This post is probably the most personal I’ve shared so far. I’m not sharing my life story or anything like that, but whilst signing in at the gym earlier this week, I noticed it said that I had been a member since April 2010... and it dawned on me that I've now been attending a gym for five whole years. I mean five years… that’s a long time. It got me thinking about how much my relationship and attitudes towards the gym have changed over those years and how I’ve changed as a person because of it.
Five years ago, I’d been with James for about 10 months, and in that sense, I’d never been happier. But I wasn’t happy within myself. I wasn’t exactly overweight, but I hated the way I looked and felt, and never felt confident going out with the new friends I had made through James.
It was actually a couple of James’ friends that got me into the gym. They’d just joined Writhlington Sports Centre, and were looking for a couple of people to play badminton with once a week. James and I decided it might be fun to give it a go, and although I was never very good at it, I actually enjoyed it. After a few weeks of this, his friends suggested that we should join too – we’d get free use of the courts, use of the gym and access to all of the workout classes.
To start off with, I said no. Messing around with a couple of friends playing badminton was one thing, but the thought of actually going in a gym terrified me. I’d always associated it with pretty, skinny girls in crop tops and hot pants jogging on the treadmills and big beefy guys cheering each other on lifting massive weights… it wasn’t somewhere that I thought I’d fit in at all.
We talked about it for a while though and James talked me into going for an induction with him as he was keen to join. When we got there it was pretty quiet, which was good – we were shown around and shown how to use all the machines. Then we had a chat with the instructor who asked what we wanted to get out of our time at the gym and what we were aiming for; he did all our stats and said he’d write us each up a programme for the next time we were in. It was all pretty daunting, and I just remember feeling really out of place – I didn’t really take much notice of other people in the gym at the time as I didn’t want to look at them and make myself feel bad in comparison.
Anyway, the next time we went up, we were given our programmes and I remember looking at mine and just thinking ‘I can’t do this’. In our induction, I’d just said that I wanted to get fitter and feel better about myself, so he’d given me a programme that involved cardio, weights and floor exercises. I’ve still got the programme on my card at the moment; 5 minute warm up on the stepper, 10 minutes on the bike, 10 minutes on the treadmill, 10 minutes on the cross trainer, 2 x 15 reps on most of the arm/leg weights, sit ups, planks… for someone who hadn’t really done any physical activity since school, it was enough to make me panic. James reassured me, reminding me that I didn’t have to do all of it if I didn’t want to, and slowly coaxed me into it. It took a few weeks, but I slowly started building up to the full programme. However, I still would not go any faster than a brisk walk on the treadmill, holding on for dear life.
A few months in, I persuaded my Mum to start coming to one of the work out classes with me; on Wednesday nights we started Buts and Guts with an amazing lady called Louise. She pushed us hard, and although I dreaded going every week, it made me feel like I’d really done something. Walking lunges became my new enemy, and I could barely get up the stairs at work the day after.
I did try a couple of other classes; fitness yoga and zumba with my Mum, and even tried a dance mat class with my friend Rosie. None of which I really took to though and quickly fizzled out. But I was making new friends in the classes and up at the gym, and the more I went, the more I realised that it wasn’t full of the stereotypical skinny girls and beefy guys I was expecting. It was full of average Joes; I stopped feeling so out of place and started to relax a bit more.
I think for the first couple of years, I was still finding myself. I still didn’t have a huge amount of motivation, so if I wasn’t meeting James, my Mum or my friends up there, I’d easily talk myself out of it and stay home instead. It was starting to make me feel better in myself, but I still had more down days than up. Then my Mum stopped coming, and not long after, Louise moved to Bristol and the class stopped altogether. James also cancelled his membership when he started a tree surgery course and didn’t have the time or energy to go any more. I think that this was the turning point.
I booked a review and chatted to one of the instructors about my situation and lack of motivation. They made me a shorter programme so I didn’t feel so daunted, and Ab Attack was suggested as a good replacement for the Buts and Guts class that was cancelled. I’d never been to a new class on my own before, so when I turned up at my first Ab Attack I was a little nervous… but when I got there, I recognised people that I’d met before in the old class and up in the gym and quickly settled in. The shorter programme was also working wonders, and after time I found myself doing more than what was on my card when I had the extra time to spare.
I grew more confident and actually started running on the treadmill – very slowly at first, but soon built up to a good pace and stopped feeling the need to hold on. I also started doing things that I’d always avoided before because I felt silly doing it.
When they started spin classes, I put my name down straight away – no longer scared of trying something new on my own. I think spinning is what really changed things for me; it's turned into something I love. I even took part in Spin for Life last summer, a cycling alternative to Cancer Research's Race for Life.
I actually found myself looking forward to going to the gym. If I’d had a bad day or had a bit of a headache, instead of going home I’d still go to the gym, knowing it would make me feel better. Rather than going twice a week, I started going three times. If I couldn’t make it on my usual day, I’d go a different day instead. I started setting myself targets and pushing myself to reach them.
I’m still no runner, but at the start, I couldn’t even run for 2 minutes without having to stop. When I first managed to run a mile without stopping I was looking at about 11 minutes and was so chuffed. Now I can run a steady three miles in under 30 minutes, and my fastest single mile ever is 6 minutes 59 seconds. I also took part in a 5k fun run last year - something that I would never dreamt of doing 5 years ago!
And I was never really in it for weight loss; I love food, and still eat cake and biscuits (well if I bake it, of course I’m going to eat it) but I’ve lost a stone over the years and have dropped two dress sizes, which has helped in making my feel better about myself.
I guess it just goes to show, you can change your attitude towards things with a little help and taking it one step at a time. I’ve gone from shying away from something that I wanted to do, too self conscious to try anything new, to actually looking forward to my time at the gym, and missing it when I can’t go for any reason. It’s great for stress relief, it’s great for self confidence, and ultimately, it’s great for your health. And you know what, it keeps me sane.