How To Develop An Exercise/Workout Practice

One of the ways we should be opting out of mediocrity is by putting ourselves first. Doing so requires that you take care of your physical, mental, emotional and financial health. I’ve already shared the most important step I’m taking to increase my financial well-being, so today I’d like to talk about my journey to physical health.

I recently mentioned that I workout 5-6 times a week. That wasn’t always the case. In fact, up until about 10 years ago, I hadn’t done any physical exercise since high school. I can also safely say that I’d never stepped into a gym. I had one in my building, but it was just a room I walked by once or twice a year as I headed elsewhere. I had lived in the building for about 3 or 4 years before entering the room of no return.

When I made the decision to start working out, I didn’t have a specific goal in mind. I didn’t need to lose weight or anything like that. I’d always eaten healthy before it was branded healthy. In fact, if you compare what I look like now versus 10 years ago, or even in high school, you wouldn’t see much of a difference in size. If I’m being honest, I probably decided to work out for three reasons: 1. I was unemployed, having just finished my MBA at the beginning at the Great Recession so I needed something to do besides sending out resumes, 2. I was influenced by Dr. Oz’s appearance on the Oprah Show, where he’d show human organs and educate the audience on how the body works, and 3. I felt that I should start taking better care of myself after an intense 2.5 years of working full-time and going to grad school.

So for the first time ever, I entered the gym one morning after everyone had left for work. Strange machines greeted me. The only one I recognized, and could name, was the treadmill so I stepped on it. Luckily for me, there was a huge green start button on it so I didn’t have to go find someone to help me get started.

As I walked on the treadmill, I played around with the buttons. It was easy enough to understand the three s’ – start, stop and speed – but I wasn’t sure about incline, random, manual, etc. After about 15 minutes of walking, I decided to complete my workout with a 15 minute run. I sped that bad boy up and began to run. Less than 10 seconds later, I slowed it back down again, huffing and puffing. My throat was dry. It felt like my chest was about to explode. I was all out of breath. I held on to the rails for support. I don’t think anyone had ever held them so tightly. My knuckles hurt. It’s not like this was the first time I’d ran. I’d run down the subway stairs so many times to catch the train. But this was obviously a different ball game.

I decided to start walking for 30 minutes every weekday morning. I didn’t do so over the weekend, because that’s when the pros came to play. I liked that I had the gym all to myself from Monday to Friday, once most had gone to work. I set a goal of being able to jog for 15 seconds. I would attempt to run several times during my walks. I didn’t do it overnight, but soon enough, I achieved my goal. Oh, the elation! Jubilation! I had just made history yet where was CNN? They were nowhere in sight to broadcast it to the world. They could have had the story first, but instead I ended up telling it to the guy that helped manage the front desk of my building. At least he was excited for me.

I upped the ante and decided that 30 seconds would be my next goal. Again, it wasn’t immediate, but soon I met my goal. The number of seconds went up to 45 and then 60 and soon I was talking minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I was still walking the majority of the time. I wasn’t on the way to the Olympics, even though I imagined I could win the gold. However, the fact that I could now run for an extended period of time, even if it was just a minute or two was amazing. It still left me totally breathless, but at least I wasn’t kaput within 10 seconds.

As I was progressing along, some girl decided to invade my space. She had been recently laid off and I guess she had the same idea. The good thing is that she took to another machine, which I later learned was called the elliptical. Once I saw how it worked, I began to incorporate it into my workout. That was a good thing because I needed some variety. I eventually started walking/running 3 times a week and doing the elliptical twice a week. I guess having this girl use my gym wasn’t so bad after all. We did soon become gym friends.

You know how when you start doing something, you suddenly notice everyone doing it, or you start seeing information related to that thing? Kind of like when you buy a new car, suddenly you notice that “everyone” has the same one? Or at least that’s what I’ve heard.  I’ve never actually owned a car.  Well, that’s what started happening to me. I soon noticed all these flyers for workout classes. I also learned that there were two free cardio/strength training classes held in my building on Monday and Wednesday nights. How did I not know this? Granted, I’d previously been at school at night, but still. Though everything was supposedly free, we all know that the gym and classes were included in my rent. I decided not to waste any more money, so I added the two 45 minute classes to my workout schedule.

At first I was intimidated to join the class. I was so sure that I’d find all these workout junkies that could bench press 100lbs with one hand. I walked into the class and everyone was welcoming. It was full of people of all different ages and different levels of fitness. It actually turned out to be a fun class. Not only did it help me build muscle, but it improved my stamina which helped my running.

This is how I began working out about a decade again. While the actual workouts have changed over the years, I’ve kept the practice going. I recommend that people start small and start slow. Don’t worry if you can’t run a 4 minute mile immediately, or do a bicep curl with 25lb weights. Heck, I still can’t do both AND I started with 2lb weights. The important thing is to start. Pick something, do it consistently, set tiny goals and make progress. Make it fun and challenging.

By the way, you don’t have to join a gym. There are so many activities you can do outside, especially in the summer.   They don’t even have to be intense.  Biking, gardening or simply walking for 30 minutes is good enough. However, if it interests you, many places offer free community classes. When I moved from where I was living, I initially didn’t join a gym. I would run in the park and take advantage of all the free classes my new city had to offer. I didn’t spend a dime. All you have to do is look online. I did eventually join a gym for a number of years because I loved the group classes. It was nice to have instructors, who I thought of as my personal trainers, showing me how to do things correctly and challenging me to do more than I thought I could. It was also nice to having the comradery, as you tend to see the same set of faces each time, and you begin to befriend and support each other. Eventually, I got tired of paying $80/month. I’m now working out on my own again.

Don’t limit yourself. If you try something and don’t like it, switch. You have options. You’ll find a workout and routine that works for you. You just have to start.

What will you start doing to take care of your physical health?  Or what are you currently doing?

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