It’s often said that the numbers don’t lie. But when it comes to exercise, they don’t tell the whole story.
Take our current obsession with calories. Fitness enthusiasts haven’t been so singularly focused on this unit of energy since Jane Fonda led the leg-warmer-clad masses through their paces.
Back then, counting the calories we consumed was all the rage.
Today, it’s all about keeping tabs on the calories we burn.
Thanks to wristband fitness trackers, this data is literally at arm’s length. What’s more, classes that claim to torch a staggeringly high number of calories are the hot ticket at health clubs, and attendance continues to climb.
Although monitoring our caloric output sounds like a healthy habit, we risk developing an unhealthy attitude toward fitness when we do.
How? Let us count the ways.
1. We lose sight of real fitness
When we chart our progress with the calories we burn, we look toward just one goal: losing weight. But weight loss does not equal overall health. A slim physique can be a byproduct of fitness, but we have to consider a whole host of factors— our heart rate, muscle mass, energy levels and blood pressure, to name a few.
2. It leads to overeating
Each time you complete a high-intensity workout, your fitness tracker calculates the number of calories you’ve expended. For some, this triple-digit figure serves as a license to chow. Rather than considering food as the fuel we need to sustain ourselves, it becomes a reward for a killer workout. In these circumstances, we’re likely to overestimate how much we can eat. So we indulge and then wonder why we can’t shed pounds.
3. We’re vulnerable to injuries
When a high-intensity workout no longer yields the caloric burn it once did, it leads to frustration. In fact, we should be thrilled to see those numbers dip. Why? If you’re burning fewer calories working out at the same relative intensity, it’s a sign that your body is becoming fitter. But if we’re consumed by numbers, we’re likely to ratchet up our workouts — a strategy that puts us on the fast track to injuries.
4. We lose variety in our workouts
When we prioritize calorie burning, we turn our back on lower-intensity forms of exercises. That’s a costly trade-off to make. If, for example, we scratch yoga from our workout schedule, we lose flexibility and balance — two essential components of a fit physique. If we abandon strength training, we lose muscle mass. Remember, a muscular body burns calories more effectively all day, not just when you’re in the thick of a workout.
5. We don’t give ourselves permission to rest
Our bodies were not built to exercise strenuously every day. At most, you should engage in three such workouts a week, allowing at least 48 hours of recovery time between each session. If you’re constantly crushing it at the gym, you don’t allow your body to rest, recover and replace lost energy stores. The most effective exercise schedules alternate among high-, moderate- and low-intensity workouts. This way, you avoid injury and burnout while performing at your peak.
The big takeaway? If you’ve grown attached to monitoring the calories you burn, it’s time to explore the other features on your fitness tracker. You should also consider reviewing your exercise regimen with a certified trainer to make sure that you’re on the path to optimal health rather than just working out “by the numbers.”