Starting a weight lifting routine can be an intimidating adventure, especially if you don't have any experience lifting. Before I became a personal trainer I worked in the gym weight room. My job was to make sure all the weights were in order and to make sure no one was aggressively throwing or slamming weights. I couldn't help but notice that it seemed there was never more than 20% women to men in there. It got me thinking about how I felt when I worked out. I realized that I wouldn't lift weights during peak hours when the weight room was packed. I only felt comfortable when there wasn't anyone there that I thought might judge me or my routine. I resented feeling that way but stuck to my shy away style. It wasn't until years later, after becoming a trainer that I realized my intimidation was completely an internal road block. I want everyone who feels uncomfortable or intimidated lifting weights to know this: many people (including those who appear to have it figured out) have horrible form, are clueless about balanced workouts and, many people are doing workouts that actually are more injurious than helpful. I now walk into any gym feeling so confident and laugh to myself when I notice situations that would have made me so intimidated or uncomfortable before. When I saw things as they truly were, as opposed to the scary story I had in my mind, I was able to not waste energy on avoiding looking "stupid." I took the power back and used that energy to achieve my fitness goals.
I have heard many clients say the above statement to me, and if I am being totally honest, there was a time when I subscribed to that notion. Until...
A few years ago I developed a nasty case of plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is a inflammation of the connective tissue that connects your heel to your toes (bottom of your foot). The pain was debilitating to the point of not being able to put much weight on that foot upon waking in the morning. After 8 or more hours of sleep, with my foot in plantar flexion (or pointed), stepping out of bed stretched it to the point of immense pain. It took several minutes of "warming up" to get it to a point where I could walk down the street to the gym.
The first time I got PF I immediately booked an apt, with a highly recommended foot doctor. He prescribed me expensive orthotics and said that I needed to tie my shoes. At the time my sneaks were very loose fitting and no, I didn't tie my shoes. I didn't like the way they looked tied. Ridiculous, I know.
I got the orthotics and used them as prescribed. I tied my shoes too. The pain didn't go away though. I mentioned to a gym colleague that I had a severe case of PF and he said that I needed to start stretching. In my mind I thought, no way will that take away this horrible pain but I felt like I didn't have many options so I began stretching regularly. I started to notice that it was actually helping my foot pain so I started stretching a couple of times a day and progressed my stretching to incorporating splits. With every stretch session came more relief.
After the PF was completely gone, I discontinued the split routine of stretching but I now religiously stretch after every workout, no matter how short. To me, stretching is like meditating. It is a hard thing to get started or maintain a routine in because the rewards are often not immediate, BUT in time, and usually after every attempt, you are glad you did it. Especially as you feel the difference, however slight (or profound) it may feel.
Women and men's bodies are not identical. Most exercise routines are designed in a cookie cutter and progressively linear fashion. Women have hormonal fluctuations in alignment with the phases of their menstrual cycle; men obviously do not. Being aware of what stage of your cycle you are in is critical when deciding what type of workout is best for that day.
Women naturally have a higher percentage of body fat for biological reasons (child bearing), however unfair it may seem. In addition to having a naturally higher body fat percentage, women's bodies often do shift during and after childbirth, especially if a cesarian section was performed. Men obviously do not face these physical demands.
In yoga, I was taught to convey the importance of encouraging clients to listen to their body as opposed to pushing harder because they were able to do an exercise the day before. This applies to both men and women. It is important to listen to the subtle signs our bodies give us. In doing this, we prevent burnout and are more likely to stick to a routine that works with our fluctuations rather than a constant drill sergeant approach.
Many times we make resolutions at the beginning of each year to get fit. Gyms pay big money to advertise things like, "A new year, a new you." Those ads pay off for them because people buy memberships; even if they don't use them. Why wouldn't you want to look better and of course be healthier?
You don't feel motivated to exercise because willpower isn't effective. Many times we bully ourselves to do something that we only want to do on a surface level. In other words, your deeper mind knows you don't really want to make that kind of drastic change to your comfortable lifestyle and it knows exactly how to keep you in your perceived rut. This rut is really your comfort zone and sorry to say it, but willpower is not even a tiny bit of enough to make long term changes.
Willpower is just enough to get you to join the gym and go a handful of times (usually in January) and then slowly you slide right back into your happy comfort zone (even though not so comfortable to you). The real reason we don't commit is always something deeper (inside of you). Your ego is brilliant at making up a fantabulous reason (always very convincing not only to you but to everyone you share your reason with) of why you can't, shouldn't, or won't exercise.
Not only do we feel like crap because we didn't get in our workout, but also feel like we sold ourselves out too. Resistance to forming new health/fitness patterns will show up. When the excuses start coming up, we know we have faced resistance. This is a good thing because now we can work with it by seeing exactly where we stop ourselves.
If we can begin to watch the excuses we use day in and day out, not judge, but just watch. Then we can start seeing how clever we are and how this mind game is your ego keeping you in the comfort zone. Redirecting the energy of your resistance is possible. Having a coach is one of the most effective ways to gently navigate the ego's resistance to a new health/fitness practice.
Yes, there are many options and you may notice a tendency to want to incorporate as many of these routines/styles that you can handle. As a trainer who has "seen it all", I would advise choosing a program that you feel called to participate in. Whether it involves going to a group exercise class, a bike ride, or an at home program, it must be something you enjoy and makes you feel accomplished.
With all of the hype and social media posts about new exercises, it is easy to get lost in the sauce. Fancy exercises can be fun but a basic program can and does yield big results when performed consistently, with correct form, and with appropriate loads. The key is to balance all conditioning exercises and not to exhaust one muscle or muscle group.
A coach you like and trust can accelerate achieving your fitness goals by designing a specific and balanced program that works for you. A coach can also help you navigate the challenges that arise in adhering to a regular routine. Because being healthy and fit are not a one time achievement, and is a long term commitment, it should and can be a pleasant experience.
Not even a little bit! Everyone has different preferences that make us unique. If we all liked the same types of clothes, foods, or even people, there would be no variety and life would be pretty bland. Point is, what works for one is NOT necessarily what will work for another. Many exercise and health professionals have found a method or technique that they love and want to share with everyone because it has positively impacted their life. This is wonderful and should be shared but a one size fits all approach is not my idea of a personalized exercise program.
If you found an exercise you love, do it! Don't question it. If you hate typical exercise routines but you loved swimming as a kid, a water program may be best for you. If running kills your knees and takes too much energy to sustain for more than a block or two, walking (although sometimes underrated) can burn calories, especially if done briskly. If the idea of the stair climber makes you wanna barf but you love the outdoors, a hike is a wonderful substitute.
I would go so far to say that submitting yourself to an exercise program that you hate, even if you make strength and health gains, is not a good idea. If your routine is perceived as a punishment, you aren't setting yourself up for long term success. Most of us respond positively and are more likely to carry out our fitness plan if we have some affinity for our activity of choice.
Julia Broome is passionate about health, nutrition and exercise. She is most excited about educating women on the short and long term impact of exercise and proper nutrition on pregnant women and their baby.