Want to get in shape? Don’t start with a gym membership. Here’s why.

You look into the mirror as you get ready for the day ahead.  You twist and turn your body, then you tilt your head up, down and side to side, ensuring that you’ve got all the angles covered.  You silently nod to yourself in approval…but there’s this thought that’s been itching at you for a while, like an annoying tag on the inside of a new shirt.

“I’m just not happy with how I look!”

Consequently, thinking to oneself that you don’t look good, simply doesn’t make one feel good either, would you agree?

For many, it’s what they see in the mirror or in photos of themselves that prompts a decision to change their lifestyle.  But perhaps it is the feeling of being unfit that sparks the decision to make a change.

Whatever the catalyst may be, you’ve decided that something needs to change – and with this comes an immediate sense of urgency, a call to action, even a rush of enthusiasm! You decide to go on your phone and look up the newest diet craze, and scour YouTube for the newest workouts to “lose fat, gain muscle, and get shredded!”.  After some research, you’ve picked out your new workout regimen, made a grocery list of healthy new foods that you’ve never even heard of, and a shopping list to buy some new workout clothing.  All this in hand and a truckload of energy, you set out to implement your new plan to finally be in the best physical shape of your life!

Fast forward 3 weeks later…

The quinoa/kale/acai berry/wheatgrass/superfood whatever protein shakes are getting repetitive.  The gym shirts and shorts you bought are still snug around certain areas on your body.  And the workout regime that you decided to follow that promised a Navy SEAL physique in 30 days left you unable to keep up and feeling like a train-wreck 2 days in.  Not to mention the athletes on the videos all look like they were cast members of the movie “300”.

In a short 21 days, your goal to be at your absolute physical best is feeling even further away, and your enthusiasm has waned immensely from what it was at day one.

“Trying to get in shape is too much.  I’m not cut out for all this diet and workout stuff…”

Feeling defeated and discouraged, you slowly stop going to the gym, cheat meals have become your regular meals, and you wonder more and more what came over you to get on this “fitness kick” in the first place.


What exactly was it that came over you?  Let’s go back to that catalytic thought that jump-started these efforts of yours in the first place; this is the key moment.  This is the first in a series of steps, of which the first few are so crucial to achieving successful behavioural change, with the ultimate goal of attaining your physical transformation!

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Jonathan Ross, senior consultant with ACE Personal Training, wrote in his article Exercise Starting Point and Progressions, that “physical transformation takes time, consistency, and multiple behaviours done well for an extended period of time”.  So, notwithstanding the significance of making the decision to lead a lifestyle more conducive to improved fitness, it is the ability and fortitude to consistently and continually chip away at the goal, working at it patiently.

“The finish line doesn’t matter if you don’t put the starting line in the right place”

Ross writes, which is absolutely applicable in so many other aspects of life besides fitness, but in this context it could mean the difference between achieving your goal and not at all.  So how can we ensure that we get off on the right foot?  START SLOW.  Like any good, enduring, healthy relationship (learned this the hard way people!), taking the time and patience to warm your mind and body to the fitness-oriented lifestyle is key.  Ignore the get-fit-quick schemes and the lofty promises of chiseled physiques in a short period of time, and the new revolutionary supplement that will transform you instantly…this is just very good marketing.  I’ll admit, there are compelling products/workouts/supplements out there that appear to and even deliver what they promise, with testimonials from people who have completely changed their physiques.  What all these people have in common, however, is that it took time to achieve the physiques they now have.   It wasn’t because of the product they’re trying to sell necessarily, but the dedication it took to transform themselves.

So why not get a gym membership?

Because the gym may not be the best place to start.   A gym certainly gives you the tools to help you achieve physical transformation, but it may also become counter-productive from what you’re looking to do.   I say this partly because I see varying levels of fitness of members at the different gyms I have been to, and the unfortunate reality is that it can be an intimidating place for the newly-christened gym-goer.  I say this because I once was that person too intimidated to go to the gym, and even after overcoming that fear, it carried over to being afraid to try different pieces of equipment, or movements and exercises I wasn’t used to.

So in the spirit of setting the start line in the right place, I would say the best place to start is with yourself.  You’ve made the decision to make a change, but I would say equally important in making that decision is being at peace with the fact that it won’t happen overnight.  Or in a week.  Or a month.  Not even in six months necessarily.  Some fitness professionals have been at it for many years and continue to strive to improve in some way.  I believe the process really is transformative firstly in the lifestyle you lead.  The positive changes you make physically (and usually mentally and emotionally as well!) are “by-products” of this new lifestyle.

I am a huge proponent of going to the gym, pumping the iron, killin’ the workout, etcetera.  I would say in conjunction with that, another keyword to keep in mind is progression.  Be good at working toward progression, even in small increments.  Another tool that I believe is useful in facilitating progression is a good personal trainer.  They are trained to identify your level of fitness, help you determine and set your fitness goals, and help carve you a plan to achieving them.  And guess what one of the first things are that they would say when starting out on your fitness journey? Be good with progression!

One quote that I think of often and helped me really push through the challenges of thinking self-defeat in terms of where I am relative to peers, colleagues, etcetera, be it in fitness, career or life in general, was said by the late John Wooden, legendary basketball coach for the UCLA Bruins:

“Don’t look at the scoreboard.  The score will take care of itself.  Do what is in your control, and be the best player you can be on the court.  The score will take care of itself“.

With this philosophy, he held a record of 664 wins and 162 losses over a 29 year coaching career.  He coached UCLA to 10 championships in 12 years,  and was responsible for the development of Hall of Fame players like Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Walton.

Use that new-found enthusiasm and seek out resources that you think will help you.  A personal trainer to create a workout plan tailored to your goals and keep you accountable, a dietician to set up a meal plan specific to your preferences (and if you have allergies), a friend that works at the Nike store (get them discounts!), or even a good psychology book from the library or book store.  Oh and of course, look into the local gym and consider getting a membership!

These are some examples of tools that can help you achieve transformation, even beyond your initial goal of having a beach-ready body year round!

Be good with progression.  Set the start line right, and you’ll set yourself up for fitness success!

Yours in fitness,

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