Exercising By Proxy – 7 Tips To Make The Most Of Every Workout

May 27, 2016

05 / 27 / 2016

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In gyms across North America, exercising is often done by proxy.  Personal trainers and fitness instructors stand in for your own solid engagement in your workout.  If you were asked to repeat the workout you just did, in, for example, a Bobypump® class, many of you couldn’t, not because you don’t care but because your mind wasn’t into your work. The same people, on the same treadmills and fitness classes, in the same gyms, can be seen all over the country, doing the same thing on repeat, with little to no results.
When the mind is not fully engaged in your physical pursuits, and you have no clear direction, results are lacklustre. However if you put your mind into the muscle, practicing regularly with focus, results will be yours!

When I first dreamed of owning a healthier, leaner, tighter physique, I spent countless hours, alone, on a treadmill.  I could be spotted at my local Goodlife gym, at any hour, plugging away at the miles.  I may even have been guilty of reading a book while on an elliptical.  Modest results followed.

I lost weight (I had to, I was obese at 204 pounds) and could wear smaller clothes but I wasn’t tight and I wasn’t truly fit.  For about 12 months, I kept up the running game.  I could sprint.  I could outlast anyone. I had developed my engine, but something was missing.

I thought I had achieved all I could because I did not believe I had more athletic ability than that. I had set the limit to my own development. I didn’t think I had more to give.  I didn’t believe in myself.

Until I set a massive goal. Until I put my mind into the muscle. Until I broke down my own barriers. It wasn’t until I engaged my mind into my training, even deep into my muscles, that I made dramatic changes.

Action without direction rarely leads to progress.  Through focused training, I learned just how far I could take my physical self. My calendar became populated with gym dates.  I never stood myself up.  I built quads where there had been none, doing leg extensions with a full stack.  From non-existent muscle, I created glutes by squatting with heavy weights and more.  Twelve months later I set a goal: to compete in my first bodybuilding contest.

With that, I undertook to train with zeal and panic. No more reading on the elliptical. Regular workouts included strength training, whole body exercises, plyometrics, box jumps, HIITs, and stretching.  Here was a workout that bruised but did not obliterate my body. Rather, all was brought into sharp focus.  Results were the outcome.

Break through your own barriers.  Shift out of auto-pilot and into gear. Think of the example of world class runner Emil Zatopek.  He started out as an 18-year-old kid, forced to run his first race by a coach at the shoe factory where he worked.  Through his unique style of training and running, including sprinting 80 x 400 intervals with little to no rest, Zatopek broke Czech, world, and finally Olympic records.  How did he do it? He set his mind to win.  He did not win by proxy.  He felt and welcomed every mind-numbing, painful step.

Through Zatopek’s pain, he learned what he was capable of.  Through our own willingness to dig in, lift heavier, run faster, linger in a bit of pain, we grow.  We also learn what we are able to do.

7 Tips To Make The Most Of Every Workout

  1. Show up like you mean it. Be ready to work out with intensity. Wear the right clothing and shoes.  I will never forget the time a client showed up, ready for her “workout” dressed in her silk blouse, dress pants and high heels.  She thought she was going to watch me work out.  I quickly found gym clothing and got her sweating!
  2. Accept that exercise may feel uncomfortable, and sometimes painful.  You must break out of your comfort zone in order to make real strides in training.  You will sweat.  You will be out of breath.  Your muscles will burn.  You will gasp for air.  But it will be a sweet pain filled with purpose and ultimately, pleasure.
  3. Engage your brain.  Letting your trainer show you the ropes or following blindly in fitness classes, doesn’t challenge your brain nor deliver the best results.  Think about the muscles you are working while performing lunges or squats. Visualize what is happening to the cells and muscle fibres.  Making that connection engages mind and muscle, increases results.
  4. Stop talking.  Social hour at the gym is one way to sabotage your physique goals.  My foolproof tip is to put earphones on so no one bothers me while I train. Be all business at the gym.  Go for coffee later.
  5. Steady state training is the old way of training. Sure we may need to train for endurance if you are a marathoner but try mixing up your training with HIITs, Tabatas, sprints, plyometrics, full body exercises, kettle bell work and functional fitness.  Constantly changing up the intensity of your workout stimulates the metabolic and heart rate, as well as your fat burning capacity.  
  6. Don’t look for ways to cheat.  Many moves are highly strenuous so we try to find ways to cheat the movement. Take treadmill running as an example.  How many of you have used the handlebars to get a little “rest” during your run? Or when using the machines, relied on them to do the relaxation portion of your movement? Keep muscles engaged at all times for best results.
  7. Challenge yourself frequently and constantly.  One gym routine will not last a lifetime. Switch up your moves, intensity and frequency every three weeks.

Make every sweat session count.  Show up for your workout with your heart, head and engine 100% engaged.

Remember, I am always listening.


PS – Tell me about the last time you dug in and delivered at the gym? The last time you switched up your workout? What results did you get?  How did you feel?  Send me your comments in the COMMENTS section below.  Can’t wait to hear from you.

Tosca Reno

Author, columnist, motivational speaker, reality TV star, radio personality, consultant, mother and wife, Tosca Reno has been inspiring millions with the Eat Clean™️ Diet series and sharing the success she's had with weight loss and Clean Eating.


  1. Love this, I train twice a week with my PT and this afternoon, even though I was tired from the end of the week and a 18 hour day for a trip interstate yesterday, I still showed up, and put in – and even did a PB lifting on my upper body day….I thought about postponing due to feeling tired but was soooo glad I didn’t!!!!! Felt amazing, invigorating not ever going to never give up! Its all in the attitude and the mind.

  2. I AM that fitness instructor who people follow blindly, though I constantly talk about that mind/body connection and bringing awareness to the muscle groups we are working. It bothers me when I am the hardest working person in the room or when I get the comments about my classes being too hard…you know what? You’re welcome. It should be hard. My challenge is in mixing it up for my own good because I’ve been teaching for 18 years and need to throw new things at my body for me too – to avoid burn out and injury.

  3. Hi Tosca,
    I’ve been digging my heels in every since the “M” word has been rearing its nasty face. I have to work twice as hard and can so relate to the mind vs muscle mentality that you’re talking about. Can’t see results with my head in the “clouds” and my hands around the weights. I have been working out for 20 years and find the last 3 have been the most arduous. Maximum effort is my mantra – and of course, eating clean as always :).

  4. I have worked out with weights for over the last 10 years and eating clean. But the last 5 years have been very hard to lose weight since the “M” word. This year I am training for an Ironman and with the 3 disciplines of cardio exercise, running, cycling and swimming I am finally dropping weight. The swimming I have found to be the most amazing workout ever. I do a lot of core work for the cycling portion of the training but that is all for now. Talk about being tired, running for two hours and then biking for 2 you are tired. Have to admit I feel great and getting stronger in a different way, mentally, as an Ironman is a mental game. Once you achieve that portion of the training, completing to race is the easy part.

  5. Hello Deb.
    The Big M is a pain for many women. I remember how good I felt while training for my triathlon. I think it was because I had a goal, structured training programmed into my calendar and I was training every part of my body in very different ways. Loved it!

    Keep up the dedicated training and remember to nourish yourself well.


  6. Hi Arden.
    Yes, that Big M again! Change is what keeps us on our toes. Remember that we can powerfully affect how the body responds to exercise by “thinking it” through and by doing explosive bursts of high intensity training. This is maximum effort at small intervals to generate the Fitness Hormone aka, growth hormone.

    Keep up the pursuit!

  7. Hello Christina.
    Thank you for your truth. Yes there are many who follow you, only too happy to lean on your efforts for training. That is okay for some but if you really want to make change in your physique and health, folks must learn to work collaboratively with you. I love my trainer who pushes me, particularly when I asked her, at the outset of our training relationship, “to push me hard.” She is.

    Keep throwing things at your participants. We must remember, that while we can serve others with our knowledge and passion, only they can absorb it and that is their own free will, wanting to or not. When I took my ego out of my work, I became a better teacher. That may help you too.


  8. Hello Colleen.
    I agree my Sister in Strength. You have to show up. I too have had many an occasion when I just didn’t want to get out of bed but I did it anyway because I knew that for all the lousiness I might feel at the moment, as soon as I start moving my body, I feel incredible. I always say to those who hesitate before training, to those who whine, or procrastinate, “Just give me 10 minutes, 10 minutes, and I will have you feeling wonderful.” And that is what happens. 10 minutes on the treadmill, complaining, turns to 40 minutes in the gym sweating and feeling fabulous.

    Keep up the good work my friend.
    Tosca Reno

  9. Hi, Tosca. My name is Jules and I’m 49 years old. Fortunately, I was able to retire two years ago. I find myself with so much free time I should be able to conquer the world. However, the exact opposite has happened. I find myself aimless, without purpose, and without drive. I have packed on 15 lb and can’t seem to get rid of it. I find myself bored during CrossFit classes. Not because I’ve achieved everything I would like to, but I don’t really have any CrossFit goals. I believe finding a workout, or series of workouts that interest me, will be the key. Showing up to class because I know if I don’t my trainer will call me doesn’t motivate me to greatness. It’s got to be a mind/body union. Yes? Where the mind goes, the body will follow. I’m hoping!


  10. Thanks so much for your comment and sharing a piece of your story with me. Yes a big change in routine like retiring can certainly leave us feeling untethered for some time. I would agree that finding a class you connect with and that will give you structure and routine will help quite a bit. Please keep me posted on your progress!

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