How to get started with running (as someone who hates it)

For pretty much my whole life, I’ve hated running. I tried playing soccer when I was young and gave up because the running part was awful. For years afterward, I couldn’t even run a full mile. I could hike for hours, but the act of running was just so unpleasant that I couldn’t go more than a few minutes before quitting and switching to walking instead.

My dislike of running really frustrated me. It seemed like a great cardio workout and everyone kept talking about the health benefits, but every time I tried to make myself run I could only stick with it for a week or two before giving up or being forced to stop due to injury/strain. 

But within the last few months, I’ve finally cracked the problem. I can now run straight through a 5K without stopping and I’m continuing to increase my distance over time. It only took a few small adjustments to get there.

If you are facing the same issue–you want to start running, but just can’t seem to get over your dislike of it–I hope that the tricks I’ve learned can help you out as well!

Here is what I changed.

1. I signed up for a race to give myself a goal to work toward.

[Signing up for a race is a great way to give yourself an external motivator to get running! (Though as you’ll see shortly, this is not necessarily the type of race I would recommend)]

Every time I started running in the past, I did it without a goal to work toward. One day I would just decide “I’m going to start running now” and then I would do it. I never set myself a goal of a distance or mile-time I wanted to achieve, and I never had the pressure of a deadline (the date of an event) to get me motivated to keep running. 

Without something to work toward, the “I hate running” side of my brain took over and always convinced me to quit because I wasn’t really losing anything by doing so–I wasn’t failing a goal of any kind and letting myself down–but I was losing a lot by forcing myself to do something I didn’t like. So why keep going?

Once I signed up for an event, this changed. I had a date and a distance goal set–and since I’d already spent money to hold my spot, I felt pressured not to waste the opportunity. If you are a goal oriented person like me, signing yourself up for an event dramatically helps with concrete goal setting and can give you the push that you’re missing if you just jump into running without any specific outcome in mind.

There are a ton of different events out there, and making the right choice can affect your motivation to keep running and improving. I didn’t just choose something randomly, but made calculated choices to help give myself the best chance at actually sticking with running and being prepared when event day came.

I chose an event that would make running more fun.

There are lots of pure running events out there–a standard 5K for example–but if you’re someone who hates running, signing up for a 5K doesn’t exactly seem like a fun idea. Rather than signing up for a normal running race, I decided to pick something that involved running, but where it was not the sole purpose: obstacle course racing. 

[Obstacle course races are a great way to get into running because they distract you from the actual running part! Highly recommend.]

In an obstacle course race, you run a set distance and encounter fun obstacles along the way–a mud pit, monkey bars, a giant slide, or a jump over fire, to name a few (you can read more about what you might see during one of these races in the article I wrote about obstacles here). The obstacles are the main part of the fun, and running is just a way to get you between them. Races like this help you get your mind off the discomfort of running because it no longer is the only thing you are thinking about during the race. Instead, you’re thinking about the awesome slide you’re about to fly down. I did my first race last year (and wrote about what I learned), and the experience made me so excited to keep going–something I’ve never felt with traditional running races.

If normal running doesn’t sound fun to you, pick a more activity-focused race like an obstacle course that breaks up the running with other things. In my experience, it is way more fun.

I signed up for that event with someone who is a better runner than I am.

To help increase my motivation to prepare for my obstacle course race, I signed up do to it with someone who runs regularly. This provided another external source of motivation–I wanted to be able to keep up with (or at least not completely drag down) my teammate. If I didn’t prepare for the race, I would not just be letting myself down, but I’d be letting someone else down too. This made me try much harder than I would if I were just doing a race on my own. 

I picked a race that was within my ability.

If you’re starting from nothing, like I was, the biggest thing you can do for yourself is set a reasonable goal. If you set your sights too high, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I have seen some people jump from not running at all to saying they’re going to try and run a marathon. Going from 0 to 100 may sound like a fun idea (who doesn’t want to be able to run a marathon?), but for most people, your body is just not going to be able to do that.  

Instead of making a big step, start small and work your way up. Sign up for a 5K before you sign up for a 10K. Then, if you get comfortable with these, you can start considering longer races like half marathons. Starting small helps you start to see your potential. As you complete these smaller steps, you can start to build confidence in your abilities, which will make it easier to complete longer and longer runs. If you start with something big and can’t finish, it is much easier to lose motivation and just give up.

I set myself a reasonable timeline.

When I signed up for my race, I scheduled it for a good 7 months or so away, giving myself ample time to prepare. If you are new to running, it can take you a while to get used to it and push past the discomfort stage, so you don’t want to sign up for a race that is only a few weeks away. 

When picking a race, give yourself a few months to prepare, but not too long. If your race is a year out, you may feel like you have ages to prepare, so won’t feel motivated to get started. 

[Whatever you do, don’t sign up for a marathon next month!! Just don’t do it!!!]

2. I decided to run less often.

This one is perhaps a bit counter intuitive at first. The more you run, the better you’ll get, right? That is perhaps true once you are experienced, but it is the opposite of what you want when you’re starting out. 

Going too hard is the easiest way to burn out and injure yourself. 

This is what happened to me in all my previous attempts to get over my hatred of running. Each time I wanted to try running again I’d try to run every day and I always ended up feeling winded after a few days or developing shin splints or some other pain injury. This then made it impossible to keep running, so I’d quit.  

This time, I decided to run way less often–I only run twice per week, usually about three days apart. This schedule has been much more sustainable. I have plenty of time to recover in between runs and haven’t faced any injuries yet. 

It also frees up my time, allowing me to keep my other days for exercises that bring me more joy, like weightlifting or rock climbing. 

When you are just starting, running can feel like a bit of a punishment. Doing it less often dramatically reduces this issue and can help sustain the habit long enough to reach the point where it can actually start to become enjoyable.

3. I found a way to limit excuses getting in my way.

I am someone who is prone to allowing excuses to get in my way of exercise, so to help myself stick with running, I decided to eliminate one of the excuses that was getting in my way the most: weather.

Unlike many other gym activities, running is very weather-dependent. It is very common to run outdoors, and if the weather is bad, you’re not going to want to do it. If you live in a cold or rainy climate, as I do, this can be a huge problem. Who wants to run when it’s pouring rain, snowing, or freezing? If you let those things get in your way, there will be a lot of days when you maybe should run but you don’t.  

[This person has way more willpower than I do. Can they teach me their ways?]

As someone who lives somewhere very cold and snowy, I knew I had to eliminate this issue for myself. I decided to find a gym that had an indoor track and decided to run there when the weather was bad. I would still run outdoors if it was sunny and warm, but otherwise the indoor track would be my go-to. 

After that, I never found myself quitting for weather except for when snowstorms made it physically impossible to get to the gym. 

If you live somewhere with good weather most of the year, this change might not help you much, but it is worth considering other areas where you find yourself regularly making excuses to get out of a run. Perhaps an excuse you use often is “I’m too tired to run after work,” in which case you could try running before work instead. It could be something else entirely–we all have different things happening in our lives–but whatever your excuses may be, it is worth taking time to consider how you might limit their effect.

Making these small changes has led to a huge shift in how I view running. It is now just a normal part of my workout schedule, I don’t find it miserable anymore, and I genuinely look forward to some of the races I’ll be completing.

If you’ve found yourself hating running and want to give it a try, hopefully my experience gives you some inspiration to get started and stick with it.

How to Write New Years’ Resolutions That Actually Stick

It’s that time again–the start of a new year. January is a great opportunity to reflect on on your last year, understand your priorities, and set goals to keep improving.

If you’re not careful, though, it’s really easy to come up with a bunch of goals and then not be able to follow through with some–or even all–of them. To help you come up with better goals that you can actually achieve, I wanted to share a few tips I’ve come up with over the years.

Pick Some Goals You Don’t Share With Anyone Else

There’s a big culture, at least in the United States, of sharing your New Years’ resolutions with friends and family, but this can actually be detrimental to your ability to accomplish them. The simple act of sharing a goal can make you feel some sense of accomplishment, making you feel like you’ve already made steps toward your goal.

If you write down your goals and do not share them with anybody, then the gap between where you are and where you want to be is quite apparent, motivating you to take action, but as soon as you tell someone, that gap shrinks.

You should only share goals publicly that you know are easily achievable. Reach goals that are going to take a lot more hard work are best kept to yourself if you want to maximize your probability of success.

[Don’t be these people! At least not with ALL your goals]

Write SMART Goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound. The acronym originated from companies who were attempting to help their employees write quarterly or annual goals for development, but the idea can apply to any type of goal, not just one at the office.

A SMART goal achieves each of the five features mentioned above, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.

Let’s say you start with the generic goal “I’d like to eat healthier this year”. This is a good goal, but it’s not yet SMART. It’s somewhat vague, and doesn’t clarify exactly what “healthier” means or how much healthier you are planning on being, or how that is going to be achieved. By making some small adjustments, we can turn this into a better, more achievable goal.

S: Specific

A goal that is specific should answer the following questions.

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What steps do I need to get there?

To make “I’d like to eat healthier this year” into a specific goal, you might define what healthy means to you. It might mean reducing the amount of red meat you eat. Or, it could mean cooking more meals at home. Or it could mean eating multiple servings of fruits/vegetables each day. You can decide which direction to go, but you should be as specific as possible and include a clear explanation of how you will get there. For the purposes of this example, we’ll go with the last option and set our goal as: “I will increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat.”

M: Measurable

It’s important to be able to make your goals quantifiable so that you can track your progress. If you just say “I will increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat,” then there’s a whole lot of variation that’s possible. How many more fruits/vegetables? How often? Is this something you do every day?

You can make your goal measurable by adding some sort of number to it that you can track, often on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. For example, we can improve “”I will increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat” by changing it to “I will eat a minimum 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every week.” That way, each week you can check off the servings as you eat them and know whether you are on track for eating your goals.

[Make sure every goal you have can have its progress measured in some way]

A: Achievable

When setting your goal, you need to really take some time to think about what you can actually achieve in the real world, and not in the perfect world. Ideally, we would all love vegetables, have a ton of time to cook at home, and be healthy as can be, but that’s just not realistic. You need to make sure to set your goals around your lifestyle and abilities. For example, if you work a job where you have to bring a lunch that sits out in the sun, it might not really be reasonable to bring fresh fruit or vegetables, so you can’t expect to get any servings of those during lunch on weekdays. You might also have limited access to quality fruits and vegetables due to cost reasons. If you can only afford 3 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the rest has to be frozen, that is totally okay! Just make sure your goal is not that you’ll eat 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables.

When setting a goal that’s achievable, you should make sure that it is a challenge–meaning you will not just coast to the finish, and you’ll have to work for it–but also that it’s not completely beyond your means.

R: Relevant

Relevance is about why you’re setting this goal. Thinking about this can help give you motivation to push through when things are difficult.

Why is getting healthy important to you? Is it so you can go on more adventures and experience new things? So you can keep up with your kids? So you can spend less money on doctor’s bills? So you can live a longer life?

Make sure you understand why you are setting your goals and have a meaningful reason for each one. If you aren’t internally motivated by something, it’s going to be really hard to care about achieving them.

T: Time Bound

It’s helpful to set some sort of time limit on when your goal has been reached. Sometimes, if you try to set a goal for too long a period of time, it can be easy to fall behind and then just give up. For example, saying that you’ll eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every week for an entire year is a long time to commit to something. If it’s only week six and you already fail, it can feel like you just have no hope to finish! Instead, try to pick something that’s more manageable. For example, the next month/four weeks. Then, once you’ve made it through one month, you can set a similar goal for the next month, or change it based on what felt like it was possible in the month before! For example, if you find that eating 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables was super easy your first month, and you averaged 8 per week, you might really challenge yourself for a second month and set a goal of 10 servings per week.

[Consider writing the start and end date of your smaller goal sections on a calendar to keep you motivated to get there!]

Setting goals can be hard, and can feel especially overwhelming at the start of the new year when you hear about all these huge goals people have and wonder “how the heck am I ever going to come even close to that??” If you just focus on these principles, though, ignoring everyone else and just thinking about yourself, you’ll be set with some goals you can actually accomplish, and you’ll be a badass in no time!

How Walking Every Day Changed My Life

Back in the early days of my fitness journey I used to think exercise was about going all out. If I didn’t feel sore for days or need to nap immediately after my workout, then I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was very, very wrong.

It turns out that walking–pretty much the least intense exercise there is–is actually one of the best, and if you keep up with it regularly, it can have huge benefits for your well being.

I discovered walking (as a regular form of exercise/activity) a little over a year ago after my college sent me home at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands and needed a way to fill it. Rather than spend my whole day looking at screens I decided I’d take an hour each day to walk around my neighborhood.

[Walking, unlike hiking, can be done anywhere! You don’t need to go to the woods. Just take a walk around the block or through the downtown of wherever you live. This is one of the reasons I was drawn to it––one of the easiest forms of exercise to start doing!]

I kept up with the habit pretty much every day that summer––even in the scorching 90/100+ degree heat of my home town––and loved it so much that I haven’t stopped since.

What was so amazing about it? So many things!

  • It was a great exercise option when struggling with anxiety and depression. One of the biggest hurdles for me in exercise historically has been getting myself to the gym when I’m feeling down and once I’m there, convincing myself to try hard enough to actually make progress. With walking, there was nothing stopping me. Even when depressed, it took so little effort to just stand up and start moving slowly that I could keep up a much more regular schedule of physical activity.
  • It drastically reduced my stress levels. Something about the repetitive motion of walking is very soothing to me. Every time I went on a walk and got a breath of fresh air, I instantly felt better.

[If you feel like this all the time, walking might be for you]
  • Walking improved my creativity. When not actively thinking about how I was exercising, like I always do with more intense sports (e.g. “how do I lift as much weight as possible”, “how do I climb this rock wall most efficiently”, etc.), I had time to just sit with my thoughts. I found myself coming up with ideas for my homework assignments or fun side projects way more often than when I wasn’t walking.
  • Walking gave me an opportunity to learn simultaneously! Because walking is very calm, it affords the opportunity for multitasking and directing part of your attention elsewhere. I chose to use my walking time to listen to podcasts, and that extra hour a day of information taught me so many new things and exposed me to new ideas and new people I would not otherwise have known about.
  • Walking made me happy. I always felt a mood boost after my walk!
  • Walking energized me! I always felt more awake after my walks, particularly if I did them in the morning.
  • Walking helped me manage my weight and feel good about myself. This is a weird idea at first since walking is not very calorie intensive, but if you do it regularly, it’s actually an amazing way to maintain or lose weight. In the pandemic, stress-related overeating has become more of a problem, and walking helped make sure that it didn’t negatively affect my health.
  • Walking is incredibly safe. Unlike more intense sports, there’s close to zero risk of injury.

It can be hard sometimes to try and fit walking into your busy schedule, particularly because it feels so inefficient. Why walk for an hour when you could run for 20 minutes and burn the same amount of calories? Well in my experience, I think that it’s absolutely worthwhile, both for your mental and physical health.

Walking can change your life! It sure changed mine.

Stay tuned for tips on ways to fit 10,000 steps into your daily routine! It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely worth it to spend the time to figure out a way that works for you!

What do you think about walking? Is it something you do regularly? What benefits have you found? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments!

We all struggle with fitness sometimes. You’re not alone.

This week, I wanted to share another lesson I’ve learned on my personal journey. It’s one that I think is critical to understand, but incredibly hard to learn and internalize.

Just because you struggle with fitness sometimes–and are not always perfect–does not mean you are a failure.

If you’ve ever felt yourself asking questions like the following, then this lesson is one you should internalize:

  • Why do I feel like I’m never making progress at the gym?
  • How do I get over my plateau? It feels like it’s never ending and don’t understand why I can’t just get better!
  • How come it’s so hard to build healthy habits/a good gym routine?
  • Why is keeping up with exercise so hard?
  • How do I get over an injury (or recurring fear of injury) and get back to the gym?

[Questioning your fitness is normal–just like having feelings that you’re a failure! We all go through it at some point].

Becoming fit and healthy is hard. Really hard. It’s not something that happens in a day, a week, or a month. It can take some of us years to get to where we want to be. And in a journey that long, it’s impossible for everything to be smooth sailing.

I know that is true for a lot of people, and it has been true for me, too. I’ve always had trouble getting to a perfect routine consistently. The longest I’ve ever kept one up steadily was about four months, before things got in the way and messed it up again. It turns out any number of things can get in the way of your fitness journey and make it a struggle to perform at the level you want to. Here are just a few of the ones that impacted me at one point or another:

  • When I was in college, I’d live on campus for a few months at a time, and then be sent home in between. I had a great gym that I was able to access regularly while I was living on campus, and had no trouble keeping up a schedule when I was there, but every time I’d get sent home, everything would get messed up. I had no access to a proper gym anymore and no schedule to stick to, so inevitably I’d end up falling off the wagon.
  • Stress caused some challenges as well. This was more so an issue earlier on in my fitness journey, but I had significant challenges with stress getting in my way. When I would feel stress coming on–often related to a big presentation coming up or a big workload, with a bunch of different things I needed to do in a short amount of time–I’d let fitness fall to the wayside, prioritizing my work. I realized eventually that this was terrible, and have gotten better at fighting off the voice that tells me to ignore exercise, but stress can still get to me sometimes.
  • Depression was another big factor. Any time I’d face issues with mental health, I’d feel unmotivated to go to the gym and would stop going for a while. This was, of course, also a terrible idea as it always led to me feeling worse, since exercise does so much for the mind.

To help illustrate the chaos that was this never-ending on and off cycle, I made a fun little drawing that you can hopefully relate to:

During the hard times when I felt pressured by everything around me, I sometimes felt like a bit of a failure. How come so many people could drag themselves to the gym every day, but I couldn’t? What was wrong with me? Why was exercise so hard?

But I wasn’t a failure. I just needed to shift my priorities and find a better system. I’ve never fully escaped this cycle, but I’ve become much better at it, and that’s because I made fitness a priority. Even when I’m feeling overwhelmed with due dates, I make sure to fit the gym in. If I start to feel stress or depression creeping in, I’ll go to the gym to fight it off. And I try to stick to going regularly, too, as a way of fighting those bad feelings off.

Difficulties with getting yourself to the gym are just one of the many challenges and frustrations that come with fitness. Two other big areas that lead to much frustration are progress plateaus and injury, both of which I’ve struggled with at some point or another as well.

Plateaus are incredibly common in fitness: they happen to pretty much everyone at some point, and often more than once. As you keep working out, your body starts to become accustomed to the stress you put on it and it gets harder and harder to make more progress. In the first few months of working out, you may gain visible muscle and feel your body changing regularly, but if you just keep going steadily, you’ll see those changes slow down, and often stop.

It’s a super frustrating feeling because it can feel like you’re doing everything right–especially if you haven’t changed something and it was working before–but you’re still not getting anywhere! But believe me, you’re not alone in this at all. We all face plateaus and they’re frustrating for everyone!

Injuries are another common frustration. When you get injured, it often forces you to stop doing the workout you love for a significant amount of time, and that can lead to lost progress and unpleasant feelings of not being able to do an “adequate” workout. I’ve never had a major injury, but I did have a minor one that had a much bigger impact than I anticipated.

About 6 months into trying to rock climb regularly, I strained my big toe from overuse. It became impossible to put a lot of pressure on it, enough that it affected my normal walking and made it painful to put too much weight on the front of my foot. I had to stop rock climbing for months, which was something I loved to do. I lost all forward progress and momentum and just felt so frustrated with things.

But eventually, as with most injuries, it healed, and I was able to get back to the climbing gym and start again. The frustration and feelings of failure are only temporary, and they will get better.

[Injuries can really turn the despair up to 11…]

If you are facing any of these situations–feeling like nothing is going right in your workout journey for any reason–I just want you to know that you are not alone. The perfection you see on the internet or when you compare yourself with others is fake. No one is perfect and no one exercises completely struggle free. We all have difficulties going to the gym sometimes, feeling unsatisfied with our progress, or feeling trapped by something outside of our control that limits our access to fitness.

So do not feel like your situation is hopeless. We’ve all gone through it, and most of us have come out the other side even better. There’s so much advice out there on how to deal with each of these situations, so rather than wallow in sadness and frustration, take action to try and address it. If you’re plateauing, change up your routine. If you’re finding other things getting in the way of your gym routine, find a way to prioritize workouts. And if you’re facing an injury that prevents you from doing one thing, try another that isn’t limited. There’s almost always a way out, you just need to look for it.

Your Fitness Tracker Is Watching You Exercise, And Others Might Be Watching You Too

Fitness trackers like Fitbit, WHOOP, and Garmin have increased significantly in popularity over the past few years, due to the release of many new options, as well as an increased interest in wearable health trackers due concern over Covid-19.

More than 1 in every 5 Americans now owns a fitness tracker of some kind. Go to any big city, and within the first few minutes, you’ll almost certainly see people walking around with the newest gear. It’s becoming impossible to escape, and with good reason. Fitness trackers provide a lot of valuable information, helping you manage your heart rate, diet, and sleep, all of which are important for all-around fitness.

However, they come with a cost: lack of privacy. In recent months, several of the major fitness tracker brands have come under fire for poor handling of data security, resulting in the exposure of customers’ private health information.

Just this year over 61 million users personal health records from trackers including Fitbit and Apple health were found on a non-password-protected database, freely accessible to anyone who could find it. Many of the records included sensitive information like name, date of birth, height, weight, and geolocation.

Health and fitness are incredibly personal. There’s a reason that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects your medical records. It is the responsibility of anyone dealing with health records to keep that information private, so the fact that wearables companies are leaving their data unencrypted and unprotected is worrying.

The Challenge With Wearables

Part of the issue with wearables is that they fall in a sort of blurry space. They aren’t typically considered medical devices, yet they collect data that could fall into this category. There are no clear HIPAA regulations covering when wearables are used purely for personal use, but when the data is shared, things get a lot more messy and it doesn’t seem like regulation has caught up quite yet.

One of the reasons for this might be that to most people, the data from their wearable doesn’t seem all that appealing to someone looking to steal it. A small bit of information on daily step count or sleep time doesn’t seem all that useful. And that’s true. Data only on step counts probably won’t tell you that much about a person, but if you start to combine it with other information, like heart rate, BMI, calorie burn counters, and more (which are tracked by quite a few different wearables), you can form a pretty full picture of their health, which could then be used maliciously.

The Problem Is Only Going To Get Worse

As fitness trackers continue to grow in popularity, the problem is only going to get worse. The technology will continue to evolve and improve, resulting in more and more data being collected. And as the data lake grows, it will become harder and harder to manage. It’s easy to protect a small amount of data, but really hard to protect a lot of it. The more you expand and the more resources you use, the more potential failure points get introduced.

And health-related data is under the greatest threat of all. The healthcare industry experiences more data breaches than any other industry. And that’s because the data is so valuable, selling for upwards of $250 on the black market, nearly 50x as much as credit card information.

If your fitness data is out there, you better believe someone wants it. And if it’s not protected properly, it’s only a matter of time until it’s found.

[Health data is very valuable, selling for hundreds of dollars on the black market]

What Can You Do About it?

  1. Research wearables before buying one, with a focus on understanding the data privacy measures each company uses to protect your data. Look for companies that make a special effort to reinforce their commitment to encryption and minimal third-party data sharing. It might also be worth looking at articles like this one, which summarize privacy policies for you.
  2. If you already have a wearable device or fitness tracking app, make sure to edit your settings for maximum data security. Most devices/apps have settings that can restrict how your data is used, and you want to make sure the use of your data is as limited as possible beyond what is necessary to provide you the information you need.
[Most fitness trackers come with an app, where you can adjust privacy settings]

Apple Health

If you have Apple Health, there are a lot of settings you can mess with to decrease data access and even delete data completely.

If you don’t want the app to be able to track you at all, for example, go to your phone settings > Privacy > Motion & Fitness, and then turn off fitness tracking. This will block the app’s access to any built in sensors on your phone that track your activity.

If you want to use the app, but want to limit data use, take a minute to look at which apps connect out from it. To do this, open Apple Health, go to the top right corner, and then go to Privacy > Apps.

Some apps can add data to your health app, while others can take data, based on the settings you give.

Look through all of the apps and for any apps you don’t need, disable their permissions, consider disconnecting the app, and delete all of the data that has been collected so far.

Apple Health also has an option for sharing your data with trusted friends and family. Make sure to check your settings and ensure that you are not sharing with anyone you do not want to, or who does not need to see your data.

You can read Apple health’s official statement about privacy on Apple Health here.

Google Fit

Like Apple Health, Google Fit provides options to delete your data. If you go to your profile and settings, there should be an option to “manage your data”, where you can see what data has been collected and delete some or all of it.

You can also manage which apps can read from and write to Google Fit. From settings, “manage connected apps” will let you disconnect any apps you don’t want.

A word of warning, though: Google is notorious for collecting massive amounts of information (often secretly) and making it very difficult to actually turn the tracking off.

It appears that Google Fit data is also accessible publicly (though it is anonymized) through the Google Fit API, which you can read about here.


You can erase a physical Fitbit device (see here), but deleting your overall data in Fitbit’s databases appears more difficult. You can request that your account be deleted from the Fitbit databases, but it could still take up to 90 days to actually clear out. And some users report that their data has still not been deleted after that time (see this discussion thread for more on the topic).

If Google’s data collection is concerning to you, you might want to stay away from Fitbit as they are now owned by Google.

You can check out Fitbit’s privacy policy here.


Garmin has a lot of options for data deletion. You can delete individual activities and weigh-ins, full days of data, or even your entire data history (see here).

You can also delete your Garmin account, which, according to Garmin, means that they will “permanently delete data for all Garmin sites, apps, and services using [your] account.” They also have a policy to automatically delete your account after two years of inactivity.

Garmin also doesn’t sell any of your health data to third parties, and only shares it with your consent. You can read more about this policy on their privacy page.


To delete data in WHOOP, try these instructions. Unlike some of the other trackers where you can delete all data, it appears that WHOOP only lets you delete the last 30 days.

If you cancel your membership, WHOOP will not automatically delete your data, but you can put in a request to have it deleted.

You can view WHOOP’s privacy principles here.


Fitness trackers are increasing in popularity, and if you don’t already have one, you’ll likely be thinking about it sometime in the near future.

They provide a lot of tools for helping you improve your health, but come with a major concern of data privacy. Several different wearable trackers have been implicated in data breaches–caused by poor data security–in the last few years. These breaches are quite harmful, as they involve sensitive personal health data.

Although health data is typically highly protected under HIPAA, the policy for wearables has not caught up yet and fitness tracker data is not strongly protected.

To reduce the likelihood of your data being exposed, take extra care to consider the privacy policies of different companies before purchasing a tracker. And if you already have one, try to research what steps are available to limit your data collection and sharing to only that which is necessary to give you the health benefits you desire.

[FAFQ] How Do I Stop Feeling So Out of Breath After A Workout? – The Science of Breathing

If you’re like the vast majority of the population, you’ve probably experienced the feeling of being winded after a workout. Riding along on a stationary bike, gasping for air. Panting after jogging half a mile when you haven’t done much running before. Feeling like your lungs are burning during a kickboxing workout. You get the idea.

It’s a really unpleasant feeling and it also limits you from reaching your full potential. If you’re winded you can’t keep trying your hardest, because to catch your breath you need to slow down. It can be a really frustrating feeling, and sometimes it can feel impossible to overcome. But thankfully, the solution is simpler than you think.

To get at how to solve the problem, let’s consider why you might feel out of breath. It’s likely one of two reasons, or a combination thereof:

  1. You’re out of practice with exercise and your body isn’t used to managing so much exertion
  2. You’re not breathing correctly

Let’s consider these each in turn:

1. You’re out of practice with exercise

When your body isn’t used to exertion, and you suddenly start exerting yourself a lot, your body doesn’t know what to do. Your lungs haven’t been used very much, so they’re likely smaller than their optimal size–and it hurts to stretch them–so you’re limited physically in what you can accomplish.

To get around this, the easiest solution is just to do more exercises that involve a lot of help from your respiratory system. This means don’t just lift weights–as this mostly strains your muscles, not your lungs–but also do some intense cardio for short bursts. Try biking or running up a steep hill, or maybe some kickboxing. It doesn’t need to replace weightlifting, but you will need some of it to help you expand your lung capacity.

(This is pretty much what I look like after I try to run any more than about half a mile as a complete non runner. Clearly I need to practice more! I look a lot more put-together after kickboxing, though, where I’ve put in a lot more reps.)

2. You’re not breathing correctly

Even if you’ve built up some breathing strength from consistent practice and working out–and you don’t think reason #1 is the cause of your breathlessness–you still might be doing something wrong. Something as basic as breathing!

It turns out there is a right way and a wrong way to breathe.

Most people breathe through their mouths, instead of their noses, which is suboptimal for many reasons:

  • Mouth breathing leads to issues with sleep–such as snoring, sleep apnea, and dehydration levels–which can have a big impact on workout performance, as sleep is key to recovery and muscle group.
  • When you breathe through your mouth, you do not produce Nitric Oxide (NO) the way you do when you breathe through your nose. NO helps regulate blood flow and blood oxygen levels, and can help get more oxygen to your muscles during a workout. When you breathe through your mouth, your muscles actually get less oxygen from each breath, which can lead you to fatigue quickly. But when you breathe through your nose, you’ll get maximum oxygen levels and can potentially perform better.
  • Nasal breathing activates the part of your body that’s relevant to rest and recovery rather than the part associated with fight or flight, so nasal breathing can help you relax and perform your workout for longer.
  • The posture required for optimal nose breathing is optimal for reducing injury, because it forces you to position yourself more upright rather than hunched over.
  • When you breathe through your nose, you are able to perform fewer breaths and maintain a lower heart rate, which means you are able to sustain exercise for longer (increasing your endurance), and with less strain put on the body.
(Nose breathing can help with endurance and keep you going strong!)

How Do You Fix The Problem?

Now that you know that nose breathing is better than mouth breathing, how do you go about shifting the breathing habits you’ve had for your whole life and find a better strategy?

Here’s a few steps that might help:

  1. Start by being aware of your own breathing. Notice when you breathe through your mouth or through your nose. What seems to be triggering the switch between the two? Are you mostly breathing through your mouth or through your nose? Is this the same when you work out? Different for different exercises?
  2. When you catch yourself breathing through your mouth, try to stop yourself and switch to your nose instead. It will feel really weird at first, but if you practice (see step 3) it will start to become more normal.
  3. Practice doing small nose breathing sessions for a few minutes at home, not under the stress of workout conditions. Take 5-10 minutes and just practice breathing in and out at a steady rate using only your nose. Keep your mouth shut the whole time. Some people swear by physically taping their mouths shut, and you’re welcome to try this if it helps you! Just be careful not to do it to an extreme.
  4. Attempt to incorporate nose breathing into your workouts. The next time you’re doing cardio and start to feel out of breath, try to take longer, slower breaths through your nose instead of panting with your mouth.
  5. As this gets easier, lengthen your practice sessions and make nose breathing a bigger part of your workout until it becomes second nature!
(Make sure to practice nose breathing in a non-exercise, breathing-focused situation before you integrate it into your workouts! Setting up a meditation-like session is a great way to do this!)

Nose breathing may feel uncomfortable at first, mostly because sometimes it can feel like you are not getting enough air. But realistically, you almost certainly are! Your body is just not used to the action, and nose breathing can feel like it produces a lot of resistance if you’re just getting started. But stick with it if you can. There’s a lot of science, dating back hundreds of years, that backs up the benefits of breathing through your nose.

How To Learn More

If you want to learn more about the importance of breathing through your nose, and how to train yourself to do so, I recommend the following books:

Breath: The New Science Of A Lost Art – James Nestor [Link]

“There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing…Yet as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences. Journalist James Nestor travels the world to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it…Modern research is showing us that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can jump-start athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; halt snoring, asthma, and autoimmune disease; and even straighten scoliotic spines. None of this should be possible, and yet it is.”

Summary of “Breathe”, as written on the inside of the book’s jacket.

The Oxygen Advantage: Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques to Help You Become Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter – Patrick McKeown [Link]

“In The Oxygen Advantage, the man who has trained over 5,000 people—including Olympic and professional athletes—in reduced breathing exercises now shares his scientifically validated techniques to help you breathe more efficiently. Patrick McKeown teaches you the fundamental relationship between oxygen and the body, then gets you started with a Body Oxygen Level Test (BOLT) to determine how efficiently your body uses oxygen. He then shows you how to increase your BOLT score by using light breathing exercises and learning how to simulate high altitude training, a technique used by Navy SEALs and professional athletes to help increase endurance, weight loss, and vital red blood cells to dramatically improve cardio-fitness.”

Amazon book overview for “The Oxygen Advantage”.

So what are you waiting for? If you’ve been feeling out of breath, start looking into how you breath, and how often you do it! Just a little bit of work and focus and bring you a long way in the right direction.

What Is Creatine? Does It Actually Make You Stronger? – Supplements 101

Welcome to another installment of supplements 101, a series where I try to break down the complicated science of supplements and make it easy for you to understand!

This week we’re covering creatine.

What is creatine?

Creatine is an acid, typically found in the muscles and in the brain. It is used primarily in the process of helping your muscles produce energy during high strain, such as when lifting heavy weights or doing some other form high-intensity training. How does it do this? When you body’s energy source (ATP) is used up, it gets converted to another substance, ADP, and can no longer be used to boost your energy. Creatine works by taking ADP and converting it back to ATP so that it can be used again! This helps maintain your body’s level of energy-producing molecules.

Creatine is not essential to consume as a supplement, as it is already produced naturally by the body. Our liver, kidneys, and pancreas all produce it.

Plus, you can actually get a good amount of creatine through your normal diet if you regularly consume foods that come from animal sources (e.g. meat, dairy). On average, people who consume this type of food will consume about 1 gram of creatine per day. However, if you consume a primarily plant-based, vegetarian/vegan diet, you are unlikely to be getting adequate quantities of creatine from your food.

Why might you consider supplementing?

There are three main reasons why you might consider taking supplemental creatine:

  1. You eat no or very few animal products, so your levels of creatine are lower than the average person, and you want to replace what you’re missing so that you aren’t limited in your fitness goals.
  2. You have naturally low creatine for some other reason, such as the balance of hormones in your body or the fact that you are aging, which is associated with reduced creatine stores.
  3. You eat enough creatine-containing foods, but would like to add some in addition so that you can attempt to improve athletic performance.

What are the potential benefits?

Proponents of creatine have claimed that it has a variety of potential benefits for fitness, including::

  • Increased energy during high intensity exercise
  • Increased potential volume during a workout (you can sustain your exercises for longer without getting weak), which is key for long-term muscle growth
  • Improved muscle repair, which can help with growth
  • Creatine draws water to your muscles, which can help them appear bigger and potentially grow faster
  • Reduces muscle breakdown

Creatine has also been said to have some positive effects on mental health and brain function:

  • Improved memory
  • Reduced mental fatigue
  • Improved reaction time
  • Reduced brain fog

Does it really work?

There have been many claimed benefits to creatine supplementation, but how many are actually backed by science? Does creatine really help improve muscle growth and brain function?

Unlike a lot of other supplements, the answer is actually yes! Creatine has been studied for decades, and there is a great deal of scientific literature that has been published on its positive effects.

Let’s look at some highlights from a few studies:

  • A 2008 study over 8 weeks of heavy resistance training found that individuals who supplemented with creatine had significantly greater increases in body mass compared to those who did not supplement (2.2 vs 0.6 kilograms)
  • A 2010 study found that individuals who had supplemented with creatine had decreased markers of muscle damage after a high intensity Iron Man competition (however, note this was a very small sample size). Another study found similar effects of decreased muscle damage, this time when looking at a high intensity weightlifting set.
  • Studies on older adults (in their 50s through 70s) found that creatine supplementation led to increased lean muscle mass, chest press, and leg press strength after resistance training.
  • A 2018 paper found that “short term memory and intelligence/reasoning may be improved by creatine administration.”
  • A 2021 paper summarized many of the positive mental effects of creatine, some of which are listed as follows:
    • In sleep deprived rugby players, creatine supplementation helped with passing accuracy
    • In healthy young adults, creatine use improved performance on a test of recalling numbers backward
    • A test of healthy, young, sleep deprived men and women found that creatine supplementation helped with movement, reaction time, balance, and mood.

What about side effects?

Creatine is generally considered quite safe. However, there are some potential side effects you should be made aware of.

  • Weight gain–though this often seems to come through lean muscle growth
  • Worsening of kidney dysfunction in those that already have kidney disorders. Those who have healthy kidneys do not seem affected. You should probably not take creatine if you have kidney issues (though of course, consult with a medical professional)
  • Creatine can raise levels of creatinine in your body, which is one sign used to diagnose kidney dysfunction. This may make your doctor–or you–think that you have kidney problems even if you don’t!

What about pregnancy? Many supplements are deemed dangerous to pregnant women.

Creatine is a very interesting case in this respect. There is actually some evidence that creatine consumption could help with pregnancy in a few different ways:

  • Increasing the survival likelihood of pre-term babies
  • Lessened effects from issues due to hypoxia, where a baby receives inadequate oxygen to the brain during or shortly after birth
  • Potential ability to decrease c-section rates by helping enable consistent labor through improved uterine muscle function

Of course, once again, it is important to check with a medical professional before using any supplements during pregnancy!!

What kind of creatine should you take?

There are a bunch of different varieties of creatine supplements that you can buy. These include:

  1. Creatine Monohydrate
  2. Creatine Ethyl Ester
  3. Creatine Hydrochloride
  4. Buffered Creatine (Creatine + an Alkaline Powder)
  5. Liquid Creatine
  6. Creatine Magnesium Chelate

While all of them are some form of creatine, they are not all created equal! Some options are much better than others. If you’re in the market for creatine, I recommend looking into Creatine Monohydrate. Why this one over the others?

  • It’s got the best record of safety and side effects
  • It’s one of the cheapest and easiest to find online
  • It has the most scientific backing behind it, as most creatine studies focus on the monohydrate form
  • It works just as well (or better) than any of the other options!

How often should you take creatine? And how much?

In order to get the most from the benefits of creatine, you need to make sure you are taking it in the right intervals and dose sizes.

There are two primary ways of taking creatine:

  1. Using a loading phase, where you take heavy doses daily (20-25 grams/day–typically taken in four doses about every four hours apart) for about 5-7 days to build up your creatine stores, then cut back to a daily maintenance level of 3-5 grams/day.
  2. Using no loading phase, and just starting with the maintenance level of creatine, taking 3-5 grams per day every day.

Both strategies work and are considered safe, but many prefer the loading phase strategy because it builds up creatine stores faster so you can start to get the beneficial effects earlier on. If you do not use a loading phase, it can take around three weeks to build up enough creatine to start experiencing any changes.

The evidence on timing is up for debate. It is not completely clear whether there is an optimal time of day to take creatine, though some studies have suggested that taking it post-workout is more effective than pre-workout.

However, with creatine, the thing that’s considered most important is just that you take it! Consistency is key, and over time it’s a lot more important that you’re taking it at all, than when you’re taking it.


So there’s everything you need to know to get started with creatine!

Creatine is generally a safe and effective supplement–and the one that I would recommend the most out of any! It’s relatively cheap, doesn’t taste bad or produce many significant side effects, and can have a lot of beneficial effects in some users.

For ease of your use and consumption, I’ve gone ahead and summarized all the information from this guide into a graphic below!

A Short History Of Women’s Fitness, Part 1: The 1800s

Welcome to the start of a fun history series, where I’ll be taking a look at the history of women’s fitness from the 1800s to the present.

In this first installment, the 1800s.

Fitness is probably not the first thing (or even the 10th) that you think of when you picture women in the 1800s. When I think of the 1800s, I think of poor people struggling to make ends meet, and with no time for leisurely exercise–or, about wealthy women who get made up in expensive gowns and spend their days taking care of children and participating in high society events. Not exactly the picture of fitness.

Women’s fitness did exist in the 19th century, however–just in a format very different from what we see today.

It was primarily the wealthy who participated in fitness. They wanted to preserve their high class look, so they did not wear athletic clothes. Instead, they did exercises in their gowns and corsets!

Corsets are a very restrictive form of clothing, severely compressing the abdominal region and limiting range of motion in pretty much every direction.

Women would have been incapable of doing modern exercises in these outfits (Imagine trying to do squats or deadlifts in a corset–It would be impossible!), so their exercises looked a lot different.

They focused primarily on increasing blood flow and preventing bad posture instead of intense cardio or strength training.

A book from 1827, A Treatise on Calisthenic Exercises, details some of the specific movements popular at the time. They include walking in zigzags, skipping, marching while standing still, and bending the arms and legs. There were also some balance related exercises.

In the mid 1800s, a new guide published by Catherine Beecher pushed the boundary even further. It requested that all children (regardless of sex) be able to participate in school athletics. Although women were still depicted wearing dresses, they did have some more advanced movements proposed here, including beginner ballet and arm circles.

[A sample arm circle exercise from Beecher’s guide]

Potentially the oldest women’s fitness fad was actually the magnetic corset, which was advertised as a weight loss tool for building good figures. Not that far off from some of the trends we see today!

The first true gym equipment was developed in the latter half of the 1800s by a man named Dr. Gustav Zander, a physician from Sweden.

Dr. Zander believed in the idea of muscle growth over time, so he developed machines that were designed to mimic traditional human movements in a way that could be repeated over and over.

Like the modern gym machines we see today, Dr. Zander worked to develop a variety of machines that all focused on different body parts. Some machines were even powered, with steam pistons and motors.

Like earlier in the 19th century, these machines were designed to be used in full dress outfits, with women wearing corsets and gowns and men wearing suits.

Dr. Zander even opened the world’s first sports hall, which offered strength training and physical rehab services for both men and women. It proved to be a very successful concept and was replicated over the following decades all around the world.

You can see women testing out Dr. Zander’s machines in the gallery below, the images of which are managed by the Smithsonian Libraries:

It wouldn’t be until the 1900s that we’d get to see women participate actively in real sports and get to exercise in true athletic equipment. Women from lower classes would also not get their shot at leisure sport until much later.

We’ll learn about all that and more in the next installment!

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Working Out

I’ve been actively exercising for about four years now. It’s been a long–and sometimes difficult–journey, full of rough periods of plateau, injury, and frustration. But I’ve made it through, and come out at lot stronger on the other side (both figuratively and literally).

Along the way I’ve picked up quite a few lessons that have really helped me and that I wish I’d known more about before getting too far into my journey.

Today, I’m sharing my wisdom with you in the hopes that it will prevent you from making some of the same unpleasant mistakes that I went through.

So, without further ado, the best exercise tips for beginners:

1. You’re going to fail sometimes. It’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up.

When I first started exercising regularly, I would set myself lofty goals: be able to run a mile in a week or two (starting from nothing), or be able to do a pull-up after only 10 gym sessions–when I could barely lift anything.

When I’d fail to reach these goals, I would get frustrated and think that I should be able to do better, which was often not really the case. Then, as a result, I would lose my motivation and fall off the wagon a bit.

Even when you’re trying your best in fitness, at some point you will probably fail to reach a goal.

It’s just part of working out. You might get hit with a bad injury and be forced to rest, you might have a super busy work week that leaves zero time for exercise, or you might have a bad bout of depression and be stuck in bed. Whatever goal you had set–you’ll fail. But that’s okay.

Failure is bound to happen, and the most important thing you can do is control how you react to it. Don’t be like me when I started, and get frustrated (or like the guy below, give up completely). Instead, just realize that setbacks are a part of the fitness lifestyle. Use the opportunity to come back stronger next time.

[Don’t be like this guy!]

2. The biggest thing you can do for yourself is just start.

Overthinking exercise can stop you from doing it. If you’re trying to get into exercise for the first time, you may find yourself doing some of the following:

  • Trying to research the best workout clothes
  • Looking up protein shakes and workout supplements that you think you’ll need to succeed
  • Trying to find the perfect exercises
  • Setting up a full-on calendar for what your training is going to look like

If you see yourself doing these things, stop.

Trying to do everything in advance will just lead you to being overwhelmed, and if you’re like a lot of people–you might actually never get to the exercise part!

I had this problem early on. I tried to research a training plan and totally change my diet at the same time. There were way too many things doing on, and I ended up failing at both.

The best thing you can do for yourself is stop thinking about all the details and just start exercising.

You’ll have time to figure that stuff out later. It’s more important to just build an exercise habit first.

3. You don’t always have to try your hardest. Sometimes just doing something is enough.

One of the biggest roadblocks that many beginners face is turning exercise into a habit. When you’re just starting and it’s something you’ve never done before, it doesn’t come naturally.

And if you are lacking a strong sense of internal motivation, it’s going to be impossible to keep going unless you can turn exercise into a habit.

However, habits can be super difficult to build if you set an unreasonable goal. For example, if you’re coming from no exercise background and say that you’re now going to exercise every single day for an hour, you’re almost certainly going to fail.

A much better way to start is to set yourself a daily goal of just starting. Rather than say that you’re going to exercise for an hour, say that you’re just going to start. That could mean:

  • Putting on a pair of running shoes, walking outside, and jogging for a quarter mile,
  • Driving to a gym,
  • Pulling out a yoga mat and doing a few stretches,
  • …or anything else that is a very small goal.
[Just a few sit-ups is enough to get you moving. It doesn’t take much!]

You’ll probably find that once you start, you want to keep going. You’re already at the gym, so why not get in a good workout? You’ve already started jogging–why not go another few miles, even if you walk a lot of it? The great thing about doing this, though, is if you don’t feel like you want to keep going, that’s okay. You still achieved your goal of doing something. And over time, your body will adjust and start to recognize the act of something as a new habit.

Beginning something new this way is much more likely to lead to long term success than setting lofty goals for each day.

To learn more about habit building, I’d recommend reading Atomic Habits.

4. Exercise is one of the best ways of fighting off depression. Don’t let it fall by the wayside.

Exercise plays a huge role in mental health. Just take a look through some of the many studies on exercise and depression [For example: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7].

In my own experience, exercise has been the single biggest help in fighting off depressive episodes. When in periods of struggle, right after I’ve finished a workout, I’ve felt the cloud of sadness lifting away. It’s never magically made things disappear, but it has had a significant and noticeable impact.

Even though I knew about the benefits of exercise and depression early on, and had experienced these improvements in my own mental health as a result of fitness, I still went through periods where I let my fitness fall by the wayside–usually when I had a lot of schoolwork to do or stressful exams/presentations coming up.

It was one of the biggest mistakes I made.

Whenever I let exercise slide, depression found a way to creep back in. And that made it harder and harder to fight it off because the more depressed I was, the harder it was to drag myself to the gym. It would have been so much easier if I had prioritized exercise and not let it slip from my schedule.

If you struggle at all with depression, make an extra effort to ensure that exercise is a priority. It will make such a huge difference on your well being.

5. Lift heavy.

While cardio and light weights are okay–and good in moderation–lifting heavy weights is one of the best ways to improve your fitness.

This is counter to what you see a lot of women doing, so it deserves some explanation.

Heavy weights are typically associated with men in the media, but they are great for everyone. This is for a few different reasons.

  • If weight loss is your goal, heavy lifting actually helps you lose weight faster. Unlike cardio, building muscle speeds your metabolism. That means that even when you are not working out, you’ll burn more calories (a couple extra per pound of muscle you add)
  • It can help you get stronger without developing extreme muscle definition. Lots of women are scared of the bodybuilder look, but the average woman who does strength training will never look like that. Why? Because women have low testosterone, which plays a big factor in men’s muscle growth.
  • Strength training with heavy lifting can strengthen bones and slow bone density loss, which is really important for women due to the common nature of osteoporosis.

If you skip the heavy weights, you’ll never see these benefits.

[Aim for a weight where you can complete approximately 7 reps before you’re too tired to keep going. If you can do more than about 12 reps, your weight is too light for maximum strength gain.]

6. Don’t waste time on targeted movements. Instead, focus on compound lifts.

When you’re getting started, it’s easy to get excited about all the different machines at the gym. I know I did!

Ooh, a curl machine! That looks fun! And ooh, a tricep press! Perfect way to build some nice arms…

– My Internal Monologue

But they are not built equal, and some will give you much more benefit for your time than others. You want to focus on machines (or free weights–but those can be scary for beginners) that do compound movements, activating multiple muscle groups at once. That means, if you’re working on a right schedule, no bicep curl or tricep press machines!!

Instead, try some of these:

  • Lat pulldown
  • Row
  • Leg press
  • Assisted pull-ups/chin-ups
  • Chest press

7. Don’t forget about your diet!

[Eating healthy plays a huge role in fitness! And if you’re focused on strength gain, you’ll need to watch your protein consumption as well.]

At first, I thought health and wellness were all about exercise–that if I just lifted weights and did cardio all the time, I’d magically be super strong, look ripped, and feel better. I was wrong.

Over the years, I’ve learned that the actual exercise bit is only half of the equation. Diet is the rest. You may have heard the saying that “abs are made in the kitchen.” It’s completely true. During periods where I had. abad diet, no matter how much I exercised, I never made much progress. But when I got my diet together, everything came much more easily.

Diet plays a huge role in wellbeing. It controls how much energy you have. It provides the protein your muscles need to grow. It impacts your sleep and your mental health, which both need to be in good shape for your body to get the most out of fitness.

Don’t neglect it. Although I went through many periods of wishing it worked that way, you won’t be able to get anywhere if you just eat cheeseburgers and fries all the time.

For some ideas on healthy eating, you can checkout my blog collection on the topic.

8. Exercise doesn’t have to be done solo.

One of the great things about exercise is how many different ways you can do it! At first, I was drawn to the fact that you can easily do it solo. As an introvert, I like to have lots of alone time and exercise is a great way to build that in, so for the longest time I only ever did it alone.

But exercise can also provide great benefits when done as a group activity! This is particularly true if you’re someone who has a busy schedule. If you do group exercise, you can build social activity and fitness into the same time slot and don’t have to sacrifice one to fit the other in.

Plus, exercise in a group has the added benefit of helping keep you motivated. After trying group fitness, I learned that it can be more effective than solo fitness for really pushing you. In front of a group, you always want to do your best.

I still do lots of solo fitness, but I have integrated some more group stuff into my training. They both have their own benefits and it’s good to try all your options out before settling on something.

[Even though I mostly exercise alone, a group fitness class every once in a while is a great way to keep me accountable for going to the gym.]

9. Exercising more will lead to so many great changes. Stick with it!

The awesome thing about exercise is that it doesn’t just make you stronger. The act of getting fit actually has a tendency to spill over into other areas of your life, pushing you to make improvements in all sorts of things.

After I started exercising for a while, I noticed that I wanted to make new changes in my life that I’ve never thought about before. I focused so much more on my mental health and got into meditation. I became much more interested in food/diet, and started digging into how to eat healthier. And I worked to try to find ways to reduce my screen time, which was causing headaches and adding anxious/depressive feelings to my day.

These changes don’t come immediately, though. You have to stick with it for a while. It probably wasn’t until year two that I really started noticing a difference in how I thought (year one, my exercise was pretty on and off, which could explain why it took so long).

If you’ve just gotten started haven’t found that much benefit from exercise yet, stick with it. In the long run, you’ll start to see big differences.

10. Some results are just unattainable. Set goals that work for you, and don’t base your success on what you see others accomplishing.

I wrote about this idea more in depth in my first ever post on this blog. When you get started in fitness, your main inspiration is often whoever you see doing fitness on the internet. At least that’s who it was for me.

But those people are not average. Fitness is often their day job–whether it be as an influencer or as a top athlete. They spend hours at the gym every day, have personal trainers, and are paid to be as fit as possible (which can sometimes mean that they take unhealthy steroids). Some were just born with incredibly good genetics.

Most of the time, their bodies are not attainable to the average person. With my schedule as it is right now, for instance, I’ll never look as muscular as someone like Simone Biles, whose entire job is to focus on gymnastics. No matter how much I try, it’s just not going to happen.

This can be hard to realize at first, and it can lead to setting unhealthy expectations. You can’t expect to go to the gym a few times per week for a year and suddenly have 10% body fat. It’s a multi-year process that takes a huge amount of effort, and some factors may be outside your control.

So don’t base your goals on what you see on the internet. Base them on what works for you–what makes you feel good, or what’s reasonable based on your rate of improvement.

It will help you feel so much more confident in your fitness!

[Tip: Spend a few minutes at the beginning of each month planning out what your goals will be for that month. This will help make sure you’re keeping on top of things. Base them on your current abilities and interests, keeping in mind that they should be realistic! Don’t base your goals off of anything you see on social media.]

So there we go! My top 10 tips I wish I knew when I started to work out.

I hope they can help you out! If there’s any other tips I missed that I should consider, please share!

The 13 Universal Obstacle Types You Can Expect At Every Mud Race

Welcome back to another post on obstacle course racing! This week, we’re talking about the bread and butter of this sport: the obstacles.

If you’ve never been to an obstacle course race before, you probably don’t know what to expect. How many obstacles are there on a typical obstacle course? Are the obstacles at Spartan Race the same as Tough Mudder or (insert your race of choice)? Are all of the obstacles going to look the same? Will I have to lift anything heavy? How much will I have to climb? What kind of training do I need to do to prepare for my first obstacle course race? Are these races safe? Some of the obstacles look pretty crazy.

The goal of this post is to help answer some of these questions.

1. How many obstacles are there on a typical obstacle course?

For the purposes of this post, let’s just consider 5K races, a typical distance for those just starting to try out the sport.

The number of obstacles in a 5K race can vary quite dramatically depending on the organizer of the event. I’ve listed the standard number of obstacles at the ~5K distance for each of the most well known US races below, ordered from lowest to highest number:

Tough Mudder 5K – 13 Obstacles

Terrain Race – 15+ Obstacles

Savage Blitz – 15-20 Obstacles

Spartan Sprint – 20 Obstacles

Bonefrog Challenge – 20+ Obstacles

Rugged Maniac – 25 Obstacles

The number of obstacles in a Rugged Maniac 5K is almost twice that of the Tough Mudder, though most races fall within a relatively standard 15-20 obstacle range. If you’re looking for a race more heavy on the running, Tough Mudder might be a winner, but if you want mostly obstacles with very little space in between, then Rugged Maniac might be your best pick. For something in between, one of the other races would be a great choice! Though of course, they’ll all be a great time!

2. Are all of the obstacles going to look the same? Will I have to lift anything heavy? How much will I have to climb? What kind of training do I need to do to prepare for my first obstacle course race?

I’m going to try and answer all of these at once, with a short guide.

No two obstacle course races are the same! Not even two races put on by the same company, as many of them utilize the local terrain wherever the race is held in order to shape the course.

The general obstacle design can vary quite significantly between races. For example, Bonefrog is a much more intense set of obstacles involving a lot of strength, designed around Navy SEAL training, than the Rugged Maniac, which tries to be more beginner friendly with lots of waterslides and simpler obstacles.

However, there are some common trends. Although the difficulty and frequency of each obstacle type may vary (and some races may have none of a few of the types), there seem to be a set group of obstacles that are popular across all of the races.

Through some research (both on and off the course), I’ve found 13 obstacle types that tend to be universal across the different obstacle course race brands.

They are…


The easiest obstacle in most races, this is usually placed very early on the course. For this obstacle, all you have to do is run through a muddy pit. The worst that will happen here is you’ll slip in the mud and fall into it, getting dirty (confession: this happened to me on my first race). After you make it through this one, you’ll probably stop thinking about all the mud, since you’ll already be coated.


The trenches are super similar to the mud pit, except they’re a lot smaller and there are typically a few of them in a row. You’ll need to hop down into one pit, then climb out, and repeat. Also a very simple obstacle that pretty much anyone can do.


The Army crawl tends to be a favorite, with some obstacle courses using variations of this one more than once. In an Army crawl obstacle, you typically need to get on your hands and knees–or, in more intense versions, all the say onto your stomach–and crawl under a bunch of barbed wire. This one doesn’t require any training, but you should be aware that:

  • You need to stay low so that you don’t get caught on any barbed wire. I recommend long sleeves just in case.
  • If you get really bad pain from kneeling, this one will be very unpleasant for you and likely is worth a skip.
  • The smaller you are, the easier this will be.


Obstacle course race designers love cargo nets. In the Rugged Maniac I ran, I probably saw at least four of them. One of the most popular cargo-net-based obstacle is what I’m calling the cargo climb. In this obstacle, you need to climb up a really long cargo net, flip yourself over some flat top section, and then climb down a cargo net again on the other side.

The important thing to be aware of is that the cargo nets for this type of obstacle are often huge. On the scale of several stories high. If you hate heights, you will hate this obstacle. You’re not clipped into any safety, you’re probably a bit tired, and your feet can slip through the netting if you’re not careful, which is a recipe for panic if you already don’t like being up high. Feel free to skip if this one freaks you out!

The good news, is you’re not alone. At the Rugged Maniac I competed in, almost everyone was a bit scared of this obstacle. That meant, though, that we were all cheering each other on! A bunch of random guys kept yelling things like “You’re doing great! Almost there! Amazing job!” as I was climbing down, saying I was scared. It felt like a really supportive environment to conquer some fears.

Like the last few, this one also doesn’t require any particular skills/training.


The giant ladder is pretty similar to the cargo climb. You go up a relatively high ladder, climb over some central point, and then climb back down an identical ladder on the other side.

This obstacle is typically pretty tall, but definitely shorter than the cargo climb, so it’s a little less freaky if you hate heights.

However, one big thing to note here is that this obstacle is height-restricted. If you’re short (like me) you may be physically unable to complete it, as most race designers like to place the rungs of the ladders very far apart, to the point where it is impossible to safely maneuver up them as a small person. If you’re not particularly short, you’ll probably be fine.

Like the last few, this one also doesn’t require any particular skills/training.


This obstacle combines the cargo climb/giant ladder with a fun water slide. You’ll typically climb up a decent height, either on a cargo net or a giant ladder, then get to the top, where there will be some sort of platform. Then, you’ll jump down a big waterslide and splash into a pool of muddy water.

This one’s super fun, and in my experience feels a bit less scary than the cargo climb or the giant ladder. Definitely worth trying, even if you’re a little scared of heights.


Claustrophobia is one of my favorite obstacles, but if you don’t like being in tight spaces, you’ll probably hate it. In this obstacle, race designers will put you in some sort of small space and force you to move a certain distance in that position. It may be dark, but it’s not always going to be.

Some examples of what this obstacle might look like include:

  • Crawling through a small pipe
  • Dropping down into a covered tunnel and crawling/shimmying through
  • Dropping into a muddy pool of water covered by some sort of metal grate that only leaves a few inches of breathing room

This obstacle is usually physically quite easy, but can be mentally stressful if you don’t like that feeling of small spaces.


At some point in the race–and in some races, a few times–most obstacle courses will require you to move something heavy. You might need to carry a log on your shoulder, lift some heavy buckets, pull a weighted sled, pull on a rope to lift some heavy object, etc. The exact object you’ll be needing to move varies quite significantly, but the concept is the same (move a heavy object some distance, using purely strength).

This is the first obstacle in the list that may require some sort of training/preparation. In order to successfully complete this, you will probably need some sort of strength training experience. If you’ve never lifted anything remotely heavy before, this one’s not going to go well!

To prepare for this, just do some general upper body strength training and you’ll be all set.


A classic children’s playground toy, the monkey bars are almost certain to show up on your obstacle course. They won’t necessarily always be the standard ones you saw as a kid, though. Sometimes, they’ll be set up at an angle, where you need to climb up as you go. Sometimes there will be another obstacle mixed in, like a spinning wheel in the middle you need to grab onto to transition between sets of monkey bars. The main thing to know is that they’re usually reasonably long and quite difficult.

Most men tend to naturally have enough upper body strength to be successful on this, even without much training at all, but that’s not true of women. If you’re a woman and you haven’t trained much upper body, you’ll need to to be successful at this obstacle.

Spartan provides a guide for some workouts and exercises you can try to help prepare.


The rings are pretty similar to the monkey bars, except they are not solid, and swing when you grab on to them. You’ve maybe hung onto a single set of rings before (like gymnasts do), but probably aren’t familiar with what it’s like to swing between sets (hint: it’s not easy).

Just like the monkey bars, you’ll need to train to be able to do these successfully.

I recommend just going with the monkey bar training, and taking some additional time to familiarize yourself with the ring swing motion, via something like this video.


The vertical wall is usually a little bit taller than a person but not giant. You are expected to be able to reach the top of the wall by extending your arms up and jumping.

To complete this obstacle, all you need to do is run up to the wall, jump and grab the top, then use your body to climb up and over, then drop down the other side.

This is a pretty weird movement that might benefit from a little bit of practice/instruction. To get a sense of the motion, you can check out this tutorial.


The warped wall is similar to the vertical wall, except it’s curved and a little bit taller.

The warped wall was made famous by American Ninja Warrior, and now can be found in some form on pretty much every obstacle course.

To complete it, you need to run up the curve of the wall, lean back, and jump up, before pulling yourself over. It could be pretty difficult if you’re short, so that’s something to be aware of.

Additionally, since the movement is a pretty unfamiliar one, it’s worth watching some videos (and maybe even going to a ninja warrior practice center to try one out) before attempting to complete this obstacle in competition.


Trial by fire might just be my favorite obstacle, because it just feels really cool to complete.

In this obstacle, there are typically several rows of logs that are lit on fire. They are spaced several feet apart, and you are expected to jump over them one after another like small hurdles.

It may sound dangerous, and injuries are definitely possible, but you’ll typically make it out unscathed. The fires are usually pretty small (and therefore easy to jump over), you are typically quite damp when completing the jump, and they have fire safety staff on hand watching the whole time.

So there you have it! The 13 most common obstacle types you’ll find at mud races. Hopefully that gives you some sense of what to prepare and train for!

3. Are these races safe? Some of the obstacles look pretty crazy.

To wrap up, let’s consider race safety. Some of the obstacles we looked at seemed pretty intense. There are some serious heights, plus jumping over fire! Some races even include electric shocks!

With those kind of obstacles, “dangerous” might be the first word that comes to mind.

Thankfully, serious injuries are pretty rare. According to one article describing a study of 45,000 obstacle race participants, only about 1% of participants are injured per race, with most injuries being minor. However, this was in a race that had some less intense obstacles.

Although they are rare, they do happen, and you should be aware of the different types of possible injuries (see here for more details).

  • Dehydration
  • Overheating
  • Muscle tears
  • Sprains
  • Broken bones
  • Infections (don’t race if you have any open cuts, and try to keep the mud out of yo
  • Drowning (very rare, but not impossible)
  • Paralysis (typically only happens if diving headfirst into a pool of water where you do not know the depth — never do this!)
  • Injuries specific to certain obstacles (splinters, barbed wire cuts, electric shocks, hypothermia, etc)

To make sure you stay safe, always do the following:

  1. Sign up for a race that is within your ability range
  2. Make sure to prepare for the race and get a lot of sleep in the days before
  3. Don’t race if you have any injuries or open cuts
  4. Keep your mouth/nose closed when sliding/falling into muddy water
  5. Drink a lot of water, especially if it is hot outside
  6. If you look at an obstacle and get a gut feeling that you won’t be able to do it safely, skip it
  7. Never jump into water head first
  8. Always watch the people in front of you to see how they do an obstacle before attempting it yourself
  9. Don’t rush! Make sure you’re moving slowly enough that you aren’t overlooking safety
  10. Don’t go into an obstacle that’s crowded. Wait for it to clear up.

As long as you follow these guidelines, you’ll probably be just fine! Don’t let fear of injury stop you from trying it out, but do have a healthy appreciation for danger and your personal lmits. Safety is more important than winning the race.