Food for Thought: How to Know When You’re Ready for the Gym

As you speak to your friends about coming with you to test this magical thing called "CrossFit," remember there are a few people Sunday's community class is ideal for.  This might be the person who simply has no idea what CrossFit is, or it might be the person who just wants to experience what all the fuss is about.  Often times, community day attendees are athletes are are a little worrisome about being "good enough" to take on CrossFit classes.  If this applies to your Sunday buddy, here is an article to pass them I saw on Jen Sinkler's fitness blog (originally adapted from Schwarzenegger.com) that may have them enter UB's doors a little less doey-eyed. 

If your Sunday buddy is tentative about all things weights, have them pre-read this related article instead from Jen Sinkler (found on theclothesmakesthegirl.com)

Gyms should be a place where everyone feels comfortable, a sanctuary of sorts built for self-improvement from within. So when I hear the phrase, “I need to get in shape before I go” it knots my stomach.

I’d like to tell you a story about a friend of mine. I’ll call him Derek.

Derek was an avid athlete and frequented the gym throughout college. His smarts and hard work paid off and he landed a great job in the big city directly out of university. Fast-forward five years and Derek’s salary exceeded $500,000 a year.

The grueling schedule and perpetual stress took its toll on Derek and he became overweight, along with battling constant illness, smoking addiction, and depression bouts. In short, Derek became miserable.

We had a heart-to-heart a few years back and I recommended he work with one of the best trainers in the city, who happened to be a friend of mine. Derek knew that getting into shape would likely be enough to turn his life around (in addition it would probably be enough to get him off of prescription meds for his depression).

This trainer was no longer accepting clients but would accept my friend as a personal favor. When I told Derek about the opportunity he was stoked but said, “I’m not ready for the gym yet. I need to work my way up to it.”

I sat paralyzed. “What?” I thought. “You were ready four years ago.”

Derek went on to explain that he didn’t feel comfortable in the gym yet. He was afraid that he didn’t belong if he wasn’t already fit. He said that he wanted to be in good shape before hiring a personal trainer.

I was reminded of my favorite scene from the movie Pumping Iron. In it, Arnold and the gang are training in Gold’s Gym absolutely shredded. In the background is an out of shape guy in a white tank top doing triceps pushdowns. Even in the original bodybuilding Mecca, all were welcome, but there’s an illusion that you need to be in shape before they go to the gym. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Allow me to explain why.

1) Everyone is trying to get better – just like you.

Sure, some trainees’ lives revolve around their training programs. They eat a steady diet of chicken and broccoli and are in bed by 9 p.m. sharp every night. They’re shredded. They’re also the outliers.

Yet we tend to ignore the mean and compare ourselves to these outliers when we walk into the gym. There could be 100 people working out and it’s difficult not to focus on the ones who look like they’re in incredible shape. Take a look around, though; most people don’t look like that, and that’s A-OK. It’s simply the way our biology works.

The human body always strives to be in homeostasis (a state of balance). It takes a sufficient amount of continual effort to move the body to a new homeostatic point. Once you reach that point, it’s relatively easy to maintain, as long as the point isn’t at an extreme. This explains, in part, why it takes a lot of effort to lose a substantial amount of body fat while your friend seems to be able to stay the same size even though it appears she eats whatever she wants.

No matter what your starting point is or how out of shape you think you are, you’re ready. The gym is a place for self-improvement — the process times time and never ends. The way that we’ve been made to believe that fitness goals have a finite end point – that is, lose pounds or put two inches on your arms and you’ll have arrived — doesn’t paint the full picture of why you’re there. You’re looking to become the best you, to live with vitality, to thrive.

Living a healthy lifestyle is a choice, and an ongoing project. It’s habitual. And to form the habits you’ve got to take the first step and set small goals for yourself (ones that don’t involve comparing yourself to others). As small as spending 5 minutes walking on day one is great. Once you’re successful with your first small goal, create another and another and another that all work toward your ultimate goal, which is continual self-improvement.

2) The best program is the one that you will do.

In a study done with jam, two booths were set up. One had 24 options for free samples, while the other had six. After sampling the jam, people were taken to the stand where they could buy a bottle, if they so chose. More people were drawn to the bigger sample size but fewer of them ended up buying the jam.

This is analysis paralysis in (in)action. Over-information gathers an audience, but the act of making a decision between too many choices is daunting and often leads to inaction. There are an endless array of workout programs for you to choose from. The result of trying to make sense of every one of them is indecision and lack of action.

Some workouts are better than others – this is true, but the best workout in the world doesn’t matter if you’re not going to do it. Don’t overthink it. Pick a workout that you think is good for you and give it 100 percent of your focus and energy.

Anybody can claim they have found the secret, and many do, so don’t let the fancy display of 24 bottles of jam suck you in. Walk over, choose one of the six and give it your all.

3) Remember that everyone was new once. 

Years back, my friends and I went curling for my birthday. For those who aren’t Canadian, curling is a game where you put on slippery shoes and push rocks along ice guiding them by sweeping a broom. I’d never been curling before and the minute I stepped onto the ice I fell on my butt, bruising both my hip and my ego.

I tell you this because you need to remember that everybody struggles with new activities. Never forget that every person in the gym was new to the iron at some point in his or her life. All the reasons that you think you’re not ready for the gym are your reasons, but they are not real. Don’t let the nagging voice in your head take over any longer. You’re ready, and we can’t wait to see you there.