not in our stars, but in ourselves
Recently, a friend (hi, Ben!) was talking to me about my gym-rat ways, and he thought it would make for a good post. Whether it does or it doesn’t, I’m doing it, so get ready and hold onto your butts: let’s get physical!
Before we begin in earnest, I would like to offer a few caveats. For one thing, I am far from a fitness junkie. I work out, and I’m proud of what I can do, and I’m strong and so on – but you will never see me in powerlifting competitions, or eating clean, or anything of the sort. I admire people with that kind of dedication, but I’m just not one of them. A few of my friends are hardcore fitness buffs (ha!) – and as much as I think it would be nice to be so dedicated to the pursuit and maintenance of a perfect body, I would really rather drink beer and eat refined carbs sometimes, and not spend three hours at a time in the gym. I spend an hour to an hour and a half, six days a week, and I think that’s plenty.
For another thing, I used to have a screwy relationship with exercise, food, body image – all that depressing stuff. When I went to college, I was downright terrified of gaining the dreaded Freshman Fifteen; and even though I was a vegetarian who didn’t drink (not until I was 21, believe it or not; fear not, I’ve made up for lost time), I decided to take all kinds of preventive measures against gaining weight. It never spiraled into a full-fledged eating disorder – but it was screwy all the same. I ate salads and salads only. I did the elliptical for a minimum of an hour a day – and sometimes for two – and, no surprise, I lost quite a bit of weight. Unsurprisingly, all this screwy eating and exercising was due to a separate, shitty issue: once that was mostly resolved, once I started allowing myself to feel happiness once in a while, I calmed down. I started doing wimpy little resistance workouts in addition to cardio. I became more interested in strength and muscles than in my weight or dress size. Don’t get me wrong: I still had plenty of moments of self-loathing. But I figured out, long ago, that if I work out as often as I do, and eat as (mostly) healthfully as I do, my body will be the size and shape it wants to be.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s go to the gym! If you’re not a gym-goer yet, but you’d like to be, you might wonder how to find the motivation not merely to start going, but to keep going. As any number of Resolutioners can tell you, “I’m fat and I hate myself” is a pretty shit motivator. It might get you to go for a while, but you’ll get discouraged if you keep thinking about how inferior you feel. It can be far more helpful to set a goal – a goal that has nothing to do with weight loss. If you’re overweight, and you’d like to change that, you will probably lose weight along the way. And if you don’t – well, you’ll still be strong and healthier than when you started. Win-win, you know? Your goal can be any number of things. Here are some ideas:
– run a 5K in less than 30 minutes
– do 20 chinups
– squat 200 pounds
– hold a plank for 5 minutes
– do 100 burpees
Now, some of these are crazy goals, and I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you. Who wants to do 100 burpees?! NOBODY! Cripes! Ahem. But you get the idea: you can pick some random, far-flung goal – and then work on different ways to achieve it. You want to be a better runner? There are ways to work on that, even if you’re the slowest couch potato out there. You want to do twenty chinups – or, hell, even one? Do assisted chinups, do bicep curls, do lat pulldowns and low rows, do overhead presses – do all sorts of other exercises to strengthen your back, shoulders, arms, and keep trying to do chinups. Soon, you’ll be able to do one. And then two. And then three. And eventually, hell, twenty. You want to squat 200 pounds, like Dirk Diggler? Start with your body weight, three sets of ten. Move up to a twenty-pound barbell. Move up to a heavier barbell. Move to the squat racks, and load them up a little bit more every week or so.
You get the idea: start small, do additional exercises to strengthen the rest of your body (because it can only help you if all your muscles are strong enough to help out), and you’ll get there. It may take a long, long time – but that’s fine! If you just wander into the gym without a plan of attack, and drift from machine to machine, you risk losing interest and motivation. If you keep a specific goal in mind, it will help you to focus – and to get fit.
Should you do all of this in a vacuum? No. No, you should ask for help if and when you need it. If you can afford a personal trainer, great; if not, don’t be shy about asking the floor monitors how to use a machine correctly, how to do a particular exercise, etc. Working out with a buddy can be, I hear, quite helpful. I wouldn’t know, since I’ve always been a lone-wolf gym-rat (sounds horrifying, doesn’t it?) – but you can hold each other accountable.
Additionally, I would implore you all to listen to your bodies. At first, it will probably all hurt, and you won’t know or care the difference between The Burn (good!) and plain old pain (bad!) After my injury a few months ago, I am especially mindful of such things. I don’t want to tear my back in half again. Listen to what your body is telling you. It’s quite a little machine, and you owe it some respect. (On that note, I’m going to go ahead and caution against CrossFit. It seemed like an awfully attractive program to me for a long time, but it’s super expensive – and, in too many cases, dangerous. Maybe it will work for you. Just be careful.)
If you’re still in a tizzy, and have no idea how to get started or what to do, here’s the basic outline of what I do. Will it work for you? I don’t know. But it’s an idea, anyway. Check out men’s fitness magazines. Consider checking out Nerd Fitness, too: I have a friend who swears by it, and he’s a fucking beast (in a good way). But anyway, here’s my little routine at the moment:
SUNDAY – WEIGHTS
Chest (usually the cable chest press)
Back (usually low rows)
Back (usually lat pulldowns)
Very light cardio: walking on the treadmill, doing the elliptical, riding the stationary bike, etc.
MONDAY – CARDIO
Run for 45 minutes
Cool down for 5
TUESDAY – WEIGHTS
Split squats or Bulgarian squats
Overhead press or some other sort of back/delt exercise
WEDNESDAY – CARDIO
Run for 45 minutes
Cool down for 5
THURSDAY – WEIGHTS
Dumbbell chest press
Reverse or walking lunges
Low rows or lat pulldowns
FRIDAY – CARDIO
Run for 45 minutes
Cool down for 5
SATURDAY – REST!
Is it the best workout plan? No, of course not. But it works for me. You’ll find something that works for you. You just have to get to the gym and start trying things! Set a goal, and work towards it. By the time you reach that goal, you’ll have made the gym a habit – and then, on to the next goal! Right? Right-o.