The Myth of Muscle Confusion


“You need to mix up your exercise routine so your muscles don’t get used to it.”

Have you heard that advice before? This is termed muscle confusion and is built on the fact that as the body “gets used to” an exercise, or builds muscle memory, it burns fewer calories.  The narrow focus that calorie burning is the main reason to exercise has led to this confusion about muscle memory.

If you are exercising to lose weight, let’s take a step back. Why do you want to lose weight? To make everyday tasks and fun activities easier? To be more comfortable in your body? To reduce pain?  To feel better? To improve health? And, I am guessing, you want those great benefits to last, right?

If that sounds like what you want, muscle memory is your friend!

To make something easier, such as playing an instrument or learning a second language, it takes practice. Exercise is just practice for the things you want to be easier, more comfortable, more fun. If you are always practicing something different, your body does not build muscle memory as well.

In everyday life, we need strength for movements like bending down and getting back up, stepping up, lifting overhead, pushing, pulling, lifting and carrying objects. Doing these movements in the way the body was designed, on a regular basis, at a level that comfortably challenges them over and above the level of daily life, will make them easier. This is why muscle memory is your friend – you get the ease of movement you truly want from weight loss.

And, your body is still burning calories! The total decrease in calories burned from muscle memory is small. Instead of playing that numbers game you just can’t win, put your energy into reducing the calories you take in from eating for reasons other than hunger. These calories can add up much more. Use exercise to help you feel better so you are less likely to look to food for comfort.

The muscle confusion approach is yet another example of how the fitness industry takes one small slice of science and applies it in a way that is very profitable. Yet, it leaves people who want fitness that improves health and function missing out on exercising in a way that sustains their body and motivation.

The bottom line: Life can be complicated and confusing enough! Your exercise time does not need to be. Your body does adapt and yes, because it is smart, it will burn a few less calories for an activity when it builds muscle memory.  The calorie difference is not worth what you are missing out on by focusing on muscle confusion. Focus on muscle memory and enjoy a body that makes it easier to enjoy your life!

Be Well Now,


The Myth of Being Good

This post is dedicated to a dear friend who lost his battle with trying to find his wholeness and to all those who tried to help him find his way. May you rest in peace.  


In our goals for being healthy, there is a myth that needs to be resolved before we can truly be well. It is the myth that we will finally be okay when we achieve a certain weight, size, way of eating, or living. It is the myth that those who have achieved these are more virtuous than those who have not. The truth is, our striving to be well is an expression of, not a requirement for, our own wholeness.

There are three beliefs that keep us stuck in this myth:

  1. The Missing Piece: Take your hands and make them into circle, looking through them like a telescope. What do you see? Now take your hands away from your eyes. What do you see? The narrow view is what happens when we believe we need to achieve a certain state in order to be whole. What are you trying to accomplish right now?  Are you missing peace because you think of it as a missing piece of you? Take the big picture view. Put your goal in perspective by seeing it as an expression of your wholeness.
  2. Life is Good or Bad:  Stand or sit in a comfortable but open upright position. Feel your body like a mountain. Wind, rain, snow, and sun can all happen around you but you are still a strong, sturdy, beautiful mountain. When we judge life events as “good or bad,”  we are believing we are the weather and forget we are the mountain. When we remember we are the mountain, we don’t need to hide from the sorrows and chase the joys. When we are the mountain, “life” is less likely to get in the way of our health goals.  We can be with the imperfections inside and around us, being sturdy and beautiful amid it all.
  3.  Being Good or Bad: Consider for a moment all of nature. How does a bulb know how to become a flower? Why do birds spend days building a nest?  What makes an animal search for food? Every living thing strives to be safe, contented, and connected, in other words, to be well.  We too, as humans, are constantly striving to be well. Whether we “veg out” on the couch or go for  a walk, all of our choices are an effort to be well. We are not “bad” if we make one choice and “good” if we make another. Whether our choices lead to well-being or not does not change the fact that they originated from our natural instinct to be well. Self-criticism is a moot point when we see our choices from this perspective.

These judgements and tendencies are a normal part of being human. Noticing when the view of our true selves is blurred by them, then shifting our awareness to our wholeness, is essential to be well now.

Be Well Now,



The Exercise Hangover Myth

Blank stare.

I had just finished describing to a client how exercise is a resource for well-being. How it does not have to make you feel worse in order to get the benefits. How suffering through a grueling workout does not give you ‘extra points’ towards your goal of weight loss and health. How when exercise leaves you feeling better, mentally and physically, it is healing the body and brain in the present and setting the course for a future of health and well-being.

“It sounds great, but I am just not believing it” she said calmly, looking as if I was living in some Pollyanna fairy-tale land. She had a long history of the exercise hangover, the cycle of jumping into a program and suffering through until it finally felt okay. Then “life got in the way” and the guilt of not exercising would surround her like a heavy fog as she hoped for something to spark motivation again. This cycle of suffering and guilt made exercise seem more like a nightmare than a life-enhancing activity.

This cycle is a combination of two exercise myths – the myth of suffering and the myth of ‘not enough.’ The former is due to the perception that exercise needs to make us feel worse before we can feel better. This idea of delayed gratification is necessary in sports and military training, where the only goal – to gain an edge over the competition – is relatively short-term.  When we exercise because we want to be healthy and well, delaying gratification drains motivation. We all want to feel successful – it’s a basic human need – but when we are suffering, we do not feel successful.

To nurture sustainable exercise motivation, each session needs to be successful – but not by outside measures, not by how many miles we move or calories we burn or pounds we lose. Those are empty sources of motivation, keeping us living in the should because there is always more we could accomplish, always someone else who is more successful. Lasting motivation is built on internal success, feeling better mentally and physically – having more energy, less anxiety, more confidence, less pain, more patience, less depression. Those are the gems found by looking inside ourselves for measures of success and are the building blocks for exercise as the valuable resource for well-being it is.

I invited my client to try a two-week experiment. Do 5-10 minutes of exercise each day, letting her body guide how much she did. The goal was to experiment with ways to make the 5-10 minutes her time – away from work, kids, to do list.  A time to work out some stress in her body and let her brain take a little vacation from all the things she should do. For two weeks, notice how she feels before and how she feels after. Just notice.

Activate it:  Are you tired of the exercise hangover? Give this little two-week experiment a try.  Let go of the idea that it is not enough to make a difference and see how it feels to use movement a source of well-being for a few minutes a day. Please share what you notice in the comments.

Be Well Now,


Hooray for Fitness and Friends

“The best things in life are free”

Its time for the 16th annual girls weekend in New Hampshire, filled with cherished friends and traditions that make the weekend special. One is winter hike along the river. The weather forecast challenges our tradition 7 degrees, feels like 8 below with the wind. But, we bundle up and agree to give it a try, even a short hike to keep the tradition alive. To our wonderful surprise, it was not too bad for the first couple of miles. We decide to take the longer walk as long as we keep moving, we feel fine. We savor the beautiful with the crisp blue sky and the sound of the blue grey water rushing over huge boulders in the river. We keep moving, filling the forest with the sounds of laughter and conversations as we go.

As we start the return trip one friend in our group stops and leans over. She has a muscle spasm in her groin. We slow down, give her some water. We walk slower with our friend as she struggles, but bravely enduring the pain to keep moving. We start inventing all kinds of new ways to walk that are easier on the groin muscles, complete with songs that we can sing to keep us from thinking about how far we really have to go. Still laughter filling the woods, with the gradual realization this could not end well. My friend looks at me, ‘should I run for help’. I nod, its time for reinforcements.

Fortunately, she has been running regularly, committed to doing half marathons at national parks for vacations each year so her and her husband motivated keep moving to avoid the winter blues. She takes off like a gazelle. The rest of us take turns letting our friend lean on our backs while we walk so she can keep moving and stay warm. It seems like a long time before our gazelle friend comes running back, bright orange toboggan in tow. Cheers, sighs of relieve and the realization that once our friend is in the toboggan she is at greater risk for hypothermia. Our gazelle friend takes off pulling the injured friend as swift as she did with it empty.

At last, the welcome hut is in sight. We made it! Cheers, sighs of relieve, hugs and more laughter this time as a celebration of friends and fitness.

Friends like this are one of the great things in life, thus a valuable source of well-being. Friends who will stick by you laughing and singing and dancing together through the joys and challenge of life.

Fitness is one of the best things in life too, thus another valuable source of wellbeing. Fitness gave us the freedom to enjoy time together laughing and catching up surrounded by a living tapestry of nature’s beauty. Fitness also allowed us to meet an emergency with ease. In the end, friends and fitness saved the day!

THIS true tale embodies what fitness is REALY about. Its not about winning races or fitness competitions. Its not about burning calories so the scale goes down. Its not about working target areas trying to fix your body. Its about being well. Its about freedom to live life with a bit more ease, with energy to enjoy life with those you love and being ready to meet emergencies.

This day could have gone either way. I am grateful for fitness for giving us a story we can laugh about many annual girl’s weekends to come. Hooray for fitness and friends, you saved the day!

Be Well Now


This blog is dedicated to this amazing group of women I am blessed to call friends.  Each one unique, bound together by  unwavering acceptance, care and trust. 

The Myth of Exercise and Weight Loss

weight-loss-2036966Diane* came into the hospital based weight clinic, excited to get on the scale. The past month, she had changed her diet and started exercising twice a day for 30 minutes. Tears welled up in her eyes as she read the number – UP three pounds in three weeks! “How could that be??  I have been doing everything I am supposed to be doing?” Based on calculations of calories in and calories out, Diane should have lost weight. She felt betrayed by the scale and by her body.

I asked how she was feeling. She said, “Exhausted!” She is a single mom of a four-year old and works from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. seven days a week. During the five hours she can sleep, she sleeps well, but it is still only five hours a night. She does get some breaks during the day but those are spent with her son, housecleaning, and fitting in exercise. She was sleep-deprived, stressed and now feeling hopeless.

The myth here is that exercise for weight loss is just about burning calories. We can work the numbers all we want but in reality the numbers get in the way. Exercise becomes another thing on our to do list, another “should.” As a result, we miss out on the real benefit of exercise for weight loss – to restore recharge mode.

The body and brain work on a two-way communication system. When we are physically tired and sore from exercise and mentally resenting our body for not looking or responding like it is “supposed to,” the brain and the body are working against each other. The brain sees these shortcomings in the body as a threat to safety.   Alarm mode is triggered. Healing, growth and repair are down regulated while all systems prepare for fighting or fleeing. When in chronic alarm mode, the body will resist weight loss because it may need the extra fuel to fight or flee!

Exercise is the antidote to stress only when exercise is not stressful. When we are living in the should, exercising to outsmart the body into losing weight, ignoring  pain and fatigue, movement becomes stressful, injury risk goes up, and chances of success with sustainable weight loss disappear.

Diane and I decided she has a great resource that could help her right now. She loves to dance and did not even consider that would “count” as exercise. She finds walking her dog relaxing. Her plan is to use these resources for reducing stress, letting some air out of the ballon when she has a break in her day, so her body can recharge. The relieved smile on her face told me her body and brain were finally working together and she boosted her chances of successful sustainable weight loss by changing exercise from a should to a resource for being well now.

Be Well Now,


*Name changed to protect privacy.