I have trained clients in the gym from age 28 to 94, and all of them say the same thing when we start: “I really think I should be able to do more.” And they say this regardless of being new to exercise, recovering from an surgery or illness, or being new to the gym.
So here are a few things I have told them that may help you when you are ready to start or re-start exercising again.
1) You are not an expert yet.
Ouch, that sounded a bit harsh. But we are all susceptible to the learning curve. As adults, we like to think as ourselves as being good at stuff, or being able to learn things quickly. With exercise, there are a lots of new things to experience simultaneously - a new location (like a gym), a new way to move your body (like dance steps in Zumba), possibly new equipment (note: a stability ball is a misnomer), and new energy expenditures (so.much.deep.breathing). As a result, we need to give ourselves time to learn and adapt.
How to move past the newness?
Action: Act like a newbie - look around, ask questions, don’t worry about getting everything right, right away. Stay open, be curious and just observe what is happening.
Mindset Mantra: It is okay not to know everything today. I am new, curious and able to learn.
Here are a few mindset chats you could have with yourself:
"Wow, this gym is huge. I think I will walk around and just look at all of the equipment before I start so I can see what is here that interests me."
"I have never done Zumba before. Look at that, my left foot seems to want to do all the dancing today. [to Instructor:] Could you show me a breakdown of that step after class?"
"Deep breaths feel really good. All of this delicious oxygen and I feel like I am thinking more clearly."
2. You will feel awkward.
That is because it is new, or new all over again. You are gonna forget to bring your water bottle. Your iPod battery is gonna run out in the middle of your workout. You are gonna forget how to adjust the weight stack on that machine that you like how it makes your legs feel strong.
You are going to feel weird, like you are doing it wrong. And that is okay. That is part of the learn and adapt process. Our brains are trying to learn this new process and get it smoothed out, so then you won’t have to think about it so much. Our brains actually prefer to automate as much of our actions as possible. Our minds are clever like that!
Just do what you can where you are at, and don’t worry about the rest.
How to get past the awkwardness?
Action: Fly your freak flag and stick with the awkwardness; it is trying to teach you something. Everyone was awkward when they first started learning something new. Pinkie promise!
Mindset Mantra: I feel awkward today and that is normal. I won’t always feel this way; I am getting better at this each time I try it.
Or, try this mantra: I am trying my best to figure this out and it is messy at first.
3. No one is watching you.
No, really, I promise. Unless you are literally falling down on the gym room floor, or break-dancing in yoga class, no one is looking at you or thinking about what you can or cannot do. They are worried about their own little selves. Which leaves you feel to just focus on your little ol’ self.
How to get over feeling watched?
Action: Fake it, until you make it. Just act like you know what the heck you are doing. And eventually, you will. Stay in your own head and stay out of others’; you really don’t know what they are thinking.
Consider the freedom in knowing this: you are free to try new things without others judging you. You are free to “mess up” - drop a weight, miss a dance step, get all tangled up in yoga.
Mindset Mantra: Eyes on my own page. I can adjust and do what I need to figure this out.
4. Resistance is real.
This is a weird thing: we want change, and then when we try to change, our brains throw down some barriers right away. And usually some non-productive self-talk. Don’t worry, this is completely normal.
“Are you kidding me? I have 2-left feet, there’s no way I can do that?”
“That gym looks like a guy kind of place. I’m not suppose to be in there.”
“Those yoga people are so bend-y. I will probably pull a muscle if I try.”
How to get past the resistance?
Action step: Ask yourself: What *could* I do right now?” If your resistance is strong, try a lesser version of what you had planned: if you were going to get on the treadmill for 20 minutes, try 10 minutes instead.
Mindset Mantra: Some is better than none. I am going to go slow and build momentum.
5. It takes longer than you think. The fitness and health industry has itself confused with the fast food industry: that speed is the goal. And, as you might have noticed, with fast food, fast does not always mean good. The same is true for exercise.
Much of the advertising about exercising for change has you think that it is easy and fast. Not true, lasting sustainable change starts slow and goes along slowly for a while. A good while.
Which is okay, right? We don’t want a quick fix. We want something that lasts.
It usually takes about 2 weeks to notice a slight energy pick up and then about four weeks to notice improvement in coordination, or to feel as though we have a bit more control over our movements. And, depending on our metabolism and the activities we choose to perform, it can take somewhere between 4-6 weeks (or longer) to notice body changes - slight different in how clothes fit or a scale change.
Action Step: Start with 15-20 minutes of movement to start. If there is no rush to get to the end, then its okay to start slow. And yes, you have permission to leave Zumba, yoga, Piyo, Scottish clogging dance class BEFORE class is over. Try a sample of an activity to see if you want a bit more. Check in with yourself the next day to see how you feel physically and mentally, and then decide. Building up stamina, muscle coordination and mental comfort level with a new activity takes time.
Mantra: Slow and steady wins the race.
Making a decision to start or re-start exercise is hard. Showing up and exercising at your gym (or home gym) that first time is hard. So give yourself permission to embrace your beginner status: you don’t have to do it all, or do it all correctly to get started.
What do you find difficult about starting or re-starting with exercise?