Bucket lists are as popular these days as prison tattoos and while I love the idea of having goals and dreaming big, just because something is on The List doesn’t mean it’s a Good Idea. So here are 10 things that if you really want to do, then go for it but if you’re only doing them because everyone says you should then you officially have my permission to scratch these off your bucket list with no guilt. You can still be a fitness nerd in good standing!
(And now the part where I confess. I have done every single one of these things. And I’m not sorry I did. But I pretty much did them the wrong-est way they could be done and I did get hurt quite often. So if you love these things I’m not telling you to quit them or that they’re bad – with the exception of #9 – but rather that if you want to try them, at least be smarter about it than I was!)
1. Do a mud run/obstacle race
Mud runs are the new marathons these days. And while I totally get that there’s an adrenaline rush from doing something scary what part of icy pools, mud baths and barbed wire looks fun, exactly? Too many times I’ve seen people sign up for Tough Mudder and the like as the ultimate way to prove their toughness — and then pay the price with injuries, big and small. It just seems strange to me that people put themselves in an artificial test with very real dangers to prove something as subjective as self-worth. (I think I just summed up all of professional sports actually?) I will admit I had a good time with my friends when I did one but when one recent report put the injury rate at about 1/3 of participants getting some type of injury you know something’s messed up. Although reliable statistics are admittedly hard to come by, it’s not hard to find reports of local ERs being overwhelmed during weekend races, people having seizures from electrical shocks, more broken bones and sprains than you can throw a tractor tire at and, sadly, even deaths. Oh and this recent report of people being hospitalized because the mud in the mud run was contaminated with animal feces. All in the name of recreation?
If you do decide to try it: There’s always risk in any athletic endeavor but what makes these more risky than most according to many running experts is that you can’t adequately train for these types of races. Not only do many popular races try and keep the obstacles a secret but when it comes to things like jumping off a 12-foot tower, hurdling swaths of fire or running along slippery wooden rollers, you either do it or you don’t. And if you do it, there is as much luck involved as skill in preventing you from getting hurt. With that in mind, remember there are different tiers – there are 5ks with light obstacles that offer walk-arounds all the way up to intense military-style 20-milers and everything in between. So know what you’re signing up for, take your time and don’t be afraid to stop or go around an obstacle you can’t handle.
2. Max Squat
This gave me hemorrhoids. Yes, I said it. And I’m not the only one. If you are a competitive weight lifter then it’s important for you to know your 1-rep max (the absolute heaviest you can do with good form) on a variety of lifts. For the rest of us it’s just bragging rights and I can tell you from personal (painful) experience that winning the water cooler wars pales next to being able to sit comfortably. Squat heavy, certainly, but there’s just no need bust your butt (literally) for an arbitrary number.
If you do decide to try it: Make sure you have good spotters and use a squat rack. Good form is paramount. Also, train up to it. Back-squatting 1.5 times your body weight is not something you just do on a whim.
3. Run a marathon (or an ultra)
If running is considered the ultimate exercise then running a marathon is the ultimate exercise goal. But running 26.2 miles isn’t for everyone. What a lot of beginning runners don’t understand (and I certainly didn’t) is that running a marathon isn’t to get you in shape but rather you need to be in shape to run a marathon. Aside from the fact that training for one often makes people more hungry and thereby stalls or slows weight loss goals; your bones, joints and especially heart take a serious beating. More is not always better and you don’t need hours of high-impact cardio to be healthy and fit.
If you do decide to try it: It’s a rush, no doubt about it! And if running long distances is your passion then get a realistic training plan and go for it. I’ve found it very helpful to find a running group or a running partner with marathon experience to help navigate all the ins and outs of training for running for 4+ hours.
4. Get a Brazilian wax (Boys, close your eyes)
Someone somewhere just spit their coffee out all over their keyboard. But I can’t even tell you how many gym convos I’ve had with random women about grooming their nethers. What you do with your lady landscaping is a very personal preference but there are a lot of fitness people that preach bare is better. I’ve heard reasons ranging from it’s more hygienic to it’s less sweaty to it just looking better in tight spandex pants, swimsuits or booty shorts. (True story: I once spent an entire class discussing the implications of “the pouf” in various styles of workout gear.) However, this may be one of those things that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone. (And now you’ll always associate Cinderella with pubes. You’re welcome.) I’m not going to go into a ton of detail but for me the pain was not worth the supposed benefits. And you can forget about the myth that it’s cleaner: research has shown that the little tears created actually make you more susceptible to infection right after. There are so many options between bare and all there – just consider them before pulling out the wax.
If you do decide to try it: Go to a licensed pro (as my college roommate who literally glued her butt cheeks together can tell you), check your modesty at the door and plan on some serious upkeep because growing it back in is a nightmare.
5. Wear a leotard
I’m going to be perfectly honest: I wish leotards and their ungainly twin, the unitard, would make a comeback. It’s not that I don’t love being able to pee at will but if you’ve ever worked out in a leo, then you’ll know they’re not only pretty comfy but they have a nice way of holding everything in and reducing jiggle. Plus you don’t have to worry about the “windowshade effect” where your top rolls up and your pants slip down – usually while you’re sprinting on the treadmill. That said, Jane Fonda costumes aside, you never have to wear a leo. Nor is it required of you to wear spandex at all! Lots of people workout quite happily in non-traditional workout attire. If you’re comfortable in it and it covers your bits, you’re golden.
If you do decide to try it: Go big or go home! And then send me a picture! I have leotards in gold lamé, pink paillettes, and neon and black sequins among others. Another option that I’ve seen some women do is to wear them underneath your regular Lulus, kind of like Spanx.
6. Do a biceps curl and/or triceps kickback
The functional fitness trend has been one of the best things to come out of the last decade of fitness research. Muscle isolation movements, especially those of the small muscles, are not necessary for muscle growth or strength. In fact, scientists are discovering that it’s better to train movements you actually use on a regular basis like pushing, pulling and rotating. You’ll still work your bis and tris but just in combination with other muscle groups like you’d do in real life. Seriously, when’s the last time you had to tricep kickback anything?
If you do decide to try it: Just make sure it’s part of a total body weight lifting program. Don’t be that guy (or girl) who only works the muscles they like.
Zumba is huge. Hip hop fitness classes are all the rage. Dancing With the Stars is the new national pastime. But while I think dancing is a riot and will do it anytime anyplace, some people find dancing hugely intimidating. Whether it’s the choreography, the music or the feeling that everyone is staring at you (they’re not looking at you, they’re looking at your gold leotard!), some people hate any kind of workout that includes dancing. If that’s you, there’s no shame in steering clear! Although if you get dragged into the Cha Cha Slide at a party I can’t help you.
If you do decide to try it: Go more than once!! Dance workouts are generally choreographed and while it looks like everyone else instinctively knows what to do next it’s really because they’ve been practicing for weeks. Everyone hates a dance workout the first time they try it because they look like a total spaz doing The Elaine while everyone else is doing The Dougie.
8. Go Vegan/Go Paleo
I’m going to step on a whole bunch of toes right now but I don’t think you have to go on an extreme elimination diet to be healthy. Can going Vegan or Paleo/Primal improve your health? Sure. I know lots of people who swear by both diets (and that’s a topic for another day). But too often I see people decide to Get! Healthy! and start by doing a juice cleanse or a 30-day raw challenge or dropping all carbs. Sometimes this jump starts people’s health journey but often it just jump starts them into yo-yo dieting and the shame spiral.
If you do decide to try it: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat vegan or paleo but get educated! Don’t just drink the Kool-Aid of whoever is selling the diet. Read books, talk to people, look up research. Also, making dietary changes works better for many people if you do them gradually. I’m convinced that everyone can be a scientist of their own body so listen closely to what it is telling you and eat the way that makes you feel the best!
9. Throw up
Blowing chunks has become a badge of honor in some workout circles – puke buckets next to the squat rack, anyone? – but pushing yourself until you vomit, faint, or collapse really means you’ve pushed too hard. Working out hard can be great but there’s no added health benefits (and some distinct health detriments) in pushing yourself to the point of puking. Yes, I’ve done this and I’ve learned the hard way that it’s nothing to be proud of.
If you do decide to try it: Just don’t. And if you thought I meant bulimia, don’t do that either. Although if you do want your own lane in a crowded lap pool, just dry heave a few times and you’ll be flying solo in no time!
10. Share your running playlist on Facebook
First, it’s kinda boring. While I love getting a song recommendation from a friend, I do not care to see all 100 songs on your 80’s tribute list (set to 165 bpm). Second, it opens you up to a panoply of ridicule. I love that you love Neil Diamond. In fact, I love it so much that I will now sing “Forever in Blue Jeans” every single time I see you. Seriously though, music taste is so individual. I’ve never looked at someone else’s playlist and shrieked “You are a genius! I must have this!”.
If you do decide to try it: Mess with people’s heads! Throw in some Marilyn Manson right next to the Cookie Monster song. Have every song title include the word death. Do Christmas songs in April. Come on, this is your chance to really weird people out!!
So, your turn! What do you think should be taken off the “must-do” fitness lists?? Hiking Everest? Charity walks where nothing really goes to charity? Protein bars? Do you disagree with anything on my list?