The first time you start lifting is like a horror story. You enter the new world of the gym, full of mysterious creatures who make weird noises as they move a huge weight with their bodies. You have no idea where to go first, or if you are doing anything right. You feel like all the eyes are on you. The mysterious creatures are staring at you, waiting for you to mess up. The trainers are even more excited to prey on the beginners, who will become the laughing stock during their protein shake break. The experienced girls with the rock hard abs are judging you for being new. Before you know it, you trip over one of the dumbbells and fall face first onto the floor.
The first time you enter the gym, you may feel vulnerable. Without a doubt, I know I was.
I was terrified. I had only been doing HIIT workouts at home with 20 pound dumbells. I didn’t know how to do a bench press, or how to use the leg press machine. I had no idea how to plan an effective workout, or how many breaks I should take.
I had no clue. I was lost. All I ever felt at the gym was that I was being judged.
The sad part is that I am not the only one. So many people quit working out because of their fear of being judged. They hide it with the idea that they don’t like to work out, or they are not motivated. Although those are valid reasons to not want to work out, they are also excuses for many. I remember when I had just started going to the gym, I would go less often since every time I was there, I felt that people were laughing behind my back.
Yet, being a person who likes to overcome challenges and prove others wrong, I kept on going. A year later, I have learned to love the gym, accept mistakes, and understand the fact that no matter what, I will always be judged. So, for all of my fellow readers who are either thinking about starting to lift, have just begun, or just need a motivation boost, I would like to give you a few insights of what I have learned in the past year.
1. Don’t be afraid to be judged.
I am starting with this, because as you have noticed, one of the biggest things that I believe affects our ability to put all our effort and motivation into our workout is the fear of being judged.
Let me spill some truth to you. You are probably being judged right now.
Now, don’t start feeling anxious. You need to understand that no matter when, and no matter where, people are going to judge you. This relates to everything you do in life. People are going to judge your hair, and your legs, and your belly, and your speech, and your opinions, and on and on and on. People judge. Just like you, my friend, judge everyone. We do it without thinking. Even when we think positively of someone, we judge them. The truth is, I still feel that I am judged when I am going to the gym. Every. Single. Time.
How do I overcome it?
It is simple. I just let the judgment fuel my motivation. When I go anywhere, whether it is the gym, school, the mall, or a party, I recognize that I will be judged on everything I do. I use that energy from people and convert it into something that will enhance my performance. I will lift harder, work harder, shop harder (if only I had the money), and dance harder. Not to impress others, but to make myself happy, because I know that I will not let other people’s thoughts affect what I do.
When you go to the gym, you need to recognize that EVERYONE started at the same place as you did. They all were weaker at a certain point. They all had to learn how to use equipment at a certain point. They were all you at a certain point. The truth is, most people at the gym don’t even judge others for working out. Instead, they silently applaud the fact that they are trying to make a healthy change to their lifestyle.
2. Fitness is not just about looking good.
I get it. You want to have a Kim Kardashian butt, an iron chest, six pack abs, and wings on your back. As do I. I won’t lie. Yet, I have come to understand that fitness is not just about looking good. It is about feeling good, and being strong.
I have been working out intensely for a year, and eating healthy at least 80% of the week. People know me as the gym fanatic. Yet, I do not have six pack, and my chest press is still in progress towards my goal. Instead, what I have acquired over the year is the ability to feel good in my body and in my mind.
I am proud of what I am capable of. I am proud of the fact that I can lift more than I have ever thought I could. I have grown to love my curves and my fat that just won’t go away. I have learned to appreciate my happy weight: the weight in which I am when I am not restricting myself. I enjoy the fact that I can choose what my body does, and how I think about myself. I even take delight in the small things, like being able to open a stubborn jar without anyone’s help.
Fitness is about learning about being happy with the strength that is within you. Stop focusing on the weight, or on the measurements. With hard work at the gym and in the kitchen, you will see progress. Focus on how you feel about yourself when you wake up in the morning and look at the mirror. Focus on thanking yourself for all the things you have learned and pushed yourself to do.
3. Your progress will look different from everyone else’s.
A huge thing that offset my mental progress was the fact that I was not seeing the results I wanted. I had this mental model in my head that by lifting heavy, doing some cardio, and eating healthy, I will look leaner in my waist and curvier in my hips. When I saw that my hips did get curvier, but my waist actually grew in width, despite the fact that I lost a lot of fat, I became concerned. To add to that, I also realized that while I had strong biceps and triceps, they were not as defined. I started to question my body, and wondering why I am so incapable of looking fit.
However, after measuring myself, I realized that my waist did not grow in size. Instead, my lower back had gained muscle, which is actually something that I have always wanted! Moreover, even though my biceps are not visibly defined, people have recognized my growth. It just made me realize that my progress is unique. All our bodies are unique. Rather than criticizing it for what it can’t do, we need to start applauding it for what it can. Let it grow, and let it motivate you to make your workout as efficient as it can be.
4. Don’t be afraid to fall down.
Want to know how many times I couldn’t hold a heavy squat and ended up falling backwards? I probably can’t count it on my hand. Everyone-women,men, and others-I have spoken to have admitted to failing like I have at least once in their gym lives. It is completely normal. Your body is not supposed to be able to do everything right away. Sometimes, your body just says “Hell Naw” and crumbles down.
Don’t let that bring you down.
If your body is telling you it can’t do it, try again. You can allow yourself to bring the weight down a little bit, if your form is incorrect. You can try again for less reps. Listen to your body. Push yourself to work hard, but do not push yourself over the limit.
You are here to better yourself, not hurt yourself.
5. There is no recipe to success.
I am going to leave with a thought provoking note. As I have mentioned earlier, all our bodies are unique. What works for others will most likely not work for you, and vice versa. I started my fitness journey through bodyspace.com. I found plans on the website and followed them. Over time, I started making my own plans. I would have split days for chest and biceps, back and triceps and shoulders, and legs. They were great, until I hit a plateau and I found them no longer beneficial to my progress. It took me a while to find a plan that I liked, and still I always change it up. Only 10 months after I started to work out have I found a workout program that gives me the results I want and the enjoyment I need.
Right now, all my workouts are basically total body workouts. I follow the stronglift 5×5 program, and add in my own exercises at the end. I have also found a way to enjoy cardio. Yet, am I going to always stick to this program? Probably not. My body is always changing, and likewise, so should my programs.
There is no right way of working out. There is your way of working out. If you find that you get what you want out of just doing cardio, just doing yoga, mixing different types of activities together, or lifting heavy, then continue doing so. Do what makes you go towards what you see as success. Experiment. Try new things. Do not be shy to ask around.
My challenge to you is to find something you enjoy, that gives you a pump of adrenaline and keeps your body and mind working, and do it. I want you to understand that you are in control of your body. You have every right to treat it in any way you wish to, but please, promise me, you will treat it with respect.
Make yourself happy. Lift happy. Breathe happy.
“Make yourself a priority. At the end of the day, you are your longest commitment.”