I’ve been trying to get into a fitness routine since I was 15. Generally I’d stick to it for 1 or even 2 months, but then I’d abandon the fitness wagon and do nothing for months on end. After 6 months of doing nothing, I’d sign up to the gym again and it would almost always be off to a strong start, I’d go 5 days a week for the first two weeks, then 3 days for the subsequent two then I’d abandon the routine but not break up with him (cancel membership) because I had hope we could still make it work. That I would one day be able to commit. But I never was able to until now.
28th November 2021 was when I went to my first reformer pilates class. In December I did 12 classes, one every second day until Christmas. Then my mental health took a hit and when I needed it the most, I ignored the routine. From May 2022 onwards I would finally stick to an average of 14 classes per month until now – July 2023. Over a year.
My why? Appearance vs Health
Previously I’d been motivated to go to the gym so I’d look fit. I wanted to ‘lose weight’ and ‘get toned’, mainly because I wanted to look good and fit into my clothes. I also thought it would be cool to have abs, which I eventually acquired but they were a little shy so they decided to snuggle up beneath an inch or two of fat. It wasn’t until my mental health took a hit again, and again and again until I decided to change my perspective on fitness. This time I was viscerally aware of the impact it would have on my mood and energy levels if I didn’t keep up this routine – both long term and short term. My doctor at the time re-iterated how important it was for me to build a solid routine that included movement for my mental health.
So I changed the narrative in my head. I wasn’t going to workout to look fit, but to take back control of my health and energy levels. If I looked ‘fit,’ that would be a by-product but I wasn’t going to ‘diet’ or ‘meal prep’ or even weigh myself because my goal wasn’t weight loss anymore. It was simply to take up fitness classes consistently. I went at 7 or 8 am every morning and stuck to it like my life depended on it.
How I stayed committed – book in advance
Rather than buy a membership to a studio or gym, I booked my classes 5-6 days in advance. If I cancelled less than 12 hours before, I would still have to pay for the class. This was super important, because with a normal studio or gym membership you simply see it as a ‘monthly’ fee you pay, whether you use it or don’t use it that same amount will get charged to your account. You don’t pay a fee on top of your membership for every class you miss – but I started using an app which has a range of classes across multiple gyms called classpass. On classpass you pay a cancellation fee for every class you miss (in addition to your monthly membership) and it’s frustratingly brilliant. You no longer have a choice whether to go or to skip today, you’re already booked in one week in advance and cancelling has an immediate repercussion. And the cancellation fee is high enough that it feels like a waste of money if you do skip it. Don’t worry they haven’t sponsored this blog, but if you want to try it you can try it free using this link. My favourite studios have been Core Plus and KX Pilates.
Once you go, then you end up keeping it up because you don’t want to break the streak. The opposite is also true, once you break the streak, you will struggle to get back into it. Momentum is the key here, at the beginning try to go back-to-back if you can, to build the habit. It also rolls over to other things, I found whenever I exercised I generally ate better even if I didn’t set that intention. Part of me felt it would be a waste of a workout if I ate deep fried food all day.
Having said that, I had no plan for a diet, this was important because every other time I had a brief gym affair I would have this extensive plan in my head of the meals I’d prep and the foods I would no longer eat and so on but it became overwhelming. You have to treat it like building blocks, one thing at a time. At first it’s exciting to come up with a long list of new habits affiliated to your fitness, but the heavy weight of disappointment when you don’t achieve them, is a gateway to giving up entirely. Putting so many restrictions on yourself all at once just makes you resent the process, so I let myself slip up every now and then but didn’t feel guilty because I knew I would go to a class at 8am the next day no matter what. My commitment was to that one thing. It’s important to keep it simple at the beginning until it is a habit.
How to get the motivation to wake up in the morning.
I don’t wake up excited to go to the gym. Three or four nights every week I struggle to sleep and get about 4-5 hours. My alarm goes off and all I want to do is stay in bed. Every part of me says ‘just get sleep, you deserve it, you didn’t fall asleep until 2am last night, be kind to yourself’. But then I think about the rest of the day and the feeling I get right after my hot mat pilates class. I’m as fresh as a daizy ;). There has never been a single time that I haven’t felt more energised after a workout. There has also never been a single morning where I actually want to get out of bed and go. So I remind myself this every morning when I think “a $12 cancellation fee isn’t that bad”. I remind myself to just put on my gym clothes and get out of the door, there’s no turning back from there.
Why group classes instead of gym?
When I go to a class, I immediately let go of making any decisions. I don’t have to think about how many reps I’ll do, how long I’ll do a certain exercise for or what specific exercises. I don’t have to think about anything except focus on posture and breath. When you have to make decisions about things that just adds to the list of things you have to think about. When we’re presented with multiple options we get confused and decide not to go ahead at all. A gym is full of options and that can be overwhelming. So the aim is to minimise the number of decisions we have to make, and I find classes work great for that. You can also achieve this with a personal trainer, though since I want to go 4 times a week (my classes are around $10-$15 per class) it’s more affordable to opt for classes.
I also know if I was left to my own devices I’d probably do 10 squats and give up, yet in one class with an instructor I easily end up doing 50+ squats but I’m not counting or thinking or making a decision as to how many, I just keep going until I’m told to stop.
If only I knew before what I know now.
I wish I knew earlier how important having a fitness routine was to my mental health. Of course I knew it was good for me, I think we all know that movement and fitness is good for us, but I wish I knew how much of a difference it would make to how content and happy I would feel both daily and long term. Overall I have more energy earlier in the day and longer term I’m seeing results in terms of weight loss too – I’ve lost 5kg of depression, 3 kg of stress and 1kg of anxiety