Social media is full of inspiration and motivation. Or, it can depress the hell out of you.

Take my social media feeds. While I purged “friends” who made me feel inadequate by 8:07 a.m. when they posted pictures of their kids drinking green smoothies and eating heart-shaped coconut-flour pancakes – ON A MONDAY – I am still bombarded with posts from friends, colleagues and pages I follow encouraging me to be my better self. This is a given: in the health and fitness industry, our central role is to is to inspire you to greater heights, push you through another push-up and remind you that “no one regrets the workout.”

Note to self: Motivational Memes On A Monday Morning Do Not a Happy Mommy Make.

Erin Phelan CMR Slider Image March-01


Here are a few pearls of wisdom from my morning roundup:

“Fit is not a destination. It is a way of life.”
‘Your body is a reflection of what you are: if you want to look healthy, you have to be healthy.
“You can’t spell ‘challenge’ without change”
It is true. You can’t spell challenge without change. But some mornings, I can’t even spell. And willpower? Sure, I have willpower – except when there is a bag of chocolate covered almonds within a 7.2 km radius. Staying motivated, being active and making healthy food choices are hard because habits are hard to change.

You might have heard it takes 21 days to change a habit. That myth stemmed from a book published in 1960 by a well-renowned plastic surgeon Maxwell Martz who had worked with amputees. From his anecdotal evidence, he surmised that it took only 21 days for an amputee to get used to their new situation – this “21 days to a new habit” myth became ingrained in pop culture. But, it is wrong.

A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Psychology debunked this myth when it found that participants took, on average, 66 days for a new habit to stick: they followed 96 participants who wanted to change habits, such as drinking water with lunch or quitting smoking, and they found that the repetitive behavior takes time to sink in, and to form a habit.

In the area of health and wellness, habit change is not a mystery: it is about making smart food choices daily and staying motivated with your activity plan. I might love chocolate covered almonds, but I know how far I have to run to burn them off. The thing is: I’m willing to go that extra mile. There are some myths that need debunking if you are going to achieve the goals you set for yourself. The good news is, there are a myriad of ways to stay motivated. Let’s take a look.

Myth #1: You burn as many calories as the elliptical says.
One of the biggest fitness myths is the calorie reading on your favorite piece of cardio equipment. Study upon study show that they aren’t accurate: cardio equipment does take into account your age and your weight, but rarely does it factor in gender, height, fitness level, how hard you are working. A study sponsored by Good Morning America found that all cardio equipment lies to you – but the elliptical is the worst, overestimating your caloric burn by 42 percent. Yikes.

Motivation: Use a variety of fitness trackers and/or wearable technology. Although they aren’t perfect, they will give you ballpark figures to work with. One of my clients is in a “Fit Bit” group where they check in with each other’s daily footsteps. I have an Apple Watch, and I pair it with a number of Apps on my I-phone to track what I have eaten, and my activity – not only for the day, but for the week and month. I also track sleep, because not getting enough wreaks havoc on your health and causes you to crave sugar and caffeine, keeping you in an unhealthy loop spiral.

Myth #2: If I run three times a week, I can eat what I want.
You can’t outrun a bad diet: Changing the way you eat is 80 to 90 percent of the equation. If you get home from the gym ravenous and eat the fridge, you undo everything you’ve just done. In order to see results you have to eat a healthy and clean diet. The general rule of thumb is to allow for a cheat day or a couple of cheat meals a week; my rule is 80/20 – eat healthy and clean 80 percent of the time, allow for treats 20 percent of the time. We aren’t saints, and this can be tough to adhere to – especially us moms who forget to eat lunch and end up cramming Goldfish and granola bars into their mouths en route to hockey practice. We’ve all been there.

Motivation: It is easy to hop back on the ‘clean’ wagon. If you have a rough few days – a night out that turns into a greasy breakfast (been there), don’t beat yourself up. Get back on the wagon with a green smoothie. Trust me, you will feel better for it.

Myth #3: Cardio is King.
I am a self-confessed cardio queen – but cardio is not king. Back in the day I loved teaching step and hi-lo (I am dating myself), and now I teach and incorporate High Intensity Interval Training, Boot Camps and Spinning. But, I also kill it with weights, because I know that weight training is the key.
You have to lift weights. I see many of my mom friends after school drop off hitting yoga class and dressed for runs. I love yoga, and I love running. But, at the end of the day, the one thing that keeps me healthy and strong in my physique – the definition I have – is all down to weights. I also know that doing weights offsets the effects of menopause, helps keep osteoporosis at bay and keeps your weight down. You burn more calories when you have a better muscle to fat ratio. Weight training – whether it is body weight, dumbells, sandbells, kettlebells – you name it – is essential. Anything that puts load on your muscles is a necessary part of your fitness program.

Motivation: You only have to aim for 2-3 weight workouts per week to make a difference. Incorporating an at-home program of squats, push-ups, lunges and planks is enough to get you started! Here are a few great resources to check out:

Myth #4: Heavy Weights Will Make Me Big/Spinning Gives Me Hulk Thighs.
This falls under the category “Woman Who Fears Going to the Gym will Somehow Make Her Bigger.” I can’t count the number of times students have said to me, after a grueling cycling class, “I’m afraid my legs will get big.” The answer is simple: look at Tour de France riders. They are lean, and muscular. You need to have resistance on your bike to make it an effective workout. This same principle applies to weight training. Eventually, your body adapts to the load you are placing against the muscle This is called the General Adaptation Principle – you need to surprise your body, and you need to push your body. You can go back to lighter weights from time to time with more repetitions, but you have to challenge your muscles to make it count.

Motivation: Take Baby Steps The next time you go to pick up those 5 and 8lb weights in your class, think about stepping up your game – just for that workout. But my biggest piece of motivation to offer you is this: the next time you go to do a push-up from your knees, one from your toes – just one. You might not get down to the ground, and you might have to drop to your knees for the next repetition, but try one toe push-up. I will wager within a couple of months not only will you be stronger, but knee push-ups will be a thing of the past.

Myth #5: I’m too tired to exercise, so I should just take it easy.
We have all been there: end of the day, you “should” go for a run or hit that class but you just can’t. You are beyond tired, so really – if you did go to the gym, would it be worth it? You wouldn’t work out that hard, right? Wrong. Exercise not only boosts your endorphins and serotonin levels but it gives you energy. Even if you just fire off a 15-minute run,
it is better than nothing.

Motivation: No One Regrets the Workout
You never, ever regret the workout.

erin-phelan-headshotErin Phelan is a health and fitness professional, personal trainer and writer. Find her at, Follow herFacebook, Twitter and Instagram