07/30/2014 05:19 pm ET | Updated Sep 29, 2014

How to Change Your Fitness Mindset

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As women we tend to see fitness as a fix to losing weight in addition to a tool to improve our aesthetics. In my experience as a trainer, I have yet to have a female client who began her journey with a goal other than the pursuit of achieving her best body. We (women) strongly believe that once we obtain that specific body, we will love and accept ourselves and live happier lives. This belief often saps our motivation and overlooks fundamental and more important aspects, like getting stronger, connecting with our bodies, and transforming ourselves to be more functionally fit and beautiful -- all of which help us live a more productive and fulfilling life. We forget that we are more than our looks, or the number on the scale, or the emotions we feel. There is a greatness within us that we often forget to feed and develop through hard work, dedication and a positive mindset so that we can be successful in conquering our goals.

I recognized the difficulty in adjusting my mindset only after I could no longer participate in competitive athletics. Sports played a huge role in my life growing up. The track, the gym, training and competing were my home. Early in life I learned to look at my body for all that it was able to achieve instead of fixating merely on my looks. I was happier and confident because I was able to see my body in a positive way. Like most women, I still had my own insecurities. I found myself wishing for a bigger "derriere" since mine did not "fit" the typical Puerto Rican shape.

For me, it took a series of setbacks to fully experience this successful physical transformation, one that begins from the inside out and starts with changing our mindset. Like many women I lost myself in the midst of daily life struggles and setbacks. After having kids I thought I could never get my body back. Then, after a series of injuries that led me to stop competing and running completely, I felt crushed and without a purpose. Even worse, I lost the connection with my own body and felt inadequate in my own skin. Then life threw another curveball -- this time a health complication that led me to a physically and mentally weak sate. For over a year I felt like a prisoner in my own body and mind. I knew I needed to turn the negativity into a positive somehow.

One of the things I aim to instill in my clients is for them to go after their own "personal best" by setting positive performance-related goals when it comes to training so that they don't miss out on reaching their full potential -- to learn to use and embrace their bodies and work on their weakness without holding back. There is a liberating energy and excitement that comes when we train to become stronger and challenge ourselves. There is a sense of empowerment that comes from working towards a specific goal and achieving something that may seem "impossible" to do.

My mind was holding me back and I realized I was settling. I needed to take action. I set a new goal of training once again for my personal best. This time the goal was becoming the strongest most capable version of myself and ignoring any negative thoughts in the process. I began to train smarter and felt connected with my body. I found a greater passion for training because I was not doing it to compete, or to fit into skinny jeans -- I was doing it for me! I was training for life. As a result, I got my health and body back and became stronger and fitter than before. I achieved my "impossible." I was also looking and feeling my best!

Once you begin to train with your focus on getting stronger and not stressing over the way you look, your training becomes more productive and efficient. You place that energy on learning how to move and perform better and in the process break mental barriers. You begin to appreciate, respect and love your body and feel confident in it, always working on your own personal best without comparing it with other women.

Our personal best will vary from day to day and from various stages in life. For some, it could mean lifting a heavier load, performing 10 push ups, or completing a marathon. For others it is simply committing to getting their health back, changing their nutrition, working out for 20 minutes that day or even working towards a healthier stronger lower back that will help you function better. Remember that no matter your fitness background or health complications you can still become the strongest fittest version of yourself.

Vote for Idalis Valesquez for Women's Health magazine's Next Fitness Star competition at