As a personal trainer, people tend to think exercising is my thing and that I’ve always loved all of it. Not true. I used to be a couch potato who faked notes to get out of PE at school; it took me years after leaving college to sort out what workouts would keep me motivated.
The key is that after a long trial and error process I’ve come to figure out what works for my body and what I enjoy the most. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ thing and what works for me may not work for you. If you’re doing exercise that suits your preferences and your body, doing your workouts shouldn’t feel so much like a chore. Don’t get me wrong – you should still have to work at your workout, but you may find yourself looking forward to your training rather than dreading having to set foot out the door.
Here are some tips on how to actually enjoy your exercise sessions.
Find something you love
Don’t just do a workout because you’ve heard it’s good for you, don’t do a form of exercise you previously enjoyed but are starting to hate, and don’t train with a personal trainer who’s voice makes your toes curl.
Think outside the box with this. I detested school PE (chucking a shot put, doing the beep test, running around a track and kicking a rugby ball weren’t my idea of fun) and going to the gym for the sake of going to the gym didn’t work – I just ended up donating my membership fee.
What worked for me in the beginning was ice skating. As a movement-challenged adult, I enrolled in a beginner’s class, clung to the barrier for three or four sessions but slowly started to see progress as I moved away from the edges of the rink. And I became hooked. I was the least flexible person I knew, so to help improve my stretchiness I took up yoga. To help improve my fitness I started doing cardio group fitness classes. My gym training suddenly took shape as I did exercises to help improve my skating ability.
When I got into a rut with skating, I gave rowing a go on a suggestion from my husband. I loved being out on the water, participating as part of a team, the fresh stillness of the early morning trainings and the competitiveness of it. As someone who formerly hated mornings, I had no trouble getting up at 4.30am five times a week to do this.
Try something new; you never know what you’ll enjoy so give everything a chance at least once. If it sucks, don’t do it again. There are many other things out there to do!
Do it for your health
Exercise makes your heart healthier, helps improve your breathing, can improve mental health, reduces stress, increases focus during the day, makes you sleep better at night, and gets your skin glowing with improved blood flow – among a raft of other things. These reasons may be more boring than losing weight, gaining muscle definition or looking hot in a tight dress, but people who exercise for health purposes tend to think more long term and are typically more likely to hit their goals. Aim to be the best version of you, and find activities to help you do it.
When I was in my teens I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, needing to lose weight for health reasons to alleviate my symptoms. This wasn’t just for appearance reasons, but also so that later in life my body would be more capable of having children. Fighting my hormonal imbalance has never been easy, but it sure as hell was good motivation to keep going.
You may not have a health reason as specific as this, but most people in modern society would like to feel less stressed out and climb a decent set of stairs without huffing and puffing.
Be open to change
The types of exercise I enjoy doing now are not the same workouts I enjoyed doing in the past, and my preferences will likely be different again in the future. Twelves months ago I was rowing competitively, six months ago I was pregnant, and now that I’m six months post-partum I’m still working to rebuild my strength and fitness level. These all require modifications to the way I train. Some people are lucky enough to be happy doing the same types of exercise month to month, but I’m not one of them and it’s likely that neither are you.
If you do a six-week programme to give yourself a kickstart, that’s all well and good, but if it’s too intense you will probably be glad to see the end of that six weeks. Is it worth doing that six-week programme if you end up doing nothing afterwards to recover? Think about what activities you will take up at the end of it.
If you have an injury, don’t opt for an activity that aggravates it, choose modifications or another activity that will help you to be stronger and rehabilitate your injury instead. Find a health goal that resonates with you.
If you’re getting bored with your workouts, if you’re not getting the results you want after six weeks of keeping it up regularly, or if you’re feeling less motivated to get to your training sessions in the first place, it might be time for a change.
On a smaller scale, if you have an off day when you’re particularly tired, don’t do an intense workout if it’s what you originally had planned. Allow yourself the day to recover and take a light outdoor walk or do a gentle stretching session instead to keep up the habit of being active.
Some of us are okay with training on our own, but most people will get much more benefit out of training with others. It becomes not just a workout, but a social experience as well. This could be with a trainer, as part of a sports team, or with others in a group fitness class.
Don’t get too caught up in the technical stuff
Should I do weights before cardio to burn more calories or the other way around? How many times a week should I be doing interval training? Should I always push myself so hard I can’t move the next day?
The best exercise to do is the kind you will do regularly. It’s so easy to get bogged down with all the technical stuff the media pushes to us is ‘important’; most of this stuff isn’t important unless you’re an elite athlete or have a very specific goal in mind.
Find activities you love, do them more days out of the week than your rest days, and remember to breathe 🙂
Image / NZ Real Health