Making a Better Resolution: Exercise More
About 20 years ago, I decided to start going to the gym. It wasn’t January 1st. It was August. I had NEVER set foot inside a gym before, but my college roommate asked if I wanted to go to the Y with her.
So, I went – easy peasy. 15-minute car ride and I was at the gym. Now, the beauty of a first timer at the gym is that almost all the equipment has a little picture of a person on it highlighting the primary muscle group worked and with a very brief step-by-step description of how you perform the exercise.
That helped SO much with easing my fear of looking like a noobie, and for any equipment I couldn’t figure out, I just stepped away for a while and watched until somebody used it so I could figure out what I was supposed to do.
Now, I TOTALLY recognize it’s intimidating to set foot in a gym for the first time. I have never been one to easily embarrass, AND I had my roommate with me. So, here’s how I turned something new into an habit.
1. I attended the free classes at the gym.
I tried aerobics, kickboxing, and Pilates.I fell in absolute LOVE with Pilates.
This was 2000, and Pilates wasn’t nearly as trendy then as it is now, and this was a small town in south Georgia at a Y offering free Pilates classes, but STILL, I FELL IN LOVE WITH PILATES, so much so that I stopped going to the gym to do resistance workouts and instead went to the Y two times a week for a 1-hour Pilates class.
For those of you who don’t think it’s possible to lose weight in 2 hours per week in a non-aerobic class that most people deem little more than “stretching”, let me be the first to tell you, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
And, not that you need permission to do this, but you can tell anybody who gives you guff that “you’re not doing it right by not working out hard enough” that they’re full of it.
Why? Let’s use Joseph Pilates as a case study.
Joseph Pilates was plagued with asthma in his youth, and he also suffered from rickets and rheumatic fever. He didn’t let those ailments keep him from becoming fit. During World War I, he worked with bedridden patients at an internment camp, which is where he created prototypes of many of the Pilates equipment common to Pilates and adapted and modified exercises to work with bedridden patients.
I’m not sure how many of you have ever seen the Pilates Cadillac, but it pretty much looks like a hospital bed with a bunch of contraptions on it.
Joseph Pilates gained notoriety when not a single one of the patients he worked with succumbed to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Moreover, if you’ve not yet seen photos of Joseph Pilates, go ahead and get ready to pick your jaw off the floor.
How Pilates changed my life:
I wore a size 12/14 in high school. A year of Pilates classes twice a week throughout the second two semesters of college resulted in me going from a pant size 12/14 to a pant size 8/10.
Yep, that’s right, in a year, without any major change in diet or lifestyle other than committing two hours per week to an activity I absolutely LOVED, I dropped a couple pants sizes.
I also became much more flexible than I had been and stopped having as many problems with my hips popping incessantly.
More importantly, I hadn't made a goal to lose weight. I'd made a goal to participate consistently in an activity I enjoyed.
2. I found MY passion.
I feel like so many times we try to force ourselves into somebody else’s routine. We try to do the aerobics class because “we’re supposed to”. We try to weight lift because “we’re supposed to”. We try the treadmill and the elliptical and the stationary bike because “we’re supposed to”.
When I first started working out, it was YEARS before I started exercising in a way that is more socially acceptable to society.
I did a bit of resistance training when I first started going to the Y, but by and large, for the first six years of exercise being a consistent part of my life, weight lifting/resistance training just wasn’t part of it.
Pilates, Bikram, and modern dance were my jam with a few kickboxing classes thrown in now and again for good measure.
About six years after I started working out, I FINALLY started a weight lifting routine.
By then, I’d dropped about 20 pounds from my heaviest weight and was down from a size 12/14 to a size 4 pant size.
The best part?
I felt great, and my flexibility was dramatically improved compared to when I first started working out and that was all from doing “non-traditional” exercises.
So, how’d I get into weight lifting?
3. I had a workout partner.
It’s NOT always easy to make it to the gym. There’s life, work, responsibilities, ALL the things we “need” to do besides going to the gym.
Working out requires time, space in our routines, and energy to do it.
So, having a workout partner can be incredibly helpful ESPECIALLY when we first start developing working out as a habit.
It’s been shown time and again that we do a better job at maintaining activities when we feel we are accountable.
Having a workout partner to be accountable to and to participate in the activity with helps us keep up with our exercise routine long enough for it to become a habit.
When I first started going to the gym (Pilates classes at the Y), my roommate went with me.
When I moved out on my own, even though I did exercise routines by myself at home, I still relied on a weekly class to push me past the artificial limits I’d set for myself and to help with accountability (I was in college, and pretty much NOTHING about college is conducive to a routine).
So, you can probably guess that when I shifted from my Pilates, yoga, and modern dance regimen to weight lifting that I had myself a gym partner to make that transition.
I started weight lifting with my boyfriend (now my husband). He’d been weight lifting for years before we met, and when we started dating, I started going to the gym with him after work.
We went to the gym 4 to 5 days a week. I did weight lifting for 3 days and yoga Or Pilates on one or two days (either instructor led or self-guided).
13 years later, I still do a mix of Pilates, yoga, and weight lifting five days a week.
I don’t workout with my husband anymore (we work in different towns, and it just doesn’t work right now), but having a partner during those initial years of integrating weight lifting into my routine helped me establish it as a part of my weekly exercise routine.
I’ve even tacked on traditional cardio to my routine one day a week (elliptical because I cannot for the life of me let go of the hand rails on the treadmill without a fear of stepping off the belt and feel my arms should be part of any workout to boost my heart rate), but I still prefer dance whenever I have the space for it (usually between classes at the gym when I can find a room large enough to play… I mean dance… in).
4. Creating the time to workout in a packed schedule.
By far, the hardest thing for me has been to make the time for my workout.
While I cannot imagine life without exercise now, I haven’t always had the luxury of choosing to workout at any time of day.
In college, it was pretty easy because it’s college, by definition, the routine is not set from day to day or semester to semester.
When I first started working, I lived pretty close to my job, so it was easy to work out after work and take classes after work (the benefits of living in a big city).
In the early days of marriage, it was easy because the gym was on the way home from work for both of us.
Now that I don’t have a workout partner and the expectation is being at work from 9 am until whenever… including through lunch usually, there’s not a lot of option.
I originally tried working out at lunchtime – arriving at work at 8 and working out at lunchtime at a gym about 10 minutes from work.
The problem with that strategy was that invariably, a lunchtime meeting would be scheduled last minute, a meeting before lunch would run long, or I’d have a meeting that started right after lunch (or some combination of the three).
The whole time I was at the gym, I was typically stressing about getting back to work on time.
I found that if I couldn’t sneak in a workout at lunch, my workout typically got pushed right out of my day… or pushed to the evenings, and nowadays, I’m less inclined to work out in the evenings having dogs and a side business demanding my attention.
So, I started working out before work.
I don’t wake up at 5 am to get in a workout, but I do make the time to work out before work, and I don’t stress to get into work by 8 am – that 9 am start time is there for a reason.
I stay home and practice my Bikram routine with my dogs two days a week. I hit the gym two days a week for weight lifting, and day 5 is a wildcard day – either a yoga flow or Pilates routine, stretching, which I find I need more and more as I grow older, or a combo weight lifting/cardio day.
Which time of day do I love most? I love them all.
Since I started working out in the morning, my yoga routine feels almost like a meditative ritual.
A midday workout is incredible for resetting and refreshing to tackle the rest of the day, but I really just found it too disruptive to my day:
trying to plan an entire day around a lunchtime visit to the gym while hoping a last-minute meeting wasn’t scheduled was mentally exhausting
After work is also great because it offers a nice transition between work and play time. I found after work workouts helped me relieve the stress of the day and also were best for helping with sleep at night.
For now, morning routines work best for me, but that may not always be the case for me, so I really encourage you to play around with your schedule to see what time of day you enjoy most and what works for you best at this stage of your life.
5. Don't believe in the "All or None" myth.
6. YOU DON'T NEED TO SHOWER AFTERWARDS.
7. I NEVER made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight.
So often, I feel like we focus on the wrong thing. We make a resolution to lose weight, but SO many things about weight loss are completely beyond our control.
Yep, that’s right. I cannot control my weight and neither can you.
A few years of struggling with an undiagnosed autoimmune condition taught me that lesson.
I CAN control whether or not I work out.
So, for 2020, I encourage you to make a resolution you can keep. Exercising more is a good example because it a measurable goal.
If you also made a resolution to get your finances in order in 2020, check out our post "Making a Better Resolution: Tracking my Finances"
And, if you want to learn more about that autoimmune condition that was causing me to GAIN weight despite eating less because I was never hungry and maintaining my exercise routine, check out my post: Immunology 101: Balancing T helper cells and T regulatory cells