In the fall of 2011, I received a piece of what I thought was junk mail that ended up being a major discount to a local fitness club. That piece of junk mail truly did change my life and set me on a path to healthier living.
The first time I walked into the gym as a member, I was pretty sure it looked like I was wearing a sandwich sign that said, “I’m a newbie and have absolutely no clue what I’m doing.” I had no experience, even with basic calisthenics. Exercise had never been a big part of my life, and I had no clue where to start. The only machine I had ever seen before was a treadmill. So that’s where I started.
Now, three years later, I’m a little bit more comfortable at the gym. I’d like to share some tips that have helped me along the way.
1. People watch.
Start on the treadmill, and while you walk, watch the other people work out. See how they use the machines. Watch their form as they lift weights or do calisthenics. I mean, don’t stare or ogle – be discreet. But you can learn so much just by observing. See someone using a machine and think to yourself, “I think I could do that!” It’s an empowering place to start.
2. Every time you go, try something new.
Try the elliptical, the stair stepper, the different machines. You might look like a fool the first time, but keep trying. Eventually, you’ll learn what equipment works for your body and what equipment doesn’t.
3. Work out to music.
Do I even need to mention this? Music is the best way to motivate your spirit, put rhythm in your step, and push away distractions. See also: Apps and songs that will motivate you to move
(cooling down after a workout, still listening to Pandora)
4. Don’t worry about reps.
Just move with the music. This probably goes against traditional fitness advice, but I have found my workouts to go much better when I’m not counting to 8, 10, or 12. Instead, I’ll do something like this: situps on the verse, flutter kicks on the chorus – or even break up my different exercises with the phrases of the song. If I’m on the treadmill, I normally walk for three songs. If I’m on the elliptical, sometimes I’ll move slowly with the 1st beat on the verse and then double time it on chorus. This keeps my body guessing and gives me spurts of rest.
5. Start slow and work your way up.
When I joined my gym, I got a free one-hour session with a personal trainer. She started me out on 20 pound weights. She also had no concept of my physical problems or limitations and had no education on fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. That was the first and last time I ever worked with a personal trainer. So instead, I forged my own path and started using weights on my own. And yes, I started with 2 pound weights. The kind that this trainer has gone on to make fun of. The kind that she says there’s no point in lifting.
I say that everyone has to start somewhere. That 2 pound weights are better than nothing. Yes, I’ll never look like her or her or her - and yes, it’s taken me 3 years to work my way up to lifting 20 pounds – but I’ve made progress. I’ve pushed myself and I’ve learned what I can (and can’t) do.
6. Don’t let the super-fit body builders intimidate you.
This is, by far, the hardest for me. Whether it’s the personal trainers at the gym or the fitness memes on social media – I feel guilt far more than I feel inspiration. I feel frustration that they simply refuse to recognize that some people have limitations that they simply can’t work beyond and instead shame moms for their excuses.
My advice? Once you are done people-watching and have learned what works for you, quit watching people and just be you. Throw yourself into your workout (close your eyes if you need to), and push yourself, regardless of how ridiculous you look or how much extra weight is hanging around your waist. (And, while you’re at it, sometimes unfollowing those fitness pages can do more to help you on your fitness journey then sitting there fuming at your computer…not that I would know or anything.)
7. Talk positively to yourself.
My workout conversations go something like this:
Me A: It’s been two weeks since I last made it to the gym.
Me B: But I’m here today.
Me A: Ugh, why does this have to be so hard?
Me B: It’s okay. You are here, and you are worth it.
Me A: Man, I’m out of breath. I suck at this.
Me B: But you’re trying and you haven’t given up.
Me A: Sheesh, look at her. Why can’t I look like that?
Me B: You don’t know her life. She obviously has the ability to make fitness a higher priority. You have a different path to walk. You are here and you are working, and that’s what matters.
Tell yourself you are beautiful. You are strong. You are trying. You haven’t given up. And even smaller choices are better than no choices.
8. Vary your workout routine.
I try to make sure I never do the same workout twice. Keep your muscles and your body guessing. Work different parts of your body on different days. Do the same things, but in a different order. Spice it up! This keeps you motivated (or at least helps fight boredom) and helps your body stay more fit.
9. Breathe strategically.
Breathing is incredibly important in fitness (both in physical and mental health). Breathe in when it’s easy, out when it’s hard. Exhale on the lift, the crunch, or the stretch. This will help fight fatigue and actually maximize your workout.
10. Take a few minutes to rest before picking up your kids.
If I’m honest, I joined my gym for the childcare. Having a little sanity in your day (or week, or month – as often as you make it to the gym) is so important and the simple act of taking some time and space for yourself (working out or not) can NOT be underestimated for both your physical and mental health. Sit in a chair. Let your heart rate come down. Take lots of cleansing deep breaths. Drink some water. Play on your phone. Write a blog post (oh yes I have). You are paying for the membership – use it for you.
Now, friends. Can I tell you a true story?
This morning, I dropped my son off at school for his 2nd day of K4 and then drove the 15 minutes straight to the gym. It had been a rough morning, and I was ready to blow off some steam with some kick-butt “faithful fitness.” I walked on the treadmill for about 13 minutes to warm up. I hit stop and was about to disembark when my phone rang. It was his school calling me back to come talk with him about his behavior.
13 minutes, people. That’s all I got.
It can be oh so discouraging when you want to do so much more with your body but life just seems to sabotage you and your goals at every turn.
So I tell myself, I’ll try again tomorrow.
Whether you have a gym membership or not, I hope that this post has provided you with encouragement for wherever you are in your fitness journey. Don’t give up. You can do this!
To read more about my journey into physical and mental health, check out the Health and Wellness section of my blog or start here on this post about my weight-loss journey.
Also, be sure to follow our Faithful Fitness board on Pinterest where we share great workouts, exercises, health and nutrition tips, and more!