If you are thinking about joining a gym, or want to get the most out of your gym membership, then this blog post discussing my own personal gym development will hopefully offer you some advice and maybe even help you learn to love it…
Maybe you’ve never once set foot in a gym, or perhaps you’ve been going for years. You may have tried to be a gym-goer over and over again, but for some reason or other, it just hasn’t stuck. Or you may just feel like you aren’t getting enough out of your trips to the gym. The thing with leading a healthy life, is that you do need to do some form of exercise regularly and consistently, so it is important to find a way of doing so that suits you.
A gym may not actually be the right environment for you. My belief is that you should enjoy the activities that keep you fit, otherwise you will either be miserable or you won’t do them at all. So, if you really think it’s not for you – that is ok. Don’t’ feel like you’ve failed or that there is no other option for keeping fit. Try something else. Take dance classes, go swimming, try running outside, go on long walks, do online fitness videos in your living room, join your local football, netball or hockey team. Do the thing that makes you look forward to being active, rather than something that fills you with dread and has you finding any excuse to skip it.
My love of exercise began in a gym and evolved from there (and believe me, it took a long time for the ‘love’ part to kick in). It took years of stops and starts and many different gym memberships before I embraced exercise as an indispensable way of life.
One great thing about the gym is that it gives structure and control to your exercise. Once you’ve got yourself through the doors, there’s nothing to distract you from working out. Another is that there is so much variety when it comes to exercise and the gym allows you to explore all of that.
No one is looking at you
First thing’s first, I know how easy it is to feel insecure at the gym or when doing a group class. You may feel like everyone there is an expert who knows exactly what they are doing and they are all secretly judging your every move. Please please please, heed my sage words – NO ONE CARES. Everyone is far too busy worrying about themselves to give you a second thought. If you are feeling nervous about using a particular piece of equipment, just ask a member of staff to explain it to you. If it’s your first time at a class, get there a few minutes early and let the instructor know so they can prep you.
No one was born knowing how to set up a spin bike or what you’re meant to do with a kettlebell.
Every one has been new or clueless at some point in their life: you are not the first and you are not alone. Plus, everyone looks like crap at the gym so don’t worry about your appearance. If you’re not red, sweaty, jiggling about and potentially sporting some camel toe then what are you even doing there?!
Find the fun
There is SO much variety at the gym, so take advantage of this to try different things and find your fun. Ask yourself: what about the gym do you enjoy and what do you not like doing?
If you hate the rowing machine (like me), just don’t use it! If you love the elliptical and enjoy going to body pump classes, stick to that. If you grow your strength and fitness through the exercises that you have even the slightest enthusiasm for, you should begin to see the gym as inviting rather than intimidating.
Then, you can start to mix things up…
Make sure you cross-train
When I first started ‘gyming’, I would do the same routine every time: get on a treadmill, run for 20-40 minutes, then go and do a basic weight routine. It was boring and it wasn’t doing much to challenge my body, so my fitness wasn’t improving and I was annoyed that I wasn’t losing any weight. After getting some advice from a friend, I decided I needed to start actually challenging myself and cross training (i.e. doing a range of exercises).
I decided to try the different types of bike machines and found that I preferred the spin bike style the most. I instantly felt the challenge and would become drenched in sweat after 5 minutes, so I assumed that my body was working. After a few weeks I had built up my endurance so I started to involve more resistance and changed my speed at intervals to push myself further. I became so much more confident as a result that I decided to start going to one or two spin classes a week. I found spinning hellish at first, but it was such a good workout and I felt so great afterwards that it was worth the pain.
My fitness improved over the weeks, so I started building up my running stamina on the treadmill; increasing my duration, involving inclines for resistance and trying sprint training (whack up the speed for short, 200/300m bursts and walk in between).
I got advice from the gym staff on how to use the resistance machines and built up some good circuits on those as well as with the free weights (i.e. dumbbells/kettlebells). Fitness magazines, websites and blogs are great sources to find exercise routines that require no equipment but really work the core, arms and legs.
So I started to use a good range of different exercises throughout the week, doing whatever I fancied doing each time rather than sticking to a fixed weekly routine. Some days this was a huge 1.5 hour session involving lots of cardio, circuits and weights. Some days I was in and out in 30 minutes after doing some light work. Some days it meant not going at all because I just didn’t feel like it.
Stop guilt tripping yourself
It took time, but one day I decided to stop feeling guilty about not going to the gym when I didn’t want to go. I was starting to really enjoy the exercise and was going 3-4 times a week, so I didn’t want to force myself to go when I wasn’t in the mood. I also didn’t want to force myself to stay for an allotted amount of time every day. If I wasn’t feeling that great or I was busy and had other plans, a quick 30 minute session was better than nothing. It does take will power to go to the gym regularly, but I also think that if you force yourself to go when it’s the last thing you feel like, then you will start to develop the ‘gym dread’.
I’ve tried many a class over the years and some have worked out whereas others have been unmitigated disasters. I was a member of one gym that was always really busy and had these huge, loud, intimidating classes going on all the time. One day I decided to suck it up and try one of them – it was called ‘Body Attack’. It involved a plastic step and lots of coordinated leg and arm movements. I should have known from the start that I was setting myself up for a fall (literally). I struggle to coordinate my arms and legs at the same time, so a class which involved stepping up, kicking out and waving my arms up and down all at once wasn’t ever going to go well. I decided to stop waving my arms and focus on the leg movements, which were taxing enough for me. But the instructor spotted me and encouraged me to get my arms involved. I shook my head, trying to say, “no, no, this is fine”, but she insisted. As soon as I tried to bring my arms back in to the motion I lost my balance, tripped over the step and stumbled across the crowded room causing a domino effect among my Body Attack peers who did not look impressed. Blushing an even deeper shade of magenta than the Body Attack had already inflicted on me, I mumbled apologies and returned shame-faced to my step, legging it out of the room as soon as the class ended.
Not surprisingly, this put me off group classes for a long time!
However, after a year or so, once I’d moved gyms and with some encouragement from friends, I began trying out classes once again. I did manage to find ones that I really enjoyed and that I now attend regularly. I love Circuits, Insanity, Yoga and recently started Boxing. Hopefully my anecdote hasn’t put you off trying these things and you will give them a go too. Yoga is now a huge part of my life and Circuits has improved my strength and endurance, improving my triathlon performance enormously. There’s usually something out there for everyone. I find that they are a great way to provide structure around my other activities, they make a gym membership really good value for money if you go often enough and they are a great way to exercise with friends or to meet new people.
Lone Ranger or Gym Socialite
I have always been a lone gym-goer. I use my exercise time as ‘me time’ and like to lose myself in what I’m doing. However, I do like going to classes with friends. I would regularly go to lunch time classes with work colleagues because signing up and going together stopped us from bailing out and working through lunch instead. Maybe having a standing gym date with a buddy so that you have someone to chat to on the machines or do HIIT training with, is just the motivation you need to make sure you get there 3-4 times a week. My advice would be to try it out and find the right friend to do it with, i.e. one that will be a good influence on you and not accidentally take you to Costa instead.
I hope this helps, feel free to leave any comments below.
(Apologies for using Gym as a verb several times).
Ciao for now…
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