Let me just begin by stating: I am a normal person. I did not have an interest in sports or exercise as a kid. In fact, I hated sports and I broke many bones. I was the more laid-back, artistic and introspective type (weird girl alert). It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the tanned-and-toned, madly motivated fitness influencers out there. I feel the need to emphasize my normalcy because I am not one of those seemingly perfect folks. There was even a point in my life when I might have looked down on fitness fanatics for being image-obsessed or simple-minded. Now, like many other adults with anxiety, I’ve found myself loving exercise as a way to ground my mind with my body. Last November, I joined a gym for the first time, and in my brief experience as a member, I have learned some nuggets of truth. This is by no means a exhaustive list, but from me to you, normal to normal, allow me to share some notes.
Energy Begets Energy.
Whether you’re an early morning person or an evening person, forcing yourself to hit the gym can be a struggle, especially when you’re feeling drained or groggy. It’s okay to feel tired - and rest days are so important! - but remember this: energy begets energy. This was one of my first lessons, and it works like magic. After hitting the gym, I find myself riding a motivational wave, and it’s actually easier to breeze through dinner and dishes or get a head start on a new project!
Another effective motivational tool is to reward yourself for consistency. This bit is important: the reward should not be food. You need food and you do not need to earn food. Instead, set material or experiential goals for yourself. Here are some of my examples: after 10 workouts, I’ll buy new headphones; after 20 workouts, I’ll get a massage; after 30 workouts I’ll get a new outfit; etc. Keep realistic expectations, imagine your goal as your (metaphorical) carrot on a string, and chase after it!
Look Good, Feel Good.
With that being said, one of the first rewards I’d recommend investing in is new gym attire. Going to the gym is a challenge already, and it can be especially disheartening when you don’t like how you look and feel (those places have so many mirrors!). Instead of bulk buying cheap pieces, I’d recommend investing in one quality outfit - socks, shoes, bottoms, bra, top - that fits and flatters you perfectly. This will be your go-to outfit to boost your mood on low-energy days, and it's great for mixing and matching with your existing pieces. Look for high-quality and breathable materials. Kathryn Mueller is a great no-nonsense activewear reviewer. She introduced me to my current favorite, Kamo Fitness.
Try One New Thing Every Day.
If you want to quickly build confidence in the gym, here’s a challenge for you: try one new thing every day. Intrigued by that pulley-cord-lift-weight thingy? Take notes next time you see somebody using that machine and give it a shot when they’re done. While it’s important not to hurt yourself, good form mostly comes with practice. Start with light weights to get a feel for the movement, then slowly increase difficulty. Push yourself to try one new machine or exercise every day, and soon you’ll be an expert!
Be Not Afraid of the Free Weights!
Especially the little ones. I know , using the free weights can feel like standing on the stage of your middle school auditorium. A vast field of iron and rubber, sweat and fear, where everybody is watching. This feels even more scary if you’re the only woman who dares to enter the weight room. But here’s the thing: take up space, girl! You have every right to use the free weights - the little pink ones and the huge steel ones. Start light. Trust me, it’s much less embarrassing to level up than it is to collapse under a heavy weight. Everyone is going to mind their business, and even if they don’t, you'll be minding yours.
Trust the process.
As the old adage goes, in two weeks, you’ll feel it. In four weeks, you’ll see it. In eight weeks, you’ll hear it. If I’ve learned anything in my time as a gym-rat, it’s that you have to trust the process. It will take a lot of time, yes. Maybe more time than you'd like. When I began my fitness journey months ago, it started with a rare and strugglesome hour of weekly yoga. Now I can hit the gym 4-5 hours/week, and I actually don’t hate it! If a normal person like me can do it, so can you, if you want to. The process will not fail you. Trust your body; it knows what to do, how to flex and grow. Guide your body in the direction you’d like to go. Put in the work, and the rewards will follow.