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If You Don’t Challenge Yourself, No One Else Will…

A few days ago I posted the following Facebook response to a friend who called herself “the biggest fatty” at the gym.

I hear clients at the gym berate themselves like this all the time.
You are worthy of kinder words.
We all fall off track.
We all eat things we shouldn’t sometimes.
Blah, blah, blah.
The point is that you hit the gym today.
Start measuring yourself by your successes,
no matter how small, instead of by your failures.
You deserve better of yourself and
are capable of achieving anything you set out to do!

It elicited 17 likes and few choice comments about New Year’s Resolutions, trying to focus on the positive and staying ahead of the fitness game.  One friend, however, requested some tips for those who don’t possess six-pack abs (neither do I), have never taken a spin class (gasp!) and it having been so long since they hit the gym, might actually get struck by lighting while crossing the threshold.

After 14 years as a group fitness instructor, I still don’t consider myself a fitness expert or claim to possess the hardest body in the gym.  What I have learned through personal experience and the experience of my clients, however, is that if you want to live a healthy, balanced life, being fit needs to become a part of your daily routine and your overall lifestyle.  Here are a few tips to help you develop a self-improvement plan and stick to it.

  1. Start small.  Grand gestures and sweeping reforms are for politicians.  Period.  Choose a goal that is tangible and appealing.  The majority of people drop their New Year’s Resolutions because they set themselves up for failure.  Cutting out all sweets, dairy and bread followed by a vow to hit the gym 5 times a week is enough to discourage anyone.
  2. Do your homework.  All group fitness classes were not created equal.  Are you just starting out?  Are you a former athlete who needs to get back into shape?  Do you have any injuries?  Choose a group fitness class that peaks your interest and fits your schedule and lifestyle.  You’ll never see me at a 5:30am spin class because I cherish my sleep.  However, I am all over the gym at 9:30am.  If you like to dance, try Zumba.  If you want a hard push, go to boot camp.  Looking for something lower impact?  Get on a spin bike.  Need some Zen time?  Yoga is the perfect fit.  Talk to the front desk and ask about the instructors.  I bet that you’ll go back to a class if you like the time, the music, the workout and the teacher.  When you do find a class and instructor you like, talk to him/her.  Share your fitness goals and ask for help.  That’s why we are in the gym- to help you achieve success.  I love nothing more than working with a client to help her reach her fitness goals.
  3. Focus on your success, and not your failure.  Rather than focus on the day you missed at the gym, tally up the days you made it.  Readjust your goals by week to fit with your work/childcare schedule, travel plans, etc.  If you stay too rigid, you will end up judging yourself harshly and give up on your goals.  Take it one day at a time in the beginning.  When I went back to the gym after the birth of my son, I couldn’t run a half mile on the treadmill.  I truly thought that I would never get back into shape.  After a good cry, I put the pity party hats away and focused on what I could do.  I began to look at what I could handle and how I could build on that success.  I ended up losing all of the weight within a year.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   * Just as a side note….NOBODY outside of Hollywood loses baby weight (or any weight for that matter) in 8 weeks.  Put down your copy of In Touch Magazine and get back to reality.  Real women with real lives, average pocketbooks and NO private chef also lose weight the real way, by sweating it off slowly and in a healthy manner.  Stop comparing yourself to a unrealistic expectation.
  4. Train with a friend or join a training group.  Misery loves company, right?  Seriously though, pounding the pavement for 2 or 20 miles seems like a lot more fun if you’re doing it with someone else.  The gym where I work, Breakthru Fitness, offers several group training opportunities that kill two birds with one stone- you pay less with group training and the reap the benefit of the group dynamic pushing you to reach your goals.
  5. Keep your eye on something other than the scale.  I’m a HUGE fan of measurements.  Case in point.  My waist measured 34 inches after the birth of my 2nd child.  My waist now measures a fit 27 inches.  Where and how many inches you lose all over your body can help you stay focused and feel successful, even if the scale doesn’t budge.  There are a myriad of factors that can affect what the scale reads (water retention, your period, what you ate the day before, putting on muscle, etc.).  The measurements, however, they never lie.  I also have a dress I purchased in 1997.  I keep it for reference.  When that dress feels snug, I know it’s time to really watch what I’m eating and turn up the sweat machine.

I’m not just a fitness instructor with stamina and drive.  I’m a person with insecurities and a weak spot for champagne.  I’ve gained weight during two pregnancies….try 60 pounds with my son!  I’ve lost weight after two pregnancies….40 lbs. after #1, and yes, 60 lbs. after #2.  I have felt the victory of winning  triathlons with my former teammates AND been embarrassed to enter the gym post birth.  I have cursed my body and my children, collapsing crying onto the couch after my first post-birth workout.  I know the highs of “being good” and lows of “being bad.”  As do many women, I have always had a complex relationship with my body, one that has become comfortable with the assumption that I’ll always have 5 lbs. to lose.  Even with all that, I climb on the bike each week because I know my body will thank me later.  I know my children are watching the example I set for them.  I know I am staving off illness and keeping my bones from deteriorating.  I’m also a much nicer person when I sweat out life’s stress and take my problems out on the concrete.  More importantly, I am doing something just for myself, and honestly, that feels pretty darn good.

Get out there.  Find a form of exercise you enjoy and take small steps to achieve your goals.  Challenge yourself.  If you don’t, no one else will.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

tracye1 January 18, 2012 at 10:46 am

Love this, Melissa! Baby steps are key. I get so frustrated when I look back to my own 10+ years as a fitness instructor (10years ago…) and how my life has changed and my fitness level after my knee surgeries (no more running–boo hoo!!), but you are dead on….baby steps. Accountability is awesome, I have four friends who all work out at lunch and we keep each other accountable and encourage each other to go especially when we don’t feel like it. So, thanks for reminding me that it takes time and the right mind set!


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