What I’ve learned about fitness from taking time off from the gym

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

What I've learned about fitness from taking time off from the gym by A Lady Goes West (2)

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.) 

Foam roller and feet by A Lady Goes West

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. 

Weights and feet by A Lady Goes West

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.

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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?

33 Comments

  1. I love this post, Ashley and very much appreciate this perspective. A few months ago I started bopping around again a few times a week on the elliptical. I hadn’t touched an elliptical in years. But my knees started to bother me from all of my plyometrics and Orange Theory running so I just knew it was time to incorporate some joint friendly cardio into my routine. I don’t love it and I often feel like people are looking at me like I’m getting nothing accomplished on that thing. But it does feel right for me right now, so bop I shall.

    Xo.

    1. Bop you shall! You do you! If your body is hurting, then clearly things need to change, so I’m very happy to hear you listened to that need to change and chose something more friendly on those days. Good work, Court! 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  2. I love this, thanks for sharing some perspective. I think it’s helpful, especially when you have been doing a workout for a while, to remember that we are all beginners first and sometimes we are beginners again. I know after my second baby my endurance was like nothing, and I definitely felt like I was starting all over in a lot of ways.

    1. Hi Emily! Exactly, sometimes it’s hard to look around with perspective on things when you’re deep in them — and having worked in fitness for so long — I’ve been deep in it. So happy to have had the time off and away to learn some things. And YES to postpartum fitness loses — it’s a real thing.

  3. I love this! These are all great things to keep in mind. Something that’s changed for me recently is walking. I used to think it didn’t “count” because it wasn’t intense. But now at 5 months postpartum, still somewhat uncomfortable with running and jumping, and not getting enough running, it’s my favorite movement to do. Plus I can do it with my baby boy, which I love.
    Any tips for getting comfortable using childcare? I’d love to get back to my favorite classes but I’m so nervous leaving my little one with someone!

    1. Hi Kaci! Walking is TOTALLY good exercise and it definitely, especially when you are pushing a stroller or wearing a baby wearer — that’s extra effort, so I’m glad to hear you are counting it now. As far as jumping and running — take your time — you’ll know when it feels right. As far as getting comfortable with childcare, I’ve had a lot of questions — I went into the childcare three different times to look around and talk to the people who work there before bringing Brady. I also asked around other friends who have babies who took them there and got their take on it. Then I just went for it — and it was TOTALLY fine. They hold him, or put him in a little stand-up toy, or they let him stay in his carrier or lay on a blanket I bring. It’s not scary at all, and I started with only 30 minutes and built up the time he’s been in there a bit, so that I could eventually have him in there when I teach a class. Moral of the story — I’m in the same building with him and there’s not much of a chance that anything bad will happen! It’s a big step, but it’s been great for us. 🙂

  4. Love this! As a mom to 4 who are on very different schedules and routines, getting to a gym just isn’t feasible right now. As it is I get up at 4am to get in a home workout and I can’t imagine getting up any earlier to drive to our nearest gym (a solid 20 min one way trip). I do miss having a gym membership though, it is nice to just go somewhere and focus!

    1. Hi Jen! You just have to do what works for you in the moment! And boy you wake up early — so driving anywhere would be tough. Many props to you for keeping up with your workouts when it’s not easy to do! 🙂 The gym will be there for you if you ever have a chance to get back.

  5. I do a lot of walking when I’m in the city by the bay (SF, which looking at past blog posts you’re familiar with). It gets my cardio working. I attend BodyPump classes 2-3 times a week and swim once a week.

    1. Hi Benjamin! Walking around SF is SUCH a workout heheh! I don’t miss living at the top of Nob Hill and walking home each night after teaching classes heehe. And good work on going to BODYPUMP 2-3 times a week — that’s ideal! 🙂

  6. Hi Ashley, great piece of writing. I found living in Florida it pays to get old when it comes to gym membership. My health insurance pays my gym membership in gyms that participate in the program. Thus I have taken complete advantage of the program. I have membership in four different gyms. And I use each one. Perhaps there are certain instructors I like to spin with. Other times I go to different gyms to use different types of lifting equipment. It seems each gym has certain advantages for me. While gym membership is “free” most of the classes I take have an extra fee to them. Still the expense is not that great. Also the gyms that have locations all over the nation I am able to use them when I travel.
    I found it difficult to take time off. Just not my nature. I have had a day that I feel sluggish I will change my workout to something not as stressful. I know time off is stress by everyone but I actually feel worst if I take a day completely off. I did miss three weeks in February when I had the flu (I brought that home from the cruse).

    1. Hi Richard! You must have been very sick with the flu to take three weeks off. I’m glad you are back at it now — and I know you don’t like to time off, so I’m happy to hear you at least do something lighter on those days. And good for you for taking advantage of your benefit of free gym memberships! Four memberships is amazing! Lucky guy! hehehe! 🙂

  7. Last year I finally got a gym membership after not having one for almost 7 years post kids. I LOVED the gym before but after my twins were born, it didn’t fit into our family schedule. I built a home gym and ran outside. But then an opportunity came up last year and I jumped full force into a gym. I’m so glad to be back! It easy to get judge-y while looking around the gym. But like you said, everyone is on their own journey. I don’t know their story. But those guys who only lift bi’s and tri’s are still there no matter what year it is. Haha…I wonder what their story is? 😉

    1. Hi Angela! hahahha totally — there will always be those guys at the gym. I love to hear that you are back to the gym and enjoying it. You did what you had to do during your time off for sure! Props to you, momma! 🙂

  8. You have gained a great perspective after time away from the gym! You don’t need a lot of money or fancy equipment to get a good workout, but it certainly helps. I do have a gym membership, but I don’t use mine often. My main workout as a long distance runner is running and stretching, but I do appreciate the gym for access to the weight room and cross training.

    1. Hi Amanda! Running and stretching can definitely be done anywhere, so that’s great for you. But it’s good you have a membership for cross training too. I totally agree that you can get in a good workout wherever you have to — as long as you know what to do and are committed. Great job, lady! And thanks for saying hi!

  9. This is so great Ashley! My workouts have totally evolved since having kids. Like you ivr been used to getting free memberships places which can be taken for granted! Now it works best when i do my stuff at home and teach my Pop Pilates classes! Its definitely an adjustment though!

    1. It sure is an adjustment, but we just have to make it work. I love Pop Pilates, by the way. Such a great bodyweight workout. 🙂 And good for you for making things work for you right now, Marielle! 🙂

  10. Yes to the cost of gyms – some are SO expensive! We are currently saving to move house so I’ve had to quit my ‘fancy’ gym with Les Mills classes and nice showers etc, and sign up to our community programme which is less money for the 4 of us in the family than my solo gym membership was! So now my main exercise will be swimming and longer walks with the dog, and that will have to do for now.

    1. Hi lady! Hey — saving for a house is very expensive, so I get it. Have you considered Les Mills On Demand to do the classes at home? I think maybe they don’t stream where you are though and we talked about that — or do they? Always an option. But swimming is an AMAZING full-body workout, so I’m sure that will keep you fit. You do what you’ve got to do!! 🙂

      1. Oh I will check – but I am in the UK so I don’t think I can stream, there are some Les Mills videos on You Tube so I may look into that! Thanks!

        1. How weird that Les Mills — an international company, cannot stream its demand service in all of its major countries, right? hahah! 🙂 Let me know how it goes!

          1. I checked after I replied this morning, On Demand IS available in the UK, its only available in a handful of European countries and this is one of them.

            There’s a 10 day free trial available so I will need to sign up 🙂

  11. You NEED to check out Katy Bowman, she’s a biomechanist and every podcast and book I read of hers blows my mind and has revolutionized the way I think about exercise. Essentially her premise is what if instead of trying to condense fitness to ‘short bouts of exercise’ we actually moved more naturally 24-7 and this actually will have a greater impact to our health vs. the sedentary culture we live in and arnt even aware of 99% of the time

    I think you’ll love her, she’s chock full of research and is hilarious and relatable –

    https://nutritiousmovement.com
    her podcasts are a great way to start though too

    1. She has two podcasts on babies in particular which were fascinating, and another podcast on the science of fat which really helped reframe the way I think about it too –

      Her podcast is ‘Move your DNA’

      I wish I found her years ago 🙂

    2. Hi Angela, I have heard of Katy Bowman and listened to some of her nutritious movement philosophies when she’s been a guest on the podcasts I listen to — she is awesome! I should definitely check out her solo show though! Thanks for the reminder! 🙂 Keep moving, gal!

  12. Man, if you only knew what I spent on my gym membership, haha. I have spent over $85 a month for CrossFit to $170 a month for CrossFit for the better part of 9 years now. Now I spend $17 a class to go, plus my $40 LA Fitness membership, plus Groupons to other studios. I also used to spend $100 on ClassPass a month. And I pay a little under $10 a month for Beachbody on Demand for when I do need to work out at home. It’s insane and I would totally benefit from a home gym, but I don’t have a home to put a gym in. I also LIKE getting out to go to the gym. It’s my me time. It makes me feel WAY more motivated than I do at home and it’s just what I need in my life. I’ve had some major injuries that set me back (a tear in the ligament in my thumb- seems small but it’s hard to live without one thumb), 2 stress fractures in my ankle and foot, and a torn labrum in my hip (the biggest). And coming back from each injury can be daunting in a gym, especially when you don’t know the people. And same with being postpartum. I never had a belly to hide or DD boobs when I was working out before. So that postpartum belly and huge boobs made me feel VERY self-aware. And I lost a TON of weight while breastfeeding because I was barely eating (no time) and making milk like a cow so that added to it. But I’m a firm believer that people who don’t work out have no idea what they’re missing. It doesn’t need to be crazy either. Some days, I literally stop by the gym for 30 minutes because that’s all I have time for. Other days, I skip it because I DON’T have the time, or because I want to spend an hour relaxing instead of working out. But health is a big picture. I work out to be healthy and some time off to heal or days off to watch trash TV don’t change my lifestyle. And hey, the multiple thousands of dollars I’ve spent on the gym will hopefully pay off when I’m 80 and still walking on cobblestone streets in Europe or hiking mountains like a champ.

    1. Hi Liz! Wow, girl! First of all, props to you for your positive and flexible attitude toward your fitness. It will always ebb and flow to go with what’s happening in your life. And I like that you have a lot of options for yourself. Alllll the money toward fitness classes and memberships is not wasted, that’s for sure. I hope you are injury free and feeling GREAT now, momma!!! 🙂

  13. Is the elliptical not a good workout? It’s the only cardio machine that doesn’t hurt my knees. I usually do 20 minutes on that and 15 or 20 minutes weights. Love this post! I always used to think I had to exercise for an hour so usually didn’t end up going to the gym. Now I squeeze at least 30 minutes in on a busy day and fit in short walks daily as well. I feel so much better than when I was doing nothing because I felt I had no time.

    1. Hi Maya! The elliptical is fine if you like it, and yes, it’s super easy on the knees — which is great. But because it’s not a functional or natural movement pattern, it’s just not my first choice of cardio equipment. The treadmill on incline, stepper or rower would be. But if you like the elliptical — rock it! 🙂 Keep up the great work with your routine, lady!

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