Making the Gym Stick: A Guide for Gymophobes


Before last year every time January rolled around I would resolve to get fit and go to the gym more often. And every time I would be back to my usual lazy self come February, disheartened by the whole process. I've never been one for exercise; I loathed PE lessons at school, was the first to complain about walking somewhere and was always more inclined to curl up on the sofa with a good book (I mean who can blame me?)

However last February (my essays got in the way of starting earlier) I finally managed to make the gym stick. I'm now a veritable gym bunny!! I go to spin at 7am!!! Who am I?!

So I'm going to offer a few pieces of advice from a former gymophobe about how to make an exercise regime stick. Most of a good gym routine is all in the mind, so you’ve got to go into it ready to attack it body and spirit.

Go with multiple goals in mind.

If you go to the gym in January with the goal to 'lose weight' and you don't see the results of your hard work within a few weeks (and chances are that you might not!), it's much easier to give up on the whole thing completely. If you go with multiple goals, then you have more reasons to get in there and keep going. For me, my goals were to get stronger in my upper body (because it was literally embarrassing how weak my noodle arms were) and to improve my cardio capabilities for my long term health (I used to have asthma so had always been a bit rubbish at any/all cardio). With the first I saw results almost immediately (hello, lifting heavy suitcases with ease), but the other took me the better part of the year to properly achieve.

After only a few weeks, however, I discovered another goal; maintaining a good mental health and honing my discipline and productivity not just in the gym but outside of it. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this last goal is now the most important one for me; I find if I don't exercise I feel more anxious and am much more prone to bad (and unproductive) days. I know that however much I don't want to get up early and go, I'll feel a million times better afterwards.

Take it slow/expect it to be slow.

I thought I was jumping in at the deep end by going to the gym four times a week (including two PT sessions) and in a way I was. But it took me a good seven or eight months before I started to really feel comfortable and happy in my routine. That's when I started to introduce more cardio and also saw more changes in the way my body felt and looked. Even though I was getting up and going to the gym a fair bit back in early 2018, I wasn't pushing myself super hard (I didn't even know what my limits were) and I hadn't yet found my rhythm. And this is all part of the process. Even if you feel you aren't doing much, just keep going. Make it a habit, and then you can really build on goals later on.

Make yourself accountable.

A classic one, this. Personal training is obviously the highest form of accountability, but I've found classes work really well for this, too. There are lots of gyms with good deals on classes, and I find they give me a much better workout than anything I do on my own. Plus, lots of gyms offer at least one free PT session, so make use of that to help you grow comfortable in the gym and give you a base workout to work from. Or you could take a friend, or join a sports team, or if you're planning to workout at home (and YouTube/Instagram has so many good at-home workouts completely free) just tell someone, ask them to nag you. Doing it all by yourself is much harder.

Plan your sessions.

Going on from that, if you don't have a workout buddy, or the option of PT/classes, then the best thing you can do is plan your sessions. The most demotivating thing is to turn up at the gym and then wander amongst the machines doing a bit of this and a bit of that, which is what I used to do. Not only does it not give great results but it can be a lot slower and feels like time wasted. A wee bit of research on YouTube/Instagram can give you a much better idea of what to do. Once you've got a good workout going, switch it up every few weeks to make sure your body doesn't get too used to it.

Routine, routine, routine.

I've touched on this briefly already but I can't emphasise enough how important it is to wholeheartedly make it part of your routine. I remember reading early on that you can't wait until you feel motivated to go to the gym, you just have to go (and the getting dressed and getting yourself there is the toughest part). Decide early on what set times you'll go; you could plan this at the beginning of the week or just go at the same time every week. Whilst PT/classes keep you accountable in the sessions themselves, part of it is in the fact that you know at 7am or 6pm, you're planning to be in the gym. I find it easiest to make exercise the first thing I do in the morning (and this coming from a former nightowl), so before I can even think properly I'm in my gym gear. It is bloody hard the first few times you have to do it, but its become so much part of my routine now that I don't really question it.

It is important to find exercise that you find enjoyable (or enjoyable enough), but I have to say I personally don't find this element to be the most integral thing for me. Although now I enjoy exercise in a perverse kind of way and for the feeling it gives me afterward, there would have been very few things I would have actively enjoyed exercise-wise when I started my journey. I think it's more important to establish this routine so that come rain or shine, motivation or no, you're working out. After all, there's plenty of daily life things I don't particularly like doing but I do them because I have to and/or they're good for me!

So that's it, you guys. Not particularly groundbreaking I know, but I hope it was a little bit useful for anyone whose ever felt disheartened by the January gym thing.