New Year, New Zoo

Every January, the gym is overrun with folks who have a renewed fervor for the body they wanted all of last year. I’m telling y’all, it’s *crazy* up in here. It’s 5:00 am and it’s like a night club, except instead of cocktails and dancing, it’s pre-workout drinks and lifting. I continually overhear, “It’s a freaking zoo in here!” from members, clients, and trainers. It’s a big, beautiful, messy shit show.

On the one hand, there are folks complaining that there’s no parking and OMG they can’t believe we’ve run out of towels again and why is there a line for the restroom? On the other hand, people are trying harder than they ever do. They are caught up in an intense, almost tangible energy that only the new year brings. It’s a wave that’s not hard to catch. It’s incredible and inspiring to see people working in their full potential.

Right around mid-February, it starts getting a little easier to find a parking spot, you won’t have to wait for a turn on your favorite treadmill (you know, the one that’s just a little bit newer than all the others), and glory glory hallelujah – there are plenty of towels! There’s also another change, though, a change in the vibe, in the atmosphere, and not just at the gym. It’s people settling back into their comfort zones all around after giving their new year’s resolutions a solid 6 week try. That wave you were riding has ebbed. You are feeling it, too. It would be so much easier to meet up with friends for happy hour than to go to your spin class (it’s half empty now anyway), or to have a giant bowl of ice cream after your grilled chicken and broccoli. A little time passes, and before you know it, you’ve been paying for a gym membership that you haven’t used in six months.

This is what MOST people with gym memberships do. That’s not anecdotal. 80% of people who join gyms in January cancel their memberships within five months. How will YOU manage to stay in the 20% who don’t? I’ve been at this for a very long time, and these are the five things that I’ve observed the 20% to have in common:

  1. They pace themselvesIf you are someone who is finally facing and battling years of bad habits, resist the urge to “go hard or go home” because you will eventually just go home. If you want permanent change in your body, then you have to change your lifestyle, and that won’t happen overnight. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Start out with 2 to 3 workouts a week, and increase that frequency after your body has had a chance to acclimate to the new demands you are putting on it.
  2. They eat real foodWe are not talking about diet “food” and protein powders that are made and packaged in giant warehouses. We’re talking vegetables, fruit, eggs, meats, seafood, nuts, cheese, and butter (yes, cheese and buttter!). Eat those foods, and eat them in small portions. That’s the big diet secret.
  3. They still have funYou’ll be a lot less likely to skip your workout in favor of a fancy meal out or a happy hour if you have something similar to look forward to later in the week. Those things are still ok to participate in on a moderate level, or you can go out to hear live music, to an art opening, to the movies. Better yet, find fun, ACTIVE things to do! When’s the last time you went rollerskating? How about kayaking on the bayou, or exploring your city on your bike with friends?
  4. They have supportChances are, you know someone else who wants to have the same focus on fitness that you do. Agree to hold each other accountable. Check in daily with one another. If you don’t know someone IRL, there are a bajillion online communities to find that kind of support and accountability. We live in a time of immediate connection, and this is a great way to take advantage of that.
  5. They educate themselvesIf you are reading about fitness and nutrition, if you are learning about how your metabolism works and what effects different nutrients and types of activity have on your body (and mind!), then you will be much more interested in staying active. Again with this awesome era we live in – information about everything you can imagine is available immediately. You overhear the trainers at your gym talking about macros and glycemic index and you’re like, what??? Google that shit, because it’s really interesting and it might help you with your goals. Did you run across a workout video with the term HIIT? Look that shit up (High Intensity Interval Training), because it’s really interesting and it might help you with your goals.

All of this I have not only observed, it is what has worked for me. When I was 50 lbs. overweight almost ten years ago, I started on my path to getting healthier and stronger by going to Urban Jungle‘s cardio kickboxing class 3x a week. Eventually, I changed my eating habits. I did fun things. I had friends who were (literally) willing to slap the donut out of my hand. I geeked out on fitness information. One day, months into it, I realized I was working out every day. It took me over a year to lose the weight, and another year to become the kind of fit that I wanted to be (strong, functional). TWO YEARS. Not two weeks. Not even two months. Two years, and I’m glad it did because those slow and methodical two years set the tone for the rest of my life. “New Year, New You” is brilliant marketing, but not much more. Be part of the 20% who stick with their new year’s fitness resolutions. It’s a new life(style), not a new year. And you will never be new, but you can certainly become an ultra sleek, enhanced version of yourself – a You 2.0 if you will.

The Most Effective Workout Ever

I am frequently asked by my clients, “What kind of workout should I be doing when I’m not in session with you?” I give each one of them the exact same answer – do something you like. No workout will be more effective for you than one you actually enjoy. If going to the gym is an absolute chore for you, if you dread it with all of your being, you will not reach whatever fitness related goals you have. You will give up, and you will feel justified in giving up. You’ll say it’s because of money or time or something the gym was lacking. Here is something I know about people – we have money and time for what’s important to us. Period. If  you give up on your workouts, it’s because they became less of a priority than other things in your life (notwithstanding injury, illness, or tragedy), and that can be diluted down to one issue – boredom.

Think of the people in your life who are very fit. Now go talk to one of them and ask her what she does to maintain that fitness. She will not tell you that she has a gym routine that she hates, that she suffers through. She might say it was tough in the beginning, but then she will tell you that she does ____________ and she LOVES it so much! She’ll list reasons why. She’ll try to convince you to come along. It could be anything from yoga to kickboxing to Crossfit to Zumba to power lifting to cycling to parkour… the possibilities are endless. You do not have to go to the gym and grunt your way through a machine circuit if you don’t like that (but it’s okay if you DO… it’s just one of many options!).

It’s the beginning of a new year. Rather than trying to teach yourself some hard won lesson about sticking with a plan and being disciplined, be kind to yourself. It really, truly doesn’t have to suck to be effective. Be introspective. Ask your body what it needs and what it LIKES. Does it want to stretch and become more limber? Do you want to punch and kick the crap out of someone holding Thai pads? Do you want to become strong enough to lift your own body weight? Are you interested in being able to traverse anything in your path? Do you want to dance? Do you want to play outside, like when you were a kid? Do you actually like to be in the gym, but need a trainer? Maybe the method isn’t as important to you as being in a group that supports each other, so you need a class that’s a genuine community, regardless of whatever crazy thing they’re doing. All of this is available.

If you’re not sure what you’d like to do, try ALL THE THINGS! It’s fun! Most gyms, dojos, and studios offer a free one week pass to new comers, so you can try out different classes, see what works for you. Personally, I like ALL THE THINGS! Okay, not all of them, but a whole lot of them, and when I am at my fittest, it’s because I’m immersed in a physical discipline (or two) that’s fun and that teaches me new skills.

So tell me, what do YOU want to learn to do with your body this year?