Yep, it's that time of the year again! We're bombarded with messages around exercise and diet, and not always in a good way. Don't let those messages make you think you're not good enough!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have seen it everywhere this week. On telly, the radio, bus stops and social media. Even in conversations with friends. The ‘New You’, I don’t mind. Absolutely nothing wrong with trying to better ourselves in some way; it’s the stuff we do for personal growth and satisfaction. And January 1st is a symbolic date for implementing change for a lot of people. But the one that gets my goat is the slogan, 'New Year, New Body'. I’ve been seeing this little gem doing its usual rounds this past week.
Yes it's that time of the year where the diet and fitness industries play into our insecurities about our bodies. They shame us about having enjoyed the yumminess that comes with Christmas festivities and tell us we should now pay the price for such indulgence. This irks me on a number of levels
Now you might wonder what this has to do with hiking and specifically, training for hiking. So let me share with you why I think there’s a link.
Whilst the fitness industry is all about getting people active (and I’m all for that), I’m not sure their methods of encouraging people always hit the mark. Just look at their marketing! Slim, young things in skimpy workout gear. Now don't get me wrong, I love seeing young women at my gym working hard to get strong; bam! Girlpower! Except I don’t know about your gym but at mine, most people don’t look like that. We have people of all shapes and sizes, doing awesome things for their health and fitness. The thing is that you don’t have to look like the slim young things (who have probably been photoshopped in the advertising campaigns anyway) to be capable of doing awesome physical stuff. (Even searching for stock images online to use for this article was problematic - without exception, they all looked like the one above. No wonder body image is such a huge issue for so many!)
Now not all trainers and coaches perpetuate what I'm describing above. There are loads of awesome people in the fitness industry who don't buy into that marketing hype. But unfortunately, it's the marketing messages in general that deter so many people from taking that first step.
My message to you is this. You do not need to conform to the industry stereotype of what fitness 'looks like'. I'll repeat this; You do not need to conform to the industry stereotype of what fitness 'looks like'. You just need to prepare your body in a way that gets it strong and resilient. Cue, training.
I have heard many a person say that they’d love to start hiking or they want to train to improve their hiking. But they are held back by feeling that their bodies are a limiting factor. That their weight or shape precludes them from training. I’m here to tell you that your body is capable of amazing things and shape and size is generally not a limiting factor (of course, always seek advice from your health professional if you or your trainer have any concerns). Just don’t let the ‘industry' make you think your body isn’t good enough..
When I started hiking, I was considerably larger than I am now. But I still hiked. I loved hiking although I was pretty unfit. I didn’t train back then. So I would struggle with all the things you would expect to struggle with if you don’t train; uphills, knee pain (especially on descents), long hikes, carrying a heavy pack. Did my body size and shape play into these struggles? Maybe a little, maybe not, but it definitely wasn’t the main reason I struggled. The main reason was that my body wasn’t conditioned to the demands of hiking. When I started training with Summit Strength, I was at the start of my weight loss journey (something I decided to do for medical reasons as there is a genetic history of Type 2 diabetes in my family). My first day of training, I was almost at my heaviest. But I trained consistently and despite my weight, my hikes were becoming easier. My body got stronger and my aerobic capacity improved. I was feeling amazing! My legs had no trouble taking me up and down those hills. My knee pain disappeared, despite the fact I’d always thought my weight was the cause of the pain. I was loving my hiking so much more!
So don’t let your thoughts around your body hold you back. The weight loss industry will make you think you need to shift those pounds or kilos to be able to get active and only then will you enjoy life, and whilst this may be the case for some individuals (taking other medical factors into account) it’s generally not true.
Now please don’t make the giant leap from what I’m saying to assume that I’m promoting obesity. I’m not. As we know, obesity contributes to a number of physical, psychological and metabolic health problems. It's become a global epidemic. But what I am saying is that many people simply won’t start on a health and fitness journey because they feel that their bodies won’t cope. They see the photoshopped images online which leads them to make unhealthy (and often destructive) comparisons which just drives another nail into the confidence coffin. They’ve been brainwashed by the industry that purports to help them (when often it’s just carefully procured and disguised shaming)
Regardless of what the scale weight or BMI charts tell you (and these are both proven to be inaccurate measurements of body fat) you can start training! You may need to get clearance from your doctor but generally that just means starting off your program a little more gently. If I had a dollar for the amount of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’d love to start working out but I’ve got to get this weight off first”, I’d be one very rich gal!
Your body doesn’t define you nor your ability to achieve awesome things out there on the trails. What can limit you is your fitness. Training has the ability to change everything.
Now back to my opening lines in this blog. Please don’t be sucked in by the notion that you have to 'exercise off' all that food off that you enjoyed over the past few weeks. Nor, for that matter, at ANY time! Food is to be enjoyed and exercise should NOT be used as punishment. You are not ‘naughty’ because of something you ate. Do you really want to be a slave to that sort of thinking? Don’t let the industry take you down that slippery slope. Fuelling your body well is important, especially for hikers. And this can include those foods that are so often demonised as long as it’s all kept in perspective.
Move your body and be active because it makes you feel good. It helps you with doing both your daily tasks and your big adventures. Don’t think you have to move your body because you ate a block of chocolate. Moving your body helps you live a longer and happier life. It promotes those feel-good vibes which are sooooo important for our mental health. It makes us feel alive and sometimes it makes us feel badass! And who doesn’t love feeling badass!
These days, I'm a coach with Summit Strength and I train for my hiking adventures. Regardless of where my weight sits, when I train, I feel strong. So yes, I’ve been on your journey and in the past, I had let those negative thoughts around my body affect what I thought I was capable of doing. I get it. So if you want to start hiking or improve your hiking, don’t let those external messages mess with your head. You don’t need to wait. Your body is fine. Your body is more than fine….it’s amazing! However it does love to be challenged, and when it is, it’ll reward you in spades. You’re awesome as you are but by adding in some training, you’ll find yourself doing things you never thought you could. Standing up the top of that mountain that you couldn’t climb last year, well that's the best feeling ever. You can do that, despite your body shape and size. It might just take a bit of training. I'd love to work with you. Just take that first step………
About The Author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrea is a coach with Summit Strength, who specialise in helping hikers get strong and pain-free for their adventures.
At the age of 54, she discovered a real passion for hiking. But she also discovered just how limiting physical fitness and pain can be on the trail.
After signing up to one of the Summit Strength signature programs, she discovered just how much of a difference the right training can make to a hiker's enjoyment and comfort on their adventures. She knows that the journey isn't always easy and 'life' can sometimes impact on our training goals. She shares her insights and experiences with us in her blog articles.
These days, as an Online Adventure Coach with Summit Strength, she helps hikers all around the world get fit, strong and resilient for their adventures.
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Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.