One small step

crossfit-534615_1920It’s amazing how one small decision can lead to so many changes. Five years ago, I made an appointment at the gym near my work. As an introvert and overall quiet person, I was pretty nervous (I share a few introvert tips here that helped me get used to the gym environment). So I listened to their spiel, signed up for a membership, and agreed to pay for three discounted personal training sessions. Unfortunately, unless you buy their expensive training packages, you’re pretty much on your own after that.

It took me six months to figure out what I wanted to do. I tried the circuit training machines. I ran on treadmills and rode exercise bikes. I attended a few group classes and attempted yoga. It was okay but I didn’t love it. Then I started picking up heavy weight. I loved it and finally knew I wanted to get stronger. Within a couple of months of switching my routine over, I started noticing positive changes.

My brother obtained his personal training certification around this time. So he created a workout program based on my strength goals. He coached my form and gave me feedback. He was also able to work around my old injuries and strengthen my weaknesses. With his help, I grew capable of moving a lot more weight.

As I increased in strength, my confidence grew. I wasn’t as timid. I started standing a bit straighter (it’s still a work in progress). I felt more confident in speaking my mind and asserting myself. I became more comfortable with myself and around others.

I was motivated to improve other areas of my life too. I’ve worked on maintaining a schedule so I can get to bed earlier. I’m working on drinking more water. I cook all my meals from scratch and try to choose healthier food options. Most recently I started taking ballroom and latin dance classes. Dance class has helped to boost my confidence even more. And it all began with a single appointment at the gym. Below is one of my favourite quotes on fitness.

Going to the gym isn’t a punishment for what you ate or how much you sit, fitness is a celebration of the fact that you are alive and can still move. Fitness isn’t something you only do at a gym; fitness for life means you either approach your body and mind with respect, or you disrespect the gift of your own life and health and then everything that defines a healthy human being, such as the ability to pick up a grandchild or to walk on the beach, is taken away from you.

Getting in shape isn’t something you only do for a wedding or for the newly divorced, fitness is a personal choice where you decide to live your life at the highest level you can possibly achieve, because if you are fit and healthy, then anything in life seems possible. The mindset for fitness isn’t about being perfect or trying to recapture who you were, “back in the day,” but rather becoming the best you can be today.

There is no perfect you, but there is a you within that can overflow with happiness, vibrant health and crazy energy, because you now understand you don’t do fitness, you are fitness. Mindset is everything in the pursuit of personal health, but you have to enter the arena with the understanding that fitness isn’t another hobby you only do when you have time or to relax; fitness is the very essence of how you live 24 hours a day, how you think and who you are.

-Thomas Plummer

What activities do you enjoy?

3 lessons I’ve learned from working out

working outAs I completed my workout last night, I noticed a lot more people in the change rooms and on the floor. December marks the start of an influx of new gym-goers. Although it makes the gym more crowded and they often lack an awareness of gym etiquette, I really hope they stick with their goals and make fitness a habit. This year marks the third year of my own fitness journey. I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned from working out (but they also apply to life in general).

1. Learn to do hard things.
Creating new habits and becoming healthier isn’t a 30 day challenge. It’s a lifelong commitment to bettering yourself. It’s hard work picking up heavy things and putting them back down. It’s hard work getting up early (for me at least, I’m jealous of all you early birds) to go to the gym. It’s hard work going to the gym after a long day at work. But nothing worth having is ever easy. Health, relationships, good habits, all require time and effort. Accept that what you’re doing is difficult, then tackle it head on!

Forcing myself to do hard things and to push past my comfort zone not only leads to personal achievement but also helps develop a mindset. A mindset that you can do hard things. I’ve found that I’m more willing to challenge myself in other areas simply because I’m used to challenging myself at the gym.

2. Enjoy the benefits (but don’t get complacent).
Working out consistently boosts my energy, helps me sleep better, and motivates me to improve other areas of my life. It’s helped keep me active during the winter when I don’t go outside unless I have to. It’s motivated me to improve my eating habits and make meals from scratch. It’s motivated me to work on my sleep schedule. It’s also boosted my confidence both inside and outside the gym.

With my focus on strength training, I’ve seen a noticeable difference in how much I can lift. I’ve also noticed changes in how my body looks and feels. But if I slack off, things will go back to the way they were before and I don’t want that. I want to keep improving.

3. I need order in my life.
I’m the kind of person who needs organization in my life. I’ve tried “being more flexible and letting things be” but it always ends in me forgetting things and getting stressed out. So I’ve learned to embrace organization and order. When it comes to workouts, I need to schedule them into my week or they won’t happen. I need a plan of action, or a program to follow, to keep me headed in the right direction. I also have an end goal in mind to keep me motivated. I’ve learned that organization is an essential tool in helping me achieve my goals.

Do you have any goals for the coming year?

Image credit: “60” by Fit Approach is licensed under CC by 2.0

Introvert guide: getting started at the gym

CrossfitI wrote a previous post titled 10 tips for an introvert at the gym. I wanted to follow up with some tips for those who may be considering a gym membership. But before I start, I want to state that going to the gym isn’t for everyone. The most important thing about exercise is finding something you love. However, if you want to find a gym or switch to a new one, here are a few helpful tips.

1. Figure out your personal goals.

I didn’t have any clear goals at the beginning of my fitness journey. I knew I wanted to get healthier but I didn’t have anything specific to strive towards. As a result, I wasted a lot of time and became frustrated because I couldn’t see myself improving.

Take time to assess what you want to accomplish. Is your goal building strength, weight loss, increased cardio and recovery, or something else entirely? Once you’ve figured that out, write down goals that will help you achieve this. Create specific, short, medium, and long-term goals. Decide what kind of equipment will be necessary. Don’t worry, this can change as time goes on but it’s good to have a starting point. Are you more interested in machines, cardio equipment, or free weights? Not all gyms will carry everything. If you have an idea of what you want to use, it’ll be easier to find a place that fits your needs.

2. Do your research ahead of time.

As an introvert, I need to have as much information as possible before making a decision. Whether its grocery shopping, buying a car, or picking out a gym, I need to know what my options are. Only then can I narrow down my decision.

Do a google search for gyms in your area and see what’s nearby. Decide if you’re interested in a big box gym, one that only offers classes, a power-lifting gym, a crossfit gym, etc. Search their websites for information. You can usually get a lot of info via email too which is perfect for avoiding phone calls. Decide what your budget is (monthly and overall). Also note that a lot of gyms charge an initial sign-up fee separate from the monthly payments.

I usually make a spreadsheet which includes the gym’s name, distance from work, distance from home, contract or no contract, monthly fee options, cancellation fees, what’s included (classes), and anything additional (first month free or discounts at other stores). Then I figure out my priorities. For example, I’m willing to drive a little farther if the monthly fees are lower (as long as they have the equipment I need).

Decide whether you want something close to work, close to home, or both. If you have to travel too much out of the way, you’re less likely to go. A larger gym franchise might offer access to multiple locations which is great if you travel frequently, but may be more expensive. They may have a cheaper option if you only use one location.  Be sure to ask, as they’re less likely to offer you the cheaper option without prompting.

3. Write down your questions.

You’ve probably been here before. Someone asks you if you have any questions. Your mind goes totally blank and you stare at them. Then later that day, you start thinking of questions. It’s a frustrating experience to say the least.

Before you even contact the gym to request a visit or pass, write down all the questions you have. If you’re like me, all my questions disappear during the interview, then reappear on the drive home. A few sample questions could include asking about the different monthly rate options, as they usually try to sell you the most expensive one. I was able to get a monthly fee that was 50% less than the quoted price, simply because I asked. Question them about the cancellation fees, special offers, how much personal training is, can you bring a friend in, discounts, etc.

4. Go in with a game plan.

Once you’ve scheduled your first visit, figure out exactly what you want to do. You’ll likely be taken through a short interview by the associate. But after the questions, you’ll usually get the chance to do an actual workout. Make sure you have a game plan. Do you want to do a cardio session or check out the free weights? Write out what you want to do that day in a notebook or on your phone. A great option is to grab some cardio equipment for the first few minutes. It’s a great warm up and you can survey the rest of the gym and slowly get used to the environment. Bring your headphones to block out distractions and you’re all set. Also, if you pretend you’re totally comfortable, no one looking at you will be able to tell any different.

If I don’t go in with a solid plan, I end up drifting around the equipment, unable to decide on an exercise. I’m far more productive if I can purposefully move through a pre-determined set of movements.

5. Try it out!

Most gyms offer a 3 day trial, a free week, or something similar. Take them up on it and try them out, you’re not obligated to sign up for any of them. Check out multiple gyms to get a feel for the difference in atmosphere and clientele. Pick a time when you would usually work out to get an accurate idea of how busy they’ll be. I tried three different gyms before deciding on my current one. It was the one I felt most comfortable in as soon as I walked in. Write down your reactions and feelings about each location and how you felt during your workout.

This will probably feel a bit uncomfortable and get you out of your comfort zone, but it’s very important to check out the gym yourself. After all, you’re going to be the one going there.

6. Sleep on your decision.

Or take as much time as you need. If you’re checking out several gyms, wait until you’ve experienced them all and give yourself time to compare them and mull over your decision. Be prepared for the sales associate to push you to sign up right away. However, you’re the one that holds the power in that situation. You don’t need to sign up until you’re 100% certain of your decision. As an introvert, we need to process things before making a decision. Honour your personality by giving yourself time to weigh the pros and cons.

Do you have any other helpful tips?

Image credit: “Crossfit” by Wei Han Frank Lin is licensed under CC by 2.0

10 tips for an introvert at the gym

PowerlifterI love working out. However, being introverted and going to the gym creates its own set of challenges.

I originally signed up for a gym membership more than a year and a half ago. I knew I needed to get into shape but I also knew I didn’t have the discipline to do so at home. I started going twice a week, then three times a week. It was so intimidating to walk into the gym where everyone looked like they knew what they were doing. I did cardio for a few months, switched to the machines for a while, then to light weights. After cycling through these exercises for a year, I wasn’t experiencing the changes I was hoping for. I talked with one of my friends and mentioned I wanted to get stronger. He suggested using high weight and very low repetitions. This worked for me and its what I still use today.

Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful when working out at the gym:

1. Don’t let feeling self-conscious stop you from exercising.
50% of the population is introverted. That means about half of the people in the gym are probably feeling the same way you are. Also, the other people in the gym aren’t paying that much attention to you. They’re wrapped up in their own workouts and are probably self conscious themselves.

2. Don’t compare yourself to others.
As an introvert, I’m constantly analyzing everything, including myself. But comparing myself to others only leads to envy and disappointment. Its not helping me improve. When you see someone who looks amazing, you have to realize that its probably taken years for them to build their current muscle/tone. And they probably have a different body type, body composition, and genetics than you. You will never look like “insert name here” but you can definitely look like a fit and healthy version of yourself 🙂

3. Set clear and attainable goals.
It took me far too long to decide what my goals were. I wanted to be fit, but that’s a very unmeasurable goal. It wasn’t until I focused on strength training that I finally started seeing progress. Create long, medium, and short term goals for yourself. Then once you’ve reached them, treat yourself. If you’re interested, some tips on setting fitness goals can be found here.

4. Get help.
I wasted so much time because I didn’t know what I was doing. It wasn’t until I asked my friend for suggestions that I started seeing the progress I wanted. Personal trainers are excellent if you have a clear goal and just need some direction. Other great resources are friends or family who use the gym frequently, online forums, videos, and books.

5. Do what you love.
Introverts have a very limited supply of energy and we don’t like to waste time. If you do something you like, you won’t dread exercising and it won’t be as draining. You’ll also be less inclined to procrastinate or skip days. There are so many options when it comes to exercise. This includes swimming, rowing, HIIT training, weights, running, yoga, cycling, martial arts, and so much more.

6. Consistency is key.
I had to write “work out” on my calendar for the first 6 months, but eventually it became part of my routine. Most say that three workouts a week is ideal. If you try to make a habit of going to the gym more, you will exercise more. Sometimes life gets in the way and you miss workouts. That’s okay, just keep moving forward.

7. Track your workouts.
I use Fitocracy to track my workouts but there are a ton of other programs/apps out there. I like logging my workouts, getting points for them, and then “levelling up”. It makes working out like a game and keeps me interested. Tracking your workouts, even on paper, shows you where you’re improving and can help you plot your next goal.

8. Don’t workout on an empty stomach.
Being introverted and highly sensitive, hunger affects me in a big way. I can’t focus and its hard to push myself. Make sure you’ve eaten something at least 45 minutes to an hour before you workout. You should eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein. Food gives your body the energy it needs for your workout. Stay hydrated and eat a post-workout snack too. This is especially important if you are using weights.

9. Control the noise.
For an introvert, one of the biggest turn-offs about the gym is the noise level. When I walk in, there’s pulsing music, shouting, and people everywhere. If you have noise cancelling headphones you can block out the chaos and listen to your own music. It really helps to increase my concentration and reduce the distractions. I’ve also started working out on Sundays because there are very few people there that day.

10. Its okay to not work out.
Some days I walk into the gym after an overstimulating day and just want to turn around and go home. I’ll usually force myself to do my 10 minute warm-up. If I still feel terrible, I’ll change back into my street clothes and drive home. If you just can’t do it, don’t force yourself. You can always come back another day when you’re feeling better. Don’t feel as if you’ve failed, because you haven’t. Its far more important to take care of yourself and get some quiet time.

Do you have any other tips?

Image credit: “power lifter” by greg westfall is licensed under CC by 2.0

Working out

RunningI’ve tried working out at home, but I have a hard time motivating and pushing myself to the limit when I do. So about a year ago, I went out and got a gym membership. To try to build good habits and workout regularly, I’ll often go straight from work.

I’ve tried the yoga classes, and love them. There’s something about stretching and relaxing in the semi-darkness of the room, listening to the instructor guide you through the movements, that really relaxes your. I’ve thought about trying other classes, but haven’t done so yet.

Its mostly because by the time I’m done work, I’m pretty drained. I have to force myself to drive to the gym to workout and the amount of social interaction I want at that point is minimal. The last few times I’ve gone, my workouts have coincided with the cycling class. When I do my cardio, the cycling class is behind me, behind a half-wall, but you can still hear what’s going on. Yesterday, there was blaring music, pumping out the beats to help push the cyclists to their limits. The trainer was constantly making noise, shouting, yelling out instructions and encouragement, and hollering. It tired me out just listening to it. I couldn’t imagine pushing my body to the limit, while at the same time being barraged by that amount of noise and chaos.

So I’ll stick to my quiet non-group workouts for now. But if I have the energy, I might consider trying the Zumba class, or even the cycling class.

What kinds of workouts do you do? Do you enjoy the class environment, or do you prefer to workout alone?

Image credit: “She Runs and Shine” by jacsonquerubin is licensed under CC by 2.0