It’s January 2020. Already. Where is your life going? Time to get moving and join that gym, right? The chances are that as you read this, you are full to the brim of good intentions and Christmas excesses. “This year is going to the year that I get fit / lose weight / stop drinking / get the ripped look all ready for the summer / sort out my fat ass, sallow complexion.” Then as the month of January passes, with the dark evenings and the wind and rain hammering the windows, little by little, bit by bit, that resolve drops away.
Don’t worry, that’s been me too, for many years. However, there is a way to break that cycle of lost gym membership enthusiasm. I did it in 2019.
And trust me, if I can do it, then you can.
That’s not a throw away comment. I really did used to hate gyms with passion. Just a glance through the glass at the rows of people jogging away on the hamster wheels of running machines was enough to make me turn away. I could never see the point. It simply looked like a torture chamber, a recipe for pointless pain. On occasion, I would try out a trial membership of three months or so.
Then it would lapse. And so would I.
2019 was a stressful year full of massive life changes. I found myself at a pivotal point. I could either sit on the sofa, feeling angry at the world, angry at myself, crack open another bottle of red and sit there. Or I could do something about it. I knew that I had to change. I’d become a pretty shit human being, full of anger, frustration and “Why me?” indignation and fury.
So I joined a local gym. And that almost crashed and burned just like the rest of them. Until I met a training partner who explained a few very fundamental things about gym membership. And these things transfer across into every day life too.
That was six months ago and now, I cannot imagine not going to a gym, no matter where I may be.
So here are the 6 most important things you need to do if you want to join a gym, make the health changes in your life and also make them absolutely stick. Forever.
1.You will struggle to do it alone.
The chances are that your gym membership involved some kind of an induction. They will ask you the usual generic health related questions that ticks the boxes on the public liability insurance so that they have a rough idea if you’re going to pass our or die on the premises. Then someone will walk you through the machines, how they work and so forth. Then they will leave you to it.
OK, so some will ask a few questions on what you want to do, but the majority aren’t interested. They’ve seen so many lapsed gym bunnies each January that they probably don’t really care. They have your money for the year. In fact, research in the USA shows that half of all new gym members quit within six months and only 18% of members visit the gym regularly.
So if you don’t want to join the quitters, you need help. You need someone to keep you honest. I have been incredibly lucky in bumping into someone at the gym who actually wanted to help with my objectives and also work with me to help their own targets too. Having a training partner keeps you accountable. On those days when you’re not feeling the love for the gym, you will turn up.
Because you can find a way to excuse letting yourself down, but you cannot let down the person you’re training with.
Try really hard to find someone with similar objectives who you can hook up with, train with and work to motivate each other. It makes a huge difference. Whether you join up with a pal, or simply join and then find someone. Do it, it’s a big help.
Can’t find someone who’s a member? Ask the staff to work you out a plan, agree objectives and book someone as a trainer when you go. Many gyms have resident staff who are only too glad to help. For them, it makes a pleasant change to be asked something other than, “I left my drinks bottle, have you seen it?” Ask before you join if this is an option. And if they’re not genuinely interested in helping, then walk away.
I know I am dwelling on this first point, but it’s really important.
2. You need a plan for those days when you really, really don’t want to go there.
It’s called inertia. It’s easy to flop through the front door as the rain pours down and decide to skip it. And if you haven’t found that partner to train with, it’s twice as hard. Counter that by having everything ready to go and from a few hours out, start thinking that you are definitely going. Chase away that slight nagging doubt. Have your gym bag ready, your drink there. Remove all of the other excuses, even the small ones.
3.Track your progress and celebrate the small wins.
You need an objective. That simple. And it needs to be something greater than, “I must go to the gym.” Everyone will ask what your new max lift is on an exercise, how many calories you’ve burned off or how far you’ve been on the running machine if your objective is to lose, not gain.
However, everyone asks you what you have achieved, not how you have progressed. This article by James Clear explains how tracking your progress and not looking for maximum figures is a better way to stay motivated and progress well.
4.It’s OK to have a week off.
But have a good reason for it. Having a week of, simply because you can’t be arsed to get your shit together isn’t a reason. Have a head cold? For sure, don’t train. Booked a holiday? Not a problem, we all need a break and chill time. And if you are training for strength, you won’t lose any of your capability. In fact, sometimes you can come back stronger. So take a break sometimes. But have a good reason. Being Velcroed to the sofa isn’t it.
5.The gym time is only 50% of the deal.
What you put into your body is the other 50%. That is the case whether you are looking to gain or lose weight. And this was one that I struggled with for quite some time. Still do, in fact. I have always been skinny, so never had the problem of having to lose weight.
Getting my diet right, in terms of the increased calories and protein , was and still is one of my major hurdles to overcome.
Because whether you want to lose weight or gain it, what you put into your body in terms of nutrition is actually 50% of the deal.
6. It takes changes to your lifestyle.
Above all, you need to make the fundamental changes to your lifestyle that mean that your gym routine and associated diet and health are not an arduous task, to be endured until you can get home and open that wine on the sofa. The changes mean that you will have a new lifestyle. That simple.
If you continue to view the gym as an adversary rather than an ally, you won’t stick with it.
You need to make it so that the gym and it’s surrounding requirements of time and diet are deeply integrated into your life and are simply something that you automatically do.
It’s not easy. But you have to trust me when I say this. If I can do it, then you definitely can.
I’ve been a skinny framed person as long as I have been alive. 69kg was my default setting for my life so far, despite my 6 feet 4 inches of height. I secretly disliked it and yet could never imagine being any other weight.
As I write this in January 2020, I am at 76kg, up from 69kg in August 2019.
Please, please don’t read this blog post as one of those evangelical, sanctimonious, self congratulatory blog posts of me finding my life, living the dream, etc etc etc. I’m not the gym version of a reformed smoker, scolding those who don’t do it.
I still fail sometimes. In fact I fail often. However, I take the small setbacks as what they are. Temporary, not permanent. And I make sure I celebrate the small wins when I lift a new personal best or step onto the scales and see that positive upward progress.
And I really, really do mean this. If a lazy bugger like me can manage it, then you certainly can too.
So what are the benefits?
That seems obvious. I’ve gained weight and I’m fitter, right? However there are other benefits apart from the obvious lose weight / gain weight equation. And they will only become apparent as you progress.
You will finish at the gym, come back home and feel tired. In fact, you will want to go to bed earlier than you normally do. And you will sleep. Properly. You won’t wake up with that dull ache in your back from that yet another evening sitting watching TV, drinking that wine.
Instead, you will wake up ready to enjoy your breakfast and face the world. You will be calmer, more even tempered and less likely to be judgemental of others.
Most of the time.
And above all, you will look back at your previous self than think, “Wow, if I can do this, then anyone can…. “