I never thought I would be one of those people who goes to the gym. Never. But two summers ago, I was snorkeling in the open ocean and became so winded by the effort, I had to sit out the next swim on the boat. I was so disappointed in myself, and I realized that I could start an exercise routine and start taking care of my body – or I could watch it slowing atrophy with each passing year.
I started very small – walking on the treadmill in my apartment building for 45 minutes, three days a week. But I didn’t notice much change, if any. After several months, I redoubled my commitment to a healthier body and got serious about my exercise program. Now, my regular trip to the gym is one of the parts of my life that I look forward to the most – seriously. This is what worked for me.
Before the Workouts Ever Start:
1. First, I had to realize that I was a worthy human being, and that self-care was not an indulgence but a priority. Spending time to take care of your body is important. My therapist helped me rise out of depression and change my perspective on self-care. This was my crucial first step.
2. Next, I enlisted another expert: a trainer. I wasn’t ready to book a trainer full-time, so I set up one hour-long session at a gym with a friendly fitness pro. She explained how to use many of the machines, which I had previously been intimidated by. She showed me several exercises that I could do on my own, and wrote down a brief exercise routine that suited my current state of fitness. Most importantly, she was 100 percent confident that if I followed her plan, I could become trim and slim and meet my fitness goals.
The Pain Begins, The Pretending Ends:
3. Now it was time to dig in. This was the hardest part of the entire process. I started working out at home, following the trainer’s exercise routine. I didn’t need to buy much equipment, just two 5-pound weights and a floor mat. I’m not gonna lie: it was brutal. My first strength-training session took almost two hours, and I’m pretty sure I cried at some point. But I stuck with it.
4. I stopped pretending that walking the dog, parking at the far end of the parking lot, housekeeping, and other basic activities were exercise. Sure, these things are better than sitting on the couch – but you’re not going to get fit strolling through the park with your dog for an hour a few times a week.
Exercise Incentives Are Essential:
5. I set immediate goals: If I could stick to my three-day workout schedule for one month, I would consider hiring a professional trainer. I knew that I needed guidance – was I even doing these crunches the right way? I also set up a points program with incentives of new workout clothes, and awarded myself points for every cardio workout, every bout of strength training, and every day I walked more that 10,000 steps (thank you Fitbit).
6. After one month of sticking to my goals, I had already lost a few pounds and I rewarded myself with a cute new exercise outfit. Ladies: exercise clothes that you feel great in are an essential part of getting fit. Essential!
7. I also bought a Groupon deal for three sessions with a professional trainer. I didn’t think I’d like it – I’m an independent type who likes to do things on her own. But I loved it. I no longer had to figure out what to do for each workout – and the outsourced motivation was a definite bonus. The gym had all kinds of machines and toys – balls, straps, punching bags and other equipment – that kept my workout interesting and almost made it fun. Almost. After the initial three visits, I booked a gym membership. I would have two personal training sessions a week, and work out once at home. Yes, it is a chunk of change – but taking care of myself is worth it (see #1).
The Key to Adopting an Exercise Routine:
8. Perhaps most importantly – I stopped trying to fit an exercise routine into my life, and instead started fitting my life around exercise. I made workouts a priority. It was tough. I hate getting sweaty and gross – and I didn’t like spending hours getting ready, going to the gym, and showering after. But I realized that getting sweaty is a non-negotiable part of getting fit – and I wanted to get fit. I gave in, and started planning my days around my workout.
Make Adjustments to Workouts:
9. I condensed my workouts. Exercising every day would burn me out. Three days per week is my max. So each day, I do thirty minutes of cardio and thirty minutes of high-intensity strength training. I would rather push it for half an hour than go at half-speed for an hour. And since I’m already sweaty – I cram in my cardio on the same days as my strength training.
10. I gave myself firm rules – and a "cheat" day. I would work out three times per week, every week. And I would also get one "get out of jail free" card per month and be able to skip one workout, guilt-free. Setting firm rules means that you don't have to continuously make the decision to work out - the decision has already been made, and the rule is set in stone. But you need a cheat day, because: life.
The Results of Diet & Exercise:
Today at age 38, I am healthier and stronger than I have ever been. To compliment my exercise routine, I educated myself about nutrition and learned how many calories I was really consuming each day. I adopted a healthier diet, quit eating so much cheese, and lost 20 lbs. I can dead-life my body weight, I hit the Stairmaster on the highest setting, and can jog as long as you want me to. I am one of the fittest people in the room – something that I never thought I would say!
This is how I got in shape. You can do it too! Know this: the beginning of your new healthy lifestyle is the most difficult by far. You’re figuring out what works for you, and at the same time having to give yourself a giant dose of motivation every day. But it gets easier and easier every month. And the first day you realize how wonderful you feel after a workout, you’ll know that you’ve turned a corner. Believe in yourself – a healthier future is possible.
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Workout image via Shutterstock