Five Steps Towards Forming a Healthy Obsession with the Gym

 

Students’ to-do lists are long. Write the paper for X class, work on the flashcards for the midterm I absolutely cannot fail next Monday, call grandma, update resume - and the list goes on and on… How are we supposed to, on top of all of these, find time to work out? One word: prioritizing, and working out should definitely be one of them.

Our physical health is very important and although this is not an article on why we should work out because I hope you all know this already, I think it would be a mistake not to, at least, acknowledge it. Endorphins, clear skin, higher energy, a fit body. I would also like to congratulate my readers that are genuinely interested in this article and are willing to step out of their comfort zone - or comfort couch. It is overwhelming to think of all of what those invested in their fitness do- set time everyday to work out, have a clear schedule of exercises, get the correct protein powder, learn about how to use the machines to their full potential. However, I must emphasize that they were gym newbies at some point too, just like me two months ago and some of you today. They did not have all their s#!t together from the beginning, just like us.

Although I am certainly not a fitness instructor, I thought about writing the most important steps I took that helped me start my gym life two months ago. I hope you can find them helpful to alleviate the anxiety of starting the gym.

 

 

1. A selfie, an outfit and a towel.

I must admit I did not take a selfie before starting my gym venture, but several pages like this one and this one highly recommend it. Why? To track our progress. Comparing our initial selfie to one a month later gets us pumped up for more. Visualizing results is a reinforcer for positive behavior. This is an effective way of maintaining the motivation to seek better results, and to not give up on the challenge.

However, what is a selfie without the right outfit? It is important to remember that we are not supposed to look like runway models at the gym. However, a functional pair of shorts or leggings, a reliable running sports bra, a nice t-shirt -preferably made out of tencel-, good running shoes and a towel are a must.

 

2. Relax, nobody cares that you are just learning to use the machine.

We tend to get self-conscious when we think we are being observed by people that are better than us at something. When I first went to the gym, everybody there looked like they knew  exactly what they were doing. They all seemed to follow a clear plan that I for some reason was not provided. Me, on the other hand, stopped to think and analyze every single machine for an average of four painful minutes before failing shamefully and repeating. This situation is far more common that we think, and if you happen to fall into it, do not despair: you will move past it. How? I would recommend to check some Youtube videos like this one to learn how to properly use machines that interest you, then learn how to master two or three.

 

 

3. Planification that leads to inspiration.

After the embarrassment on my first day at the gym, I realized I had to organize myself. I started skimming through some articles that explained how to plan your month at the gym, just to get the gist of it. One article that I found especially useful is this one. It explains how to properly balance cardio and weightlifting for women. In my case, I do 15-20 minutes of cardio every other day and focus on one area of my body for weights per day, alternating between legs, arms, butt, and abs.

 

4. Proper sleep and proper diet

I would normally recommend at least eight hours of sleep per night, but I know that most of my readers are students. Try to have 6 (good) hours of sleep per night. If you have trouble sleeping like me, I have had friends recommend taking one pill of melatonin supplement thirty minutes before going to bed.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a proper night sleep. First of all, it is essential for our mental health, and it is far easier to go to the gym if we are in a good mood than in a bad mood. Second of all, it is while we sleep that our bodies produce the higher amount of growth hormones, therefore the more sleep we get, the faster our muscles will heal and recover from exercise.   

Finally, having a good diet is essential if we want to have a better performance at the gym, which in turn will motivate us to keep going. Two common mistakes that I found myself doing when trying to “be fit” was eating less and doing a lot of cardio. I am five feet two inches tall, so off course this was not appropriate - I would lose weight easily and my BMI would fluctuate more than it should.

I will not go into detail about why a great deal of cardio is most certainly not appropriate for you, but if you are interested in knowing, I invite you to read this article. Instead, I will focus on the my first mistake - reducing my calorie intake. This Time magazine article recommends that we stop counting calories and humorously explains why with scientific evidence. Although I never actually counted calories, I was trying to eat less.  What I found pertinent in the Time’s article is when the author writes:

“Basically, when you eat a lot of refined carbs, like say, a 100-calorie pack of Oreos, it causes a surge of insulin that will trigger your fat cells to soak up calories—but there are not enough calories and nutrients to provide the energy that our bodies need”

So when I reduced my intake of refined sugars (such as the Oreos mentioned above), but still consumed good sugars (such as an apple), I was not that far off from what we are supposed to be doing.

The crucial action to take is eating more of the right stuff, not less of all stuff. I took a nutrition class in my first year of university. Admittedly, I am no nutritional expert, but the takeaway of my class can be summarized in three words:

  1. Variety: For those of us living in Victoria, we are lucky enough to have several options to help us explore the vast amount of good foods available for us. By eating a wide variety of foods, we are more likely to provide our bodies with the right range of nutrients.

  2. Balance: between how much we eat and how much we exercise. Although eating less is not the solution, we do need to have a balanced intake and expenditure of energy.

  3. Moderation: Sugar, salt and alcohol are not ENTIRELY bad if we only eat one piece of chocolate, one bag of chips and a couple of beers or glasses of wine per week. It becomes a problem when this is the portion we have per day.

 

 

5. Work out with a purpose.

I will end with what I believe is the most important factor in becoming disciplined at the gym: work out with a concrete purpose in mind, and make it a fun one.

Why concrete? Studies like this one have shown that we are more likely to achieve goals that are concrete, not abstract. In my case, my goal is to climb Cotopaxi, an active volcano in Ecuador - my home country- with an elevation of 5,897 meters this coming winter break. Setting a concrete, achievable goal helped me plan my work-out sessions for three months (refer to point 3 of this article) and feel excited about it.

And why fun? Because boring things are awesome (sense the sarcasm?). I enjoy hiking and I plan on climbing Cotopaxi together with my dad - my favorite person in the world.

As this article suggests, when we say “I do not like exercising”, we actually mean “I do not like doing this particular exercise I have in mind”. Do not be hesitant to explore your options, because we have so many on Vancouver Island . If you do not like running, go for a hike. If you do not like hiking, go for a swim. If you do not like swimming, catch the next wave at Tofino. If you do not like surfing, bike ride the trail to Sydney from Victoria. If you do not like riding bikes, ride horses. And if you absolutely hate it all, at least walk to class instead of taking the bus.

 

To sum it all up, I would like to say this: I strongly believe that if I was able to start a healthy routine following these steps, you will too.