’s embarrassing when someone catches you talking to yourself out loud, but these self-chats aren’t senseless babble: The things you tell yourself every day can impact your mindset and the approach you take toward your fitness and health.

Most of us want to grow and improve in various aspects of our lives, but that growth isn’t always easy because we are in a battle between our old habits (of mind and action) and our desired new set of habits, says Michael Gervais, Ph.D., psychologist and director of high performance for DISC Sport and Spine Center in Newport Beach, California. One of those habits is our self-talk. “Our inner dialog, both verbalized and private, is how we make sense of the world,” he says.

And listening to your personal conversations has the power to either increase your quality of life or hamper you from reaching your objectives. If you’re struggling to build the body you dream of, take a step back and listen to yourself. Hear any of the following common negative self-talk statements? Then keep reading for expert advice on how to rephrase your language and start checking off those fitness goals.


This type of statement instantly creates tension in both your mind and your brain, Gervais says. “When we have hostile or negative thoughts, our brain responds by releasing a chemical that impacts mood.” Repeated negative thoughts can become toxic, as our immune system becomes compromised due to the over-activation of the fight-or-flight mechanism. “Chronic negative thinking creates such a hostile internal environment that we can find ourselves depressed, anxious, even physically weaker,” Gervais says. “It becomes self-defeating.” In reality, toning and tightening your thighs requires attention to diet, plus cardio and strength training. Include lunges, squats, and step-ups two to three times a week for your best thighs.


It’s natural to worry if your mom has a muffin top, but, DNA aside, you’re not destined to have her same body shape. Research shows that only 20 to 30 percent of weight gain is attributed to genetics, says trainer Tom Holland, author of Beat the Gym (William Morrow, 2011), so you can make great changes. “Obesity often relates to cultural factors, not genetics, so start eating with people who practice healthy eating habits, since studies show we tend to mirror those we dine with,” he says. Journaling your food intake and becoming aware of your specific challenges also enables you to pinpoint the areas in which you need to work.


Being born with “bad genes” is actually more reason to work out, says Andrew M. Freeman, M.D., cardiologist with the department of medicine at the National Jewish Health in Denver. Regular exercise rivals some of the best medicines for the treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, and cholesterol problems, and cures, prevents, or positively impacts nearly every known disease, he says. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend 150 minutes of brisk activity daily. “Reach that by doing 30 minutes every weekday and taking the weekends off,” Dr. Freeman says. And you don’t need to sweat it out on a machine: Brisk walking, jogging, roller blading, swimming, or any other activity you enjoy will do. And don’t forget that a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet may also help.

Believing you’re at a disadvantage may make you unwilling to exercise at all. Instead, if you think metabolism is an issue, take steps to boost it, says Katrina Radke, Olympic swimmer and author of Being Your Best Without the Stress (Motivational Press, Inc.). Take up interval training, and eat every three to four hours, which has the added bonus of helping you never be too hungry nor too full, so you feel constant energy, she says.

Workouts should come with a disclaimer: “Overnight results not typical.” In reality, it takes two to three months to start noticing changes—exactly the time when people often quit, Holland says. “You need to remember that it didn’t take you a week to gain the weight, so why would you expect to lose it overnight? You may not be there yet, but you’re closer than you were.” Each pound you want to lose requires a 3,500-calorie deficit, so if you want to lose a pound a week, cut 500 calories a day through diet and exercise.

Along with cardiac and weight issues, you can thank Mom and Dad for a flat rear—and improve what you have. While all of your muscles’ genetic capacity is determined well before you were born, “you truly can raise the bar,” says Irv Rubenstein, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and founder of S.T.E.P.S. (Scientific Training and Exercise Prescription Specialists) in Nashville, Tennessee. Take your lower-body workout to the next level: Rubenstein recommends squats that go deep so your thighs are nearly parallel or lower, and step-ups on a 12- to 18-inch bench or step using dumbbells that allow you to do 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps.

This all-or-nothing self-talk makes it easy to be a victim to circumstances around us, Radke says. “When we make excuses, it’s usually because we are nervous about actually taking action. We may not know what to do or be fearful that it won’t pay off.” Once we create a big enough vision of what we might get if we actually did take the initial step, we can get motivated. Radke recommends starting with simply five minutes of basic breathing and stretching, and once that feels good, add more or other activity. “The key is to be consistent with something small, build your confidence, and then take the next steps,” she says.


Let’s look at the science here: “Women simply do not have the level of testosterone to get big,” Holland says. “However, you want as much lean muscle as possible since that boosts metabolism.” If you fear becoming the Hulk, break out a measuring tape and record circumferences (your thighs, upper arms, calves, etc), tracking the difference over time so you can see in black and white if you’re growing or simply firming up. Some women can build, but this requires taking in more calories than you need, Rubenstein says. “Weights are the most reliable means of gaining the kinds of strength and tone most women desire,” Rubenstein says. She recommends doing cardio on the same days as resistance training, which studies show produces less of a stimulus growth than doing the two separately—and that means a toned body without bulk.


If you’re weak, you should be lifting weights to help your muscles grow stronger! Don’t worry about the number on the dumbbells; start with whatever you can lift and progress to heavier weights when those become too easy. Even your bodyweight works, Radke says. Push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and other equipment-free exercises can make an effective, challenging workout. “You may even start with holding a push-up position with your knees on the ground to get used to supporting your own body,” Radke adds.

First, remember that the Beyonces and Reese Witherspoons of the world have personal trainers, dietitians, chefs, and other experts giving them individualized plans and attention, in addition to the nannies or au pairs who watch their babies while they work out for two hours straight. But, barring a diastasis recti (separation of the rectus abdominis muscle) or super-stretched skin, “a woman can lose the fat and re-tone the muscles with proper exercise,” Rubenstein says. The first step is cardio, and interval training has been shown to reduce belly fat more efficiently than lower-intensity cardio. Rubenstein recommends 15 to 20 minutes of intervals three days a week. If that’s too difficult, 30 minutes of traditional cardio at least five days a week can also work. Toning is the second part: Focus on your obliques to pull your abdominal wall in toward your midline. Try side planks, oblique crunches, or rotations with tubing. But of course you have to combine this with a diet that provides a few hundred calories less than what you’ve been eating (never going below 1,200 calories, the point where your body goes into starvation mode and your metabolism slows).

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