Six lessons learnt from six years of exercise
Updated: Feb 23, 2020
Here are my six lessons I’ve learnt from six years of exercise that may resonate with you and give you some ideas and motivation to progress your own workouts.
1. Sometimes you’re ill
There’s nothing worse than being really into a new exercise routine and getting knocked down by a bug or virus. Illness often hits in winter time, which can be particularly frustrating when you’re trying to stick to your new year’s resolutions and shift the post-Christmas bulge. However, deciding to martyr on generally isn’t wise and has a habit of prolonging the illness. Don’t get me wrong if you have a bit of a sniffle or a headache, you’re probably going to be ok running a few laps of your local park. Doesn’t sound overly pleasant though does it? I used to play down any illness so that I could keep my gym plan on track when, actually, what was required was a trip to bed or the doctor's. Stay in and stay warm. It’s better to leave off for a few days and make your comeback with an awesome workout, than infect others around you. The only benefit of this is a clear path to the machine of your choice. In the grand scheme of things, not pedalling on the bike for half an hour isn’t going to counteract your recent progress.
2. There will always be people who appear fitter/stronger than you
It can be daunting when you enter the gym and everyone seems totally confident in whatever piece of gym equipment they’re using. It can also make your progress seem minimal when you see tiny yet toned stars all over billboards and magazine covers like Women’s/Men’s Health. More often than not, companies are promoting unrealistic body images. One key thing I’ve learnt from six years of exercise is that comparison is the thief of all joy when it comes to fitness. Looks can also be deceiving. I guarantee that there are things you can do that other people can’t, whether that be in or out of the gym. You don’t know anything about the people you pass on your morning jog or the people you step around at the gym. You don’t know how long they’ve been working out for, be that the length of their gym session or years under their belt. Instagram is great for inspiration but can also leave you feeling low, so understand your limits. Focus more on your workout, goals and progress - that’s all that matters. You may then also realise that you’re a lot fitter/stronger than you give yourself credit for.
3. Do what you enjoy
You’ll hear this a lot, but it’s so true. There is scientifically no right or wrong workout for your body, only the right or wrong workout for you. Some people love classes, some people (like me) don’t. Some people have to follow a workout plan by the book, some people (like me) don’t. I prefer to pick whatever exercises I fancy doing that day, as I would only feel bad if I didn’t achieve what was on the to-do list. I tried to follow Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide programme for a while and, personally, I hated the 25-minute routine and days dedicated to certain body parts. I also think it’s that kind of bikini-ready attitude that’s unhealthy. So, what I’ve learnt from six years of exercise is that it’s definitely about doing what you enjoy. If you’re relatively new to exercise then take advantage of free classes and trials at gyms, YouTube and fitness blogs for inspiration - learn what interests you and ride with it. And, sometimes, the best way to figure out what you do enjoy is by figuring out what you don’t.
4. It doesn’t have to be expensive
This is a key one for me because I really believe that exercise should be available to anyone and everyone. It’s frustrating when people moan that they can’t work out because “it’s too expensive”. I genuinely think this is pretty much always an excuse because while certain gym equipment can really hone your muscle definition, most things can be done at home or outside with a bench if needs must. Also, buy yourself a barbell set and you have it for life. The same goes for a pack of resistance bands and gym mat. You can then save money on a monthly gym membership and not worry about navigating sweaty gym mats and taking cold showers with strangers. Having injured my leg and gone through running rehab, I won’t preach that running is free and available to all. But a lot of people can run injury free for free, so this is definitely a great option. Especially, with summer approaching (okay, spring).
5. The mental benefit outweighs the physical
To be honest, when I first started going to the gym at university, I went because I wanted to ‘look good’, whatever that actually means. Yet over the last six years, it’s amazing how much this physical goal has been replaced with a mental goal: to ‘feel good’ rather than ‘look good’. It’s funny because this has now become so much more motivating for me than trying to look a certain way - it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning to exercise. It’s a triumph knowing that I got myself out on a run or to the gym despite my tiredness and, of course, the cold and rainy weather. Couple that with exercise endorphins and you’re onto a winner. Arguably, I’m slightly too dependent on feeling good as a result of the gym but, perhaps fortunately, my running injury gave me some time to re-evaluate my relationship with exercise. But what’s key is that moving, be it cardio or weight training, can help your mind stay healthy. If you need some motivation to exercise or feel like you haven’t made visible progress, analyse how it makes you feel mentally.
6. You don’t need a gym partner or PT
This is a controversial one as people always say to get yourself a pal or a trainer if you want to stay motivated. Sure, these are great options but there are some downsides too. For example, having friends but not ones who live near you or are members of your gym, friends that exercise in a different way (I reiterate point three) and not being able to afford a PT (point four). A PT is a nice-to-have and one I’ve never had. It doesn’t need to stop you. I really think motivation has to come from within. You don’t need someone else’s commitment to cement yours. If you build it into your diary/schedule and remind yourself of how good you’ll feel after, that’s all you need. And then if you want a gym buddy, check out key Instagram gym accounts that make you feel good about your body and provide clear workout routines you can follow. You can do this one alone. And I personally think the alone time is what makes it so great for your mind. It’s not just about endorphins, it’s the time by yourself to process life’s trials and tribulations.