Let’s get one thing straight right from the start, I do not like exercise and I’m not naturally sporty. In fact, I’ve often said that, if I could sit on my a*se for the rest of my life and take a tablet to be fit, I would do that instead of exercise - I’ve just never had that ‘exercise-high’ some people talk about.
As the natural fitness of youth has dwindled I've added the minimum exercise to my routine that I can get away with; 15 minutes of yoga every day to stay flexible and 25 minutes of walking most days to maintain cardiovascular fitness and weight. This is not to say I’m lazy; I’ve created and maintained a 3-acre garden during two periods of my life and worked like a Trojan in them but, jumping about for the sake of it does not appeal to me. However, there does come a point, in the absence of a 3-acre garden, when intentional exercise is necessary if you care about good quality of life and want to avoid groaning as you get up from the sofa. That’s why I started yoga and walking but, I knew weight exercise was an important addition for the triad of fitness; flexibility, cardiovascular health, and strength.
Of course, knowing you should and taking action are not always closely related. The first obstacle I had to overcome was accepting I could not maintain my figure through diet and light exercise alone. A couple of older friends were making alarming comments about their physical experience of being older that reminded me...prevention is better than cure. Fortuitously, a FB ad’ for a local gym came my way so, I decided to visit and peruse the premises.
Another thing about me is, I like things to be aesthetic so, when I visited the place and it was nicely decorated with a big glass wall overlooking trees outside, it compared well to the warehouse style gyms. The friendly, down-to-earth owner, Mark, showed me around, maintaining the good first impression but, what tipped the balance for me was the infrared saunas. My vanity kicked-in because infrared is good for the skin by stimulating circulation (and the immune system). Apparently, it’s also good for muscle recovery but, all I could hear at that point was “pretty skin”! Where do I sign?
First day with the ol’ exercise gear on was a real challenge. Anything new feels a bit awkward and every machine I was introduced to was an engineering puzzle to grapple with - literally! How can we send people to the moon but gym machines still require experience erecting scaffolding to understand? The next obstacle was embarrassment; fancy starting-out lifting the first little, tiny slab of weight on every machine when there was a multitude of plates stacked beneath...perfectly demonstrating to anyone who might notice that you are pathetically weak compared to the full range of weights available. I overcame this by deciding I was very courageous to start-out right on the bottom rung in such a public setting and it was quite funny really.
The Indicators of Weakness Became Measures of Success!
The obstacle that I hadn’t anticipated was the issue of being lady-like. I grew up in England and learned to be ‘nicely composed’...that’s the best way I can encapsulate it. This means a fairly dignified public presence; not swinging your leg over a bench, not sticking your butt in the air, or huffing-and-puffing and sweating. Some of this might be acceptable in a rural setting like strolling through a woodland or traversing a stream in your tweed and boots but, certainly not an indoor setting in stretchy clothes...with others! As I was directed to use the various bits of machinery it was quite a challenge to overcome the inner prescription to be lady-like in manner. But, determined to get to the infrared-sauna-beauty-treatment stage, I pushed through. Literally!
I was fully committed to coming every-other-day and started with a warm-up of 5 minutes on the stepping machine + 5 minutes on the rowing machine. Then, following instructions, visited each machine I had been shown, lifting my pathetic weights and then reversing my warm-up as a warm-down, infrared sauna for 20 minutes and I was done! For the first couple times, I was still awkward but, on the third visit, I happened to have the gym to myself so, I inspected some of the other machines and found a few more appealing exercises and incorporated them into the routine. Each machine had a diagram illustrating what to do and which muscle was being used. After a week I had created a sequence that used every major area of the body.
I progressed from the first weight plate on each machine to the second and even the third. What had been a glaring sign of weakness, the numbered plates became indicators of progress. My 'engineering' confidence grew so I could adjust each machine setting to suit me without feeling self-conscious. Then, having gotten the basics mastered, I was able to pay attention to my fellow gym-goers and exchanged a smile with some. Respectfully watching them also gave me new ideas on how to use the equipment to target certain areas. The most surprising thing was...I was actually enjoying the experience! Not so much the physical exertion, rather the learning and the progress. After three weeks there was even physical results; I’m sure my legs and waist were a tiny bit more firm.
Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them.
At the end of the first month, I’m lifting heavier weights on most machines and, where I’m still on small weights, I have increased the number of repetitions. My 10-minute warm-up has increased to 25 minutes of fairly vigorous cardio and I can now do 50 crunches with ease after starting with 32. Outside of the gym, just walking across a room or carrying shopping feels lighter. I’ve certainly dropped half a dress size based on my clothes loosening and I can see a tiny bit of muscle definition emerging too. My strength is greater, as evidenced by the numbers, and my cardiovascular health has improved. And, of course, the exercise and the infrared sauna have given a glow to my complexion too!
What I value equally is the gain in mental strength. My mind will try all kinds of tricks to help my body avoid exercise: exaggerating the boredom, lowering the goals (10 minutes is a good enough place to stop, rather than 15), or encouraging me to do it tomorrow. Like a parent taming a toddler, I use distraction to keep myself going, I let the gym music influence the rhythm of my cardio so I work harder than my natural inclination and I visualize the results of my work - walking into a fancy place looking fit in a great dress and heels. I also use the ‘unbroken record’ to keep my visits on track - I haven’t missed a gym day all month!
Overall, it’s been a really positive and empowering experience...I have learned new things, become stronger, and gained self-respect. I’ve been reminded that big accomplishments are the accumulation of many small moments of progress toward a goal. The opportunity to coach myself to overcome lots of little mental challenges has shown me how I need to support myself when faced with larger challenges and made me feel more optimistic about achieving any ambition I set myself. And, I've even managed to combine sportiness with lady-likeness - yay!
The hallmark of successful people is that they are always stretching themselves to learn new things.
Carol S. Dweck