What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
During the first half of January, my gym was extremely busy. It was borderline impossible to find a free treadmill and the gym was filled with the noise of people attempting to alleviate themselves from the guilt of an indulgent Christmas. Then suddenly, as if by magic, circa January 15th, the noise diminished and the crowd was no more.
Except it wasn’t magic, it was predictable. You may be one of the many people who vowed to get fit in the New Year, reneged on that commitment and now subsequently you’re losing money as gym contracts are notoriously difficult to get out of. I know because I tried it once.
During my first year at college, I fell victim to the “Freshman 15” curse. My good friend and roommate went through a baking phase. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. She’d bake awesome food, then I’d eat it and tell her how awesome it was.
One day during a visit home, my mother pulled me aside and lovingly said, “Women in our family are prone to fat cheeks. I can see you want to join them. Whatever you’ve been eating. Stop." There's nothing like an intervention from your mother to make you want to work out.
So I joined the gym but, of course, rarely went. After a ton of deep thinking, I decided to quit instead of quitting cake. Unfortunately my gym wouldn’t let me, because a 12-month contract can’t be suspended after 12 weeks due to having better things to do (who knew?). It wasn’t until years later that I finally stuck to keeping fit.
Believe me I’m proof that anyone can get and stay fit. To that end here are 5 tips to help you make the most of your gym membership this year:
1. Set actually attainable goals
For the longest time my sole goal was, “JUST TURN UP AT THE GYM.” There was no mention of how many kilometers I’d run or kilograms I’d lift. The goal was to turn up and take it from there. It was simple but effective because it got me through the doors -- literally the first step.
There are a lot of people in the “Go hard, or go home” camp, who don’t believe in making fitness “easy.” I get that perspective. Workouts should feel like work if they’re, well, going to work. However fitness goals aren’t there to intimidate us. They’re there to make us strive. Don’t set your fitness goals so high you constantly feel like a failure or so low you feel like you’re cheating yourself. Start simple, find your balance and grow from there.
But! Don’t make it all about your goals.
One of the many lessons that fitness has taught me about life in general, is that one has to learn to relinquish control of the outcome. Why? Because we actually can’t control the outcome, all we control is what we put in. Plus, if it’s only about the result (e.g., how many inches you’ve lost or how long you can stay on the cross-trainer) it’ll become an unbearable numbers game that’s nothing more than a glorified form of self-flagellation.
Our bodies and lives are unpredictable. Sudden fatigue, illness, injury, (insert random occurrence) can throw off your training plan. I’m currently suffering from shin splints (which is a fancy way of my legs saying, “Bitch, run less and next time you do run get better shoes”). This has completely thrown my marathon ambitions; however since I’m not fixated on a goal, it hasn’t diminished my will to stay fit.
2. Use the web for fitspiration.
I know, I know. The Internet can be a pretty dark place when it comes to body image. However what I love about the fitspiration movement is the emphasis placed on health and well being, rather than the imposition of a particular body type.
Watching women attain their fitness goals and encourage others to do the same is great motivation for me. Plus there’s a great sense of community and women genuinely rooting for each other. I figured I needed to counter the number of photos of cake and clothes I drool over, so most of my sources of fitspiration are instagram centric, so I follow women like @sarahmcgee@fitspiration_girl and @fitalicious_me and countless others.
3. Have a mantra
I’ve found it helps to have a pithy reminder as to why I endeavor to stay fit. My main ones are "I don't run from my problems, I run through them" and “Work it out with a work out.” One of my friend’s mantras is, “Sweat is fat crying.” which creeps me out, because I don't like to think of my fat as having emotions, but, hey, it works for her.
"Strong is the new skinny" is a popular one (although it makes me uncomfortable as it implicitly elevates one female body type above another). Nike, who are experts at creating powerful slogans that help you believe you can do anything, have the superbly executed “Find Your Greatness” campaign.
Find your fitness mantra and live it.
4. Wear workout gear you actually feel good in
Studies have shown you’re more likely to work out and have more productive workouts if you exercise in attire you look and feel good in. (Sidebar: This study may or may not be something I made up in my head to lend credence to my argument.)
Dubious studies aside, one of my good friends just bought herself new running leggings and as a result she’s working out more. Personally, I take great pride in looking like a slob during my workout and I’m shocked my weave hasn’t been charged with disorderly conduct.
Conversely, I've watched my friend complete a marathon wearing Ruby Woo lipstick and Ray Ban sunglasses (when she took them off it revealed her false eyelashes). I take that as proof that feeling comfortable in whatever you’re wearing can help immensely.
Which leads to my final point:
5. Do it your way
I like to work out. But I love cake more, and refuse to give up cake. Are daily doses of cake and regular workouts incongruent? Perhaps. But I’m doing this thing my way and so should you.