The gym is not about burning calories

How setting performance goals can improve your relationship with exercise


We've all been guilty of the "burning off yesterday's food" mentality or the "I've earned this" affirmation after eating a treat. Seemingly harmless, this type of self-talk can create a negative relationship with both exercise and your diet. Rather than exercise being a celebration of what your body can achieve, it morphs into a punishment from what you’ve eaten - a cycle that can create a negative impact on the way you feel about your training regime altogether.


Rather than seeing exercise as a big energy dump to work off the food you’ve consumed, it should be viewed as an activity that will enhance your fitness and make you feel better. Making this shift in your mindframe can be easier said than done, however, the best place to start is by replacing calorie targets with performance goals.


A performance goal for you might look very different to someone else's. It could be any of the following:


  • Aim for your first chin up
  • Aim to walk/run further than you did last week
  • Aim to beat your time on a rowing erg
  • Aim to make it through a new class


Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something challenging but achievable, so that you can feel proud of yourself when your body reaches a new milestone. Through changing the focus to what you can do, rather than what you are burning off, your experience will become a lot more positive as the motivation swaps to doing something good for your body, rather than trying to thrash it.


A common misconception is that burning calories is the best way to lose weight. You can do endless amounts of exercise but if you're still eating in a caloric surplus, you won't lose weight. The age-old saying, "you can't out-train a poor diet" couldn’t ring more true.


So instead of dragging yourself out of bed and doing mind-numbing amounts of calories to 'balance yourself out', use exercise as a means to get fitter, stronger, healthier and feel better. 


Having said that, obviously exercise can certainly be a great tool to help increase your energy expenditure, which can shift your energy balance and help you lose weight. But it should be primarily seen as something to improve your cardiovascular health, improve strength and mobility, a way to manage stress or improve your mental health. The aesthetic changes are just a by-product of hard work and (more importantly) smarter food choices.


Whatever it may be, now is generally a pretty good time for reflection/re-evaluation of the year that has been. From here, you can set yourself some performance goals in the gym to get you excited about it once again heading into the new year. We are always happy to help if you want to talk to someone about creating goals and a plan for helping you get there!


To maintain your caloric input better, it could be worth talking to a nutritionist. Next year we are offering consultations with a student Dietitian, Jenna from January 11th. Stay tuned for further details.