In a sea of fitspiration on Instagram, it can be impossible to find a relatable voice. That's why we're psyched about Sophie Gray, a 21-year-old registered holistic nutritionist and certified personal trainer with enviable abs and a body-positive message. "It's OK to work out to look good, but don't let it be the only reason," says Gray, who offers fitness videos and a seven-day meal plan for $7.50 through her website, Way of Gray (wayofgray.com). Her 400,000 followers visit her Instagram page (@wayofgray) daily to get inspired by her accessible nutrition tips and wry messages ("Does taking off a sports bra count as resistance training?"). Ahead, Gray shares her best fitness tips to get you looking and feeling amazing. And don't forget to share her advice on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook!
1. Exercise For the Right Reasons
"The way you look is fleeting, so exercise and eat well because you want to take care of your body and you love yourself — not always to lose weight," says Gray. At age 16, the former model struggled with dieting, but she was never fully happy with her body. "I didn't realize that it was impossible to change my bone structure," she says. "The truth is, I had a disordered relationship with food, and I was at war with my body." Fortunately, a friend who was a personal trainer taught Gray to view fitness through a holistic lens, which made her healthier inside and out.
2. Get In and Out
"People don't need to work out for long periods of time to see results," says Gray. "I'm always the first one to leave the gym because I don't have that much time to exercise." To get the most bang for your buck, focus on interval routines that incorporate short bursts of speed with resting periods, hit the gym during off-peak hours to avoid crowds or take classes which start and end at specific times.
3. It’s OK If You Don’t Lift Weights
There are many reasons to do some form of strength training, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to hit the weight room. "Weightlifting can be intimidating for some people, and it's not even necessary to get in shape," says Gray, whose personal workouts can be completed at home or outside without equipment. If you don't like the weight room, try other strength-training methods, such as Pilates, resistance-band workouts or circuit training. Better yet, she says, make exercise fun by rollerblading or playing paintball.
4. Don’t Buy Into Cheat Meals
Some people recommend a scheduled "cheat meal" at which you can eat whatever you want in order to relieve some of the stress of a strict diet. But cheat meals themselves can be very stressful, Gray says. "People also stress over their cheat days, which is more damaging to the body than the meals themselves." That stress can also impair your workout: One study conducted by Yale University found that people are more sedentary when they're feeling stressed. A good solution is to indulge your cravings, then try to eat as cleanly as possible for the rest of the day.
5. Don’t Imitate What Others Eat
One secret Gray refuses to share with her followers: her daily diet. "I never tell people what I eat in a day," she says. "I'm young and obsessed with fitness, and that's not for everyone. People have different lifestyles, stress levels and physiology, and my diet won't fuel your workout."
6. Drink This Pre-Workout Smoothie
Gray calls it her go-to drink: One frozen banana, one cup of frozen mango, one avocado, one cup of water, one tablespoon of chia seeds and one cup of spinach. It's the perfect combo of healthy fats, digestible carbohydrates and fruity goodness.
7. Stay Hydrated
"People tend to overlook this piece of advice because it's so basic," says Gray. "But drinking water is so key to staying fit." When you exercise, you lose water through sweat, so if you begin dehydrated, you'll tire more quickly.
8. Get a Workout Buddy
You've heard it before, but that's because it's true: Exercising with friends keeps you accountable, especially if you're new to fitness, Gray explains. Two different studies also found that people who exercise with others (in person or with virtual partners) actually enjoy their workouts more, and they boosted exercise intensity and duration by 200 percent.
9. Focus On Your Breathing
"Connecting to your breath helps you meet your fitness goals because your muscles need oxygen to keep working," says Gray. "Admittedly, I don't always breathe properly, so I tend to yawn a lot during my workouts." Try these tips: During cardio, inhale for three seconds and exhale for two; during strength training, inhale on the easier part of the move, exhale on the more demanding portion.
10. Use Videos to Learn New Moves
If you've ever paused your workout to decipher an instructional move, you're not alone. It's why Gray tries to be as clear as possible in her fitness videos. "I want to be an expert, but I have to use common terminology because I remember what it was like when I was just starting out," she says. Case in point: When explaining how to pull off a scissor run in a recent video, Gray said, "This move is really weird to describe, so just look at me," then pulled off a perfect demo. The message: Sometimes you just need to see how an exercise is done. If it's too complicated, modify the move or stay away altogether.
What Do YOU Think?
Which of Sophie's tips do you like best? Do you have another favorite fitness quote you'd like to share? Let us know your tips in the comments.