Happy New Year!
It's that dreaded time of year where we often feel obliged to change things about ourselves due to social conventions. However, it can be a time to just reflect on the elements of your life that make you happy and wish to continue, and those that don't and look at simple ways to adjust or improve on those. My New Year's resolution is to focus more on myself and the things I enjoy doing, and this includes this blog and my fitness journey.
Unfortunately, this blog has been somewhat neglected after my initial post in September. The reason for the extreme delay was due to some changes in personal circumstances, along with the fact that I’d had a bad fall and injured my right ankle, which is extensively weakened from a lifetime of falling over. With the new time constraints and injury, I was struggling to get back into the fitness routine that had taken me months to build up, as well as find ways to deal with the additional physical obstacle. As a result, I felt like a fraud writing about something I wasn’t practising so took some time out to focus on getting through my setback and building my confidence back up (the weeks I had to take off to recover not only made me regress in strength and fitness but also in my positive attitude, which was the hardest thing of all to attain).
The problem is, we see progress as such a linear idea: we begin at one level and then advance with practice. This is particularly projected in the world of sport and fitness, with people posting online about their achievements or ‘throwbacks’ to their starting point after X amount of hard work, but the reality for many of us is so different, especially if you have a disability to contend with as well. Some weeks we progress, some weeks we stay the same, and some we regress, and all of that’s okay. It may be that before you even know it the weeks of regression turn to months after an injury or other commitments taking priority, and you find yourself completely demotivated at the thought of starting from scratch. With the New Year here, many of us resolve to start or restart a fitness routine, and so for my second (of what I hope will now be many!) post I want to write about getting started and turning your intentions into a reality, whether for the first time or the tenth.
1. Choose an activity or sport you genuinely want to do
The biggest mistake a lot of people make when deciding to do physical exercise is thinking it’s something they should do just for the health benefits, rather than for the pure enjoyment of doing it. Obviously, doing exercise for the reason of getting fit and healthy is no bad thing, and is the primary motivating factor for almost all of us, but if you choose an activity you hate or have zero interest in because you feel you should do it, you are far less likely to incorporate it into your daily routine on a long-term basis.
For example, I was intrigued by the idea of Zumba for a long time, but had written it off because coordination is far from a strong point of mine so I thought I’d be hopeless and didn’t want to make a fool of myself. Once the war on “I can’t” had begun, I decided to give it a go and found a class local to me. The first session I had no idea what was happening and I had somehow ended up near the front and middle of the busy class getting 90% of the moves wrong: my worst nightmare! Naturally, I was incredibly self-conscious and nervous throughout, but at the end when I was asked if I wanted to set up a membership to the classes, I knew the answer was yes, because in spite of the fear, there was a part of me that had thoroughly enjoyed all of the jumping around and the shimmying. Since then, it’s become a non-negotiable in my weekly routine and I only miss the class when absolutely necessary (I went back as soon as I could after the injury, opting for the lowest impact moves). What’s more, although I can’t claim to be the best in the class, with practice I have improved and, to be honest, I’m having far too much fun to even care!
That’s the real key to success and beating your own self-doubt: if you can find something you really love you’ll be enjoying yourself too much to listen to the negative thoughts or excuses not to go.
2. Find the right gym, sports club, or fitness community for you
Once you have decided on the kind of activity you want to try, the next logical step is to find the best place that offers it. When we are looking for gyms or exercise classes, we tend to focus solely on the key factors of price and location. With these in mind, the next crucial element is to find somewhere that caters to your personal needs and makes you feel comfortable. Most gyms (especially during January) offer free trial passes so you can go and see what is offered before you commit, and the same goes for a lot of exercise classes. If you have a disability, I would recommend arranging a meeting with the manager or member of staff to discuss your needs and whether they will be able to provide the facilities and assistance to meet them. From this, you should be able to gauge their flexibility and willingness to make you feel welcome; unfortunately that is not the case everywhere and may require a few attempts before you find the right place for you.
Referring back to the Zumba classes as an example, when I found them I contacted the staff to explain my cerebral palsy and subsequent difficulties. They were very welcoming and insisted I should not be discouraged and to try a class for free, and when I arrived they chatted with me further and informed me of the low impact versions available should I need them. Not only were the instructors lovely, but so were the other attendees and the atmosphere in general; people of all ages, sizes and abilities were welcome and no one cared in the slightest if you got it wrong. I knew that this was the right community for me and they have been incredibly supportive of my journey ever since.*
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
When starting out, getting help from professionals can make the difference between going once and making a long-term change. This is why finding the right place for you is so important, as you should be in an environment in which you find the staff approachable and knowledgeable, so that you feel comfortable enough to seek out advice; whether it be paying for a one-to-one session or a simple chat about the challenges you are facing. Getting help from experts should not be underestimated or seen as unnecessary: the support, assistance, and kindness I have received from personal trainers and class instructors are what have kept me going in times of complete demotivation. Furthermore, where disabilities or injuries are involved, modifications to exercises are usually required, and doing so correctly is essential to avoid serious injury.
(Please note, there are many people (especially in gyms) that consider themselves as experts and may try to offer their opinion on what you should be doing, particularly if you are performing the exercise in a different manner due to disability or injury. While these are usually well-meaning and on occasions may prove to be useful, I strongly recommend seeking out further advice from qualified professionals as they are the ones able to assess what is correct for you. This includes any suggestions I provide in this blog and I have given clarification on this in my ‘About Me’ section.)
4. Go easy on yourself
Finally, the most important piece of advice I can offer: set achievable goals and do not compare yourself to others. Your aims at the start should be simple and realistic, so that you can build on them over time. Try not to get sucked in by the programmes offering results in a certain number of days or weeks, particularly when such results are usually based on physical appearance or a number on the scales. Yes, many fitness resolutions start because we want to lose weight or look a certain way, but if you focus more on finding the correct activity for you and improving your form and ability over time, the physical benefits will inevitably start to show as well.
Moreover, try to avoid the tendency to compare yourself to others in the class or gym. While that is easier said than done (trust me, I know!), comparing yourself to those who have been physically active for much longer and with different challenges from you, will only serve to dent your confidence. Remember: everyone was a beginner once and you’re already awesome for taking this decision for yourself.
Good luck and best wishes for the year ahead. If you have any questions please feel free to leave me a comment!
* This community is called TransforMe based in Berkshire, UK. If you are in the area then I highly recommend that you check them out!