You’re scrolling through Instagram and encounter a photo of a fit, probably tanned, person on a mat extolling the virtues of exercise and you think, “That could never be me.” Firstly, no one is who they appear to be on social media. Secondly, you’re perfect the way you are.
But if you have been thinking about exercising and find yourself going through all the reasons why you can’t (“The gym is too intimidating.” “I wouldn’t know where to start.” “There’s not enough time”), you’re not alone.
WATCH: Easy full-body workout moves you can do at home. Story continues below.
Feeling unmotivated or unsure how to start working out is common, says Michael McCarthy, a Toronto-based life coach and psychologist.
“Everyone’s lives are already so stressful, and our view of exercise and physical wellness in general has a lot of stress around it,” McCarthy explains to HuffPost Canada. “People don’t need more stress in their lives; they need less.”
That’s why it’s important to shift your perception of what physical fitness is supposed to be — and what it means for you.
Exercise looks different for everyone
We often think of “fitness” as bootcamp-style classes filled with endless cardio, weight lifting, and lots of pain. While this is a common type of workout, it’s not the only one.
“There are so many creative ways to create wellness and exercise in our lives that don’t have to look like going to the gym,” McCarthy says. “It’s just about being creative and being willing to have fun again.”
We often forget that fitness isn’t just about lifting weights; swimming, boxing, or zumba class all count as physical activity, too.
Fitness isn’t one-size-fits-all; it’s about finding what works for you, calisthenics coach Carlos Salas says.
“Even if you’ve been to every gym in the city, if someone asks you what the best gym is, you’re going to say the one with the workouts you love best,” the Toronto-based fitness trainer tells HuffPost Canada.
Salas explains that if you try a certain type of workout and don’t love it, you’re going to start having negative associations with exercise. That’s why it’s important to find a physical activity you actually enjoy.
The community aspect of fitness is also key. “People want to feel like they are part of something bigger and that they aren’t alone,” Salas says.
Since we’re social beings, “there’s a benefit of social connection to working out as well,” McCarthy explains. This social factor not only adds to the fun, but also acts as a natural motivator for exercising rather than “just being healthy.”
So now that we know fitness is meant to be fun and social, how do you actually motivate yourself to workout?
Ditch the excuses
To do this, McCarthy suggests practicing a “10-minute shift” to help “chip away at that excuse mindset.”
“What we do in the first 10 minutes of our day can drastically change our attitude towards life and the day that we have,” he says. “If I can get out of bed and do five push-ups or five squats first thing, and drink a glass of water, this will interrupt the mental processing that says, ‘I’m not looking forward to this. It’s going to be a chore.’”
Manage your expectations
Having unrealistic fitness goals can put a damper on your motivation.
“What I see often is people overcommit and they get disappointed,” Salas says in an Instagram video. “The idea behind fitness is not to make a quick change. The idea is to create something sustainable.”
Understanding your commitment level, fitness level, and reasons for working out should all be considered before jumping in, the 29-year-old trainer tells HuffPost Canada. That way, you can set realistic goals and avoid feeling deflated during your first few sessions.
If you’re a beginner, or jumping back into fitness after a long period away, Salas recommends easing into workouts by committing to it just once a week. One rule he lives by is #NeverSkipMonday.
“If you just commit to doing Monday workouts for a whole year, you’re doing 52 workouts that you otherwise wouldn’t have done,” Salas says. This helps people start their week off right, mentally and physically, he explains.
Another way to manage expectations is to be wary of social media. That’s because influencer culture can warp our expectations of what our bodies (and gains) should look like, says McCarthy.
Don’t be intimidated
Easier said than done, but there are ways to cope. First, remember it’s normal for people to feel this way.
“You’re not the only person who thinks it’s intimidating,” Salas says. “Most people who are at the gym at any given time have gone through that doubt where they worry about what people will think. Those are self-imposed barriers, but you just gotta go for it.”
If intimidation is holding you back, both Salas and McCarthy advise making a plan before you hit the gym. YouTube is a great source for learning basic moves, and from there you can create a simple workout routine to ease yourself in.
McCarthy also suggests hiring a personal trainer for one or two sessions, if you have the means. That way they can show you exercises, how to use the equipment, and answer as many questions as you like.
Joining a class with a friend (and standing at the back) could also be a good way to become more comfortable in a gym environment. And if you still need convincing, just remember: No one cares.
“Everyone is in there trying to do something for themselves, trying to get better,” Salas says. “Everyone is there trying to push their own limits and if they are in there trying to do the very same thing [as you], then there’s no reason why you should feel intimidated.”
The bottom line is that working out shouldn’t be stressful, so don’t force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy or are uncomfortable with.
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