I did once promise to do a post on how I started out exercising, and now that one of my greatest supporters (and friend since I was about 5 years old) has joined a gym, I decided it was high time to share some tricks with you!
First, a disclaimer: you should probably (definitely) turn to Michelle Bridges or Jillian Michaels, or actually any other successful sporting persona for tips and advice about working out. I probably have no idea what I am talking about. Feel free to disregard everything you are about to read.
Second, give credit where credit is due: I do turn up to the gym 6 days a week, every single week, and have done so for 5 years. Most days of the week, I go twice a day. This did not come naturally to me. There were (are) many, many times where I would have rather been doing *insert absolutely ANYTHING in here* instead. So I may in fact know some tricks.
Third, forget what you have seen on the TV and internet. No workout you have seen on The Biggest Loser or Instagram or any media ever, is realistic. That stuff is edited, photo-shopped, carefully selected for wow-factor. Use it as a guide or extract some ideas, but don’t concern yourself with emulating it. You do not have to exercise until you puke to burn calories. You don’t need an ex-army lieutenant yelling at you to keep going. You will not see a perfectly choreographed, synchronised aerobics class at your local gym. You will not see people wearing make-up (unless they are taking selfies for Instagram).
You will definitely see people just like you. Normal people. Uncoordinated people. Sweaty people. If you go to the same gym as me, you will see a bloated red tomato wearing a triathlon t-shirt who appears to have just stepped out of a swimming pool filled with really smelly sweat. You’ll know it’s me when I trip and fall over, or drop the dumbbell I am trying to lift up. Don’t approach if you have a sensitive nose.
I’d always had an inkling that I could enjoy going to the gym; I think most people deep down feel like they have a part inside them that would enjoy being fit. If that sounds like you, hopefully the information below will help you.
These tips are mostly about going to a gym, but you can probably adapt them to suit whatever sport or fitness regime you choose. Or not.
First, buy yourself plenty of workout clothes. You don’t want to have to worry about keeping on top of washing in order to be able to go to the gym – because otherwise you will run out of clean gym clothes within 0.2 days and that is the number 1 best excuse to not go to the gym. Find a cheap workout top that you like from Kmart and buy 6 of them, then get 6 cheap towels too, because all gyms require that you take a towel with you and you also don’t want to run out of clean bath towels.
I think it’s important that you slightly like whatever top you workout in – you must feel safe/secure/covered up or maybe gorgeous/glamorous/sexy (whatever motivates you to go to the gym more I guess) so pick the right ones for you.
Sidenote: I absolutely ruin my workout gear. I torture it, I drench it, I destroy it. So I buy most of my stuff from Kmart because it is cheap and that way I do not care when I make it so stinky that it self-destructs on my skin. I am not sponsored by KMart (but I am totally up for that if you are the boss at KMart and you are reading this)
As previously stated, just because you feel a bit gorgeous in your gear doesn’t mean you will remain feeling that way. When any person exercises, things jiggle around. They pull ugly faces. They stink. You will be the same. Accept that and move on – avoid the mirrors as necessary.
Regular readers know I have a massive ego. But I twist it on its head when I am working out – I work hard to be the sweatiest, ugliest person in the room and that way my ego is happy that I am taking it the most seriously. Make your ego work for you, but don’t let it fool you into thinking that you are going to look nice/feel nice/smell nice when you are exercising.
With sports bras, get the highest support available (you’ll be running and bouncing before you know it) but don’t go too expensive because if you are like me, your boobs will be the first thing to vacate your healthy new body and you will need to buy new, smaller bras soon.
As far as shorts/pants/leggings go, my advice is to prepare yourself to like these a little less than the pretty tops you picked out. I have had a few incidences of getting stomach cramps from wearing particular leggings that must just press on me in the wrong spots, even though they didn’t feel tight. I also suffered from bad chafing when I first joined the gym and tried to do my morning elliptical sessions wearing some really lovely ‘kick shorts’ that just rubbed in between my massive thighs (my thighs are like tree trunks, which I used to hate but now I love them because they are pure power)
In the end, I have always opted for the comfiest and therefore least flattering shorts possible – mid-thigh length (so that when they inevitably ride up a little bit, they still keep my thighs covered and not rubbing) thin lycra or poly cotton mix (so that it will be skin tight) but comfortable for my strange body.
Depending on what type of workout you are doing, shoes may or may not be important. Personally, I think running shoes are uncompromisable. I am not sure that is a word, but it should be for running shoes conversations. You need support for that kind of impact – when you put on your shoe it should hopefully feel like you are putting on the most comfortable, supportive sock you ever owned.
I have always just used whatever shoes I liked for other workouts (such as elliptical training, spin class, weights etc)
So with that all sorted, what to do about the actual exercise?
Choose your thing
Think about what you like to do. Try a few different options if you aren’t sure. If you hate running, don’t run. That is my main tip; don’t do what you hate.
But bear in mind there is a difference between you ‘hating something’ and some exercise thing ‘hating you’.
I like to say that running hates me because I’m not a natural runner; I find it hard and challenging. I often don’t want to do it and halfway through every run I want to quit. But I don’t hate doing it.
If you genuinely hate running (not the challenge, not the pain, not the effort, but actually running is detestable to you) then do not do it!
You will find something you like. Something that, once that burning lust and desire to workout has worn off (after a few weeks) will leave you with a sense of satisfaction and peace when you continue to partake in it.
Find something that suits your personality, your strengths, your happy place. Because when your motivation wears off (and it will, over and over again, for long periods of time) you need to be able to fall back on your dedication and commitment, which just isn’t possible if you hate your chosen thing.
Inside a gym, the choices might include a piece of equipment (treadmill, bike, elliptical, rower, weights) or a format (group classes, one-on-one training, doing your own thing) or something outside the box (my gym has a pool for swimming or aqua aerobics classes, as well as tennis courts and a beach volleyball court)
The advantage of a gym is that the excuse of the weather is removed from the equation.
Outside a gym, you might be surprised at what sort of clubs and facilities are operating already, close to you. Some things to consider:
Walking, walking a dog, skating, roller derby, boxing, karate, tennis, rock climbing, cycling, hockey, softball.
If one of those things appeals to you but you can’t do it yet, then start training. Contact a club and ask where they would direct beginners for coaching or advice. Or Google it and train yourself.
Lastly, I would recommend working out in the morning, before life gets in the way and disrupts your plans. It’s also nice to tackle each day knowing that the workout is over and done with, and you have a sense of accomplishment no matter what else happens.
Whatever it takes
After a few weeks of working out, you will hit the abovementioned point where the motivation (the lust, the burn) is wearing off and you have to figure out if you have the everlasting love to rely upon to keep you going.
One of the groundbreaking realisations for me was that there is nothing wrong with me for feeling this way. The self-sabotage, the plans back-firing, the simple failures happen to everyone. Even the guy that won the marathon. Don’t be too hard on yourself for not wanting to go, and don’t think it’s a sign that you actually shouldn’t go. You’re not special in that respect. (But in all other respects you are very special, don’t worry)
The good news is that, as with any relationship, you are in control of certain things that can help to keep the love alive, so utilise those things.
My most drastic but fail-proof trick is to make not going to the gym more inconvenient than going. So that when you think you might not go to the gym today, your very next thought is (but damn it, if I don’t go, xxx will happen/not happen)
For instance, when I was trying to build the habit of working out, I was having a shower at the gym directly afterwards and going straight to work. When my motivation dried up, I started leaving my toiletries in a locker at the gym so that if I didn’t go, I literally had nothing with which to wash my hair. No deodorant. No hairbrush. Every time I didn’t want to go, I actually had to go and at least do a pretend 10-minute workout, so that I could use the showers afterwards.
You could leave your phone charger in your locker, or your work shoes.
If you don’t need to go to those extremes, then I’d recommend at least making sure that going to the gym is slightly easier than not going. Try leaving your bags all packed and ready to go in the car in the morning, so it’s a hassle to go and get them all out and unpack them in your bathroom again.
‘Ease of going’ is of course a big deal. I pay a bit extra for membership to a gym that is closer to me than the cheaper one down the road. I make sure my bag is at least packed (even if I don’t put it in the car) the night before, so that I’m not adding stress to the morning’s decision of whether I can be bothered to go. And I always make sure I have a yummy breakfast already prepped and ready to take with me, so that I have nothing to worry about on that front either.
My next tip is to only set one alarm. Don’t set a second alarm for 15 minutes later, because inevitably the first alarm just becomes a warning or ‘pre-alarm’. Take your alarm seriously, set it for the precise time you need in order to get your workout in and get used to it. You are now an athlete, and you’d better believe that athletes get up when the alarm goes off.
Sometimes I let my ego help me on this front – I imagine all the fit people who are already out of their bed, and already in front of me in their training. If I don’t get up straight away I’ll never catch them.
If you have an Instagram account or YouTube (or some such thing) you may find some inspirational people to follow and look at on there. It’s surprising how motivational this can be when you find the right person – it helps to cement this whole exercising thing as a way of life, part of your chosen lifestyle, rather than just something you make yourself do.
But be ruthless at ‘unfollowing’ anyone that makes you feel remotely guilty/uninspired/intimidated. Recognise it the instant you feel bad about yourself, seek out the cause and remove him/her/it from your phone/computer! This happens to me a lot.
In saying all of this, there will be times when everything suddenly falls apart and none of the above tricks can save you.
You will curse me because you only set one alarm and it didn’t go off. If, as a direct result of this, you lose your job and the entire world ends, let me know and I will update this post. Because so far in my experience (and I like to think I’ve been through a lot, including the alarm clock experience) nothing that bad really happened. Nobody died. Actually, on the missed alarm day, I skipped my workout, turned up 15 minutes late at work and explained what had happened… And nobody really even cared. Lo and behold, they had coped without me. I got straight on with the tasks at hand and life moved on.
So don’t be frightened of messing things up and learning from mistakes. You are an athlete, you can take the ups with the downs.
Finally, remember to be grateful. When I really hit a low and don’t want to exercise, I think about what I would do if someone else (other than me) told me that they didn’t want me to exercise that day. Or that they wouldn’t allow it. I’d be devastated, outraged. Probably in much the same way that I suddenly want to eat ALL THE CAKE when I go on a diet: tell me I am banned from the gym and I want to do ALL THE EXERCISE.
So be thankful that you do have the opportunity, that you have your health, your amazing dedication, the lifestyle. And do it for all the people who don’t right now.