Some life lessons and fitness revelations gleaned from taking time off from the gym.
Hi, my friends! I hope your week is going well! I owe you an update on my short trip away and will have that for you later in the week, but today, it’s all about lessons learned in the fitness and workout world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the things I’ve learned and life changes that have come about now that Brady has been in the world for more than six months. It’s a lot. And while I know full well that life will continue to change and I will continue to learn as he grows, I wanted to start sharing some of my reflections.
This particular post is focused on the gym, workouts and fitness from the eyes of a fitness professional, but of course, there are many more topics to get to.
Moral of the story? I truly think I can be a better instructor, fitness professional, person and gym attendee based on my new perspectives. Now for the details …
What I’ve learned about fitness from taking time off from the gym
Going to the gym or to a workout class is a luxury — of both time and money.
Hindsight is 20/20. Ain’t that the truth. So as you know, I’ve been teaching group fitness classes and getting free health club memberships in some form for more than nine years, as perks of being an instructor and trainer. That’s a long time. While this doesn’t mean that I can go into any class I want at any time for free (FAR FROM IT, peeps) — I’ve lived a life working in the fitness industry with some nice benefits. This has given me access to a brand new Equinox and its complimentary eucalyptus towels, an amazing set of Bay Clubs in San Francisco with pools, spas and wine, and now, a full range of 24 Hour Fitness clubs. In addition to that, I’m often invited to try out new and expensive boutique studios with free classes as a member of the “media” as well. I have to be totally honest and tell you that I’ve sort’ve taken all of this for granted for a long time, because I’ve never really had to pay for fitness experiences, and so I haven’t truly understood the value of exchanging your own money in order to get in a good workout.
Being away from these things for a period of time, and getting a little bored with home workouts, I started to do some research on gym prices and studio package rates. I was reminded of the enormous cost of fitness and classes. We spend our hard-earned money, which could be used elsewhere, to invest in our health, well-being and fitness, and that’s a big deal and a big choice to make — and that’s just the money part.
Then, there’s the time part. It’s not always easy to get to the gym, spend time there, or attend and stay for a whole workout class. Yes, I was once a group fitness instructor who taught 15 classes a week, as well as a personal trainer who did one-on-one client sessions mornings and nights. So there have been times in my life when I would literally spend ALL day in the gym. While I was in it, these were things that I did for my job and thus didn’t see them as perks or luxuries. They were work.
Well fast forward to taking time off from teaching for the end of my pregnancy and then taking a lot of time off from teaching after Brady was born, and I often think about how I took all of my access to amazing facilities and classes and ability to exercise as often as I wanted for granted too — another dose of perspective, helping me to “get it.”
Workouts cost money. Gyms cost money. Classes cost money. And it takes time to get to the gym, park, go inside, get your workout in and get on with your day. You may have so many other things on your plate that investing that time is incredibly difficult. You may actually be choosing to skip other things when you decide to do that workout. There may be other people who have to jump in to help so that you can even go get in your workout. And the people I see in the gym are making those choices and making the effort, and that’s awesome.
Because I’m looking at this from a new perspective now, I understand more than ever how amazing it is to be able to have the ability to go to a place to work out away from home and to maybe even take a class. It’s NOT easy to do with a little one (especially one who isn’t on a solid schedule yet), and it’s also not easy when you have a full-time job (that’s for another post, but I’ve been there and done that too). Now when I teach classes or speak to class members or answer blog reader questions, I’m able to come from a empathetic place of truly understanding the hurdles people may face in seeking the chance to work out away from home. (Side note: Working out at home can be amazing for some people, and takes some serious commitment, and here’s how you can get motivated to do it, if you think you want to try it. Ultimately, it’s not for me though.)
I now truly appreciate EVERY single workout that I get to do away from home, and I do not take a single rep for granted. It feels awesome to come from that place of gratefulness, and it feels even better to understand the luxuries that are workout classes and workouts and know the people standing in front of me in my classes have made the choice to be there, and I need to not only thank them for that, but deliver one awesome workout to them too.
You never know where someone is on his or her fitness journey, and everyone has to start somewhere.
One of the greatest things about being a fitness professional is that you hopefully spend time working with clients of all levels, abilities and body types. You usually also get the chance to learn from your clients too. I can tell you that when I worked at the fancy SF Equinox as a trainer, although much of the general gym population clientele was svelte, young and fashionable, my actual clients were a mixed bag. I had young and old clients, in all stages of fit and functional. I never ONCE judged anything about them, and that’s because I was there to help them, and I knew their back stories and health histories from all of our assessments and conversations.
As a fitness professional, I do not judge. Yet, as an everyday gym attendee, of course, I look around and make assumptions. And now, with my new perspective as a woman on a postpartum journey who is still nursing and caring for a young baby, I have my eyes so incredibly wide open, and I’m so incredibly accepting.
These days, when I go to a class or go to the gym, I know that I am about half-of-a-year postpartum and still building back my strength and fitness after a couple of years of treating my body slightly differently in efforts to repair my hormones and get pregnant, and I know I don’t always get enough sleep and am probably pretty stressed. Nobody knows that when they see me — they only see what they see — but I know that I have to make very specific fitness choices now to account for where I’ve been and where I’m going. Maybe some people see me and think that I look great and it’s so easy for me to be that way — but I know that I had 40 pounds more on my body just six months ago and have slowly been chipping away at progress — very slowly and intentionally. Maybe some other people see me at the gym a few times a week now and wonder why I’m not doing more intense or big lifts in the squat racks, but I know that I’m working on more basic foundational movements and repairing imbalances, and that’s fine with me.
Instead of judging others, now when I look around the gym I just wonder where these people are on their journeys. When I see a woman working out, I always wonder: Have you had a baby? Are you getting enough sleep? How are your hormones? Are you able to focus on your workout or are you just thinking about whether your kids are okay? Why do I wonder these things? Because I’ve gone through them all.
After having the clarity of being away from the gym for weeks and essentially starting from scratch in the fitness sense after childbirth, I realize now more than ever that everyone has a story. Everyone has a history and set of experiences outside of the gym that may be why they look how they look, why they choose the exercises that they choose and why they are even there that day attempting to work out, not to mention what it takes for them to be there working out at that time too and who is jumping in on the home-front to help them reach their goals.
The moral of the story? Never judge. Never compare. You don’t know if someone is walking into the gym for their first session after a gym hiatus from an injury or life-changing event or if they’ve been there every single morning crushing it with no break preparing for a fitness competition, but still have a lot of weight to lose. You can NEVER compare where you may be in your journey to where someone else is. You can’t see the size of the dumbbells someone lifts or watch their ripped muscles and be jealous. You also can’t make fun of someone doing super rudimentary exercises and spending a lot of time stretching. You just can’t see the full picture. Everyone is trying to make the right choices and work on themselves, and for that — I commend them.
The gym is not about judgment, feeling shame, feeling nervous or even feeling boastful about your appearance or efforts at all, and it should never be. It should be about staying in your own lane, being accepting of others in their own journeys and going after what makes YOU feel good. So find your WHY and rock it.
Something is always better than nothing, and you can keep it short.
I know that many of you still believe that you haven’t completed a workout unless it is a good, solid hour. And I will continue to tell you that that’s just NOT the truth. An hour is a neat little bow that we like to tie up the session with for no reason at all. Yes, many group fitness classes and personal training sessions are an hour — but I think we’ll be seeing a LOT more 30- and 45-minute group fitness workouts popping up (well, they already are), because you can get so much done in that amount of time.
Having been away from the gym, I’ve completely learned that I can get a GREAT workout in in 30 minutes total, and that even includes my warm-up and some foam rolling. Circuit-style workouts, in which you do weightlifting moves targeting different muscles back to back without a break, is a great way to get your heart-rate up for a cardio benefit, while also getting the benefit of resistance training. And intervals are the WAY to go for cardio as well to save time. It’s so clear to me that shorter and efficient is the way to be. I’m never at the gym more than 40 minutes now, unless I’ve made the effort (and it’s a LOT of effort) to commit to taking or teaching a full-hour class. Smart training can be short training, and that’s a-okay. So if you only have 30 minutes available for exercise, YES, do it, and YES, know that it counts and it’s worth your while. (You can read more here on my thoughts on why something is better than nothing in fitness.)
Now, in addition to the time spent, let’s talk modality. While I used to tell people that it’s pretty worthless to just stroll slowly on the treadmill or bop around on the elliptical as your sweat session, I understand now that that’s not entirely accurate. If you choose to do one of those seemingly “pointless” things, maybe that’s because it’s what you feel like you need in the moment. And if choosing movement that you want to do (even if it’s the dreaded elliptical) is the only way you will be moving, then go for it. You are probably making that choice because it’s what your body and mind want, and I support listening to your body wholeheartedly. Maybe you are just recovering from an injury, or you just need to zone out and listen to a podcast and move. Maybe you have a lot of stress at home. You do you.
While you want to pick up weights and vary your routine to truly get fit and improve your athletic abilities, sometimes just a light steady-state cardio session is what the doctor called for, so do it and enjoy it. I promise, I won’t judge.
Overall reflections on time spent away from the gym
Let’s be clear, I didn’t take a whole year off from the gym, I only took weeks off. And then, for six months, I only made it to the gym about once a week, which included when I started teaching once a week at 4-months postpartum. Now that Brady is older than six months, I do get to go to the gym at specific times and use the gym daycare (which I pay for).
Being a class participant, gym attendee and new mom with minimal time, my view of making it to a workout and having access to a gym is entirely different. I’m just so darn appreciative of the chance to work out away from my home, and I look forward to every exercise session.
I hope you see that what I’m attempting to get across is that when you step back from something, you understand it so much more. My experience has given me amazing insight.
Soak up your fitness endeavors, don’t judge and keep on chipping away at your goals.
Thanks for reading, my friends! I’d love to know if you have any reflections as well, so feel free to share those in the comments.Perspective is everything. Check out these reflections on time off from the gym on A Lady Goes West ... Click To Tweet
Questions of the day
Have you ever taken time off from the gym or working out?
Do you have a gym membership?
What’s one investment you’ve made in your health lately?