I have been an athlete for most of my life. From soccer camps in elementary school to a Division 1 sport in university, I have always been more comfortable on the field or in a crew boat than most anywhere else. When you’re used to competition and team motivation, it is really tough to workout on your own as an adult. It’s even harder when you’re not spending that time playing a sport. And it can feel impossible if you’re like me, and you crave the pressure from an authoritarian coach. Where does one even begin?
When I stopped rowing in college, I was regimented about my workout – it was just part of my morning routine. Get up, eat a yogurt, walk the two blocks to the nice campus gym, exercise, shower, eat breakfast, go to class. There wasn’t much getting in the way of living my best life back then. But sans class schedule and dorm life, I always struggled to get back to a consistent exercise routine – until now.
Over the years, I couldn’t quite figure out how to balance exercise in my life. In San Francisco, I went to classes here and there at our local gym and spent plenty of time on the elliptical, but I was never that motivated. I didn’t have something to work toward or look forward to. Some people remedy this by running 5K’s or doing other benchmark activities, but asphalt running has never appealed to me (or running in general, unless it was after a field hockey ball). So the result was that I never figured out where the exercise was going for me or how to improve. It was all just under the vague category of losing weight and staying fit.
Then, when I moved back to the east coast and near my family, I signed up for private workout lessons with my mother’s trainer. Once a week isn’t what I’d call a workout routine, but at least it was a start to being consistent. That’s trick number 1: get something on the calendar that makes you accountable. Since I share the workout lesson with my sister, I have to show up, so I’m guaranteed at least one hour of fitness a week.
But for a long time, that wasn’t nearly enough. I still wasn’t working out on my own, outside of my scheduled exercise, and I didn’t take advantage of the workout equipment that I have available to me at home. What’s funny is that all this time, I really wanted to. I lamented not working out, I felt guilty about it, saying: I really should do circuits today, or I should go for a walk, or you’re chubby, you need to exercise. But my motivation never kicked in, despite my good intentions. Trick number 2: you can’t fake it, so don’t. Guilt isn’t the right place to start working out. It’s not going to sustain your motivation. It’s also not a good place to do most anything, because it’s not coming from a positive, empowering position. And so, the result of the guilt was that I didn’t workout much.
Then, after two years of pretending to workout (which is basically what I was doing), I decided to lean into an exercise craving I thought I might like: yoga. I love stretching and meditation, so yoga was always in the back of my mind as something I would enjoy trying. I wanted to eliminate the challenge of “getting to class” becoming an obstruction in itself, so I opted for an online workout. I found a few YouTubers (yay free stuff!), tried a couple of easy classes, and once I discovered something I enjoyed, it wasn’t hard for me to want to do it. Trick number 3: find something you love to do. It’s really that easy. The exercise shouldn’t be the point, so much as how it makes you feel in the end. If you feel great doing yoga, or you love the technique in tennis, of you crave the glory of dead weights, lean in and do that exercise. The results will come because you want to do it and get better – it’s that simple.
Once I did those couple of YouTube videos, I got excited because of how much I enjoyed them. But instead of starting the new year with “I need to workout every day” as most all of us do, I told myself to start small: workout when I want to, and try to do a 30-minute yoga class once a week. That’s trick number 4: don’t overwhelm yourself at the beginning. I was insistent that I not push myself too hard, and that my routine not be a punishing, negative experience. I wanted to workout because I liked it and it made me feel good.
And guess what? It has worked.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve gone from working out once or twice a week without a lot of heart, to 5-6 times a week with a passion. I love it! I give myself days off when my shins hurt, or I feel sore, but I keep with it because I absolutely love the process of sitting on my mat and being led through a series of poses. And I can see my progress. When I repeat classes my stretching has improved, my planks are firmer, and my balance is on point. Now I have my own benchmarks that get me excited to get better.
So, to repeat: get something on the calendar that holds you accountable at the start, don’t guilt yourself into it, find something you love, and don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to overachieve before you’ve even started. The only way to get better is to quietly do the work every day.
And those, my friends, are my main secrets for continuing to exercise. If you haven’t found a workout or class that speaks to you, don’t fret! It took me years of trying to recreate team sports in cardio classes before I realized that as a solo fitness person, I like yoga. There are so many different types of classes and exercises to be good at, that you shouldn’t stop until you find the right thing for you. Because, I’m pretty sure if I had started yoga all those years ago, I would never have stopped exercising!
To check out my favorite yoga class on YouTube, click here! And do you have trouble staying motivated to work out? What are your tips for having a consistent workout routine? Share with me in the comments below!