Like anything we start in life, we start from the beginning. Believe it or not, there was once a time when I had never stepped through a gym door, picked up a dumbbell or stood on a treadmill. The very idea of starting something new can be overwhelmingly daunting. If we can push ourselves over the threshold, that very first instance we say ‘ok, I’m ready’, then you’ll soon find the rest of the process starts to fall into place. It’s this first transaction between thinking of starting and the actual starting itself that is often one of the hardest parts of any hobby. But man, am I glad I did.
When you step through a gym door as a noobie, quite often you are bombarded by big muscly dudes in the corner flexing or tight bodied runners pumping their rubber soles against a fast treadmill belt. It can be tricky to know where to start, what to do or even the best way to move forward. Helping people figure this step out for themselves is one of the parts of being a personal trainer I enjoy the most. Everyone is different, with different goals and needs. I train with people who want to pack muscle on, others want to lose body fat, and some just want to get familiar with the equipment in the gym. We should always remember, fitness isn’t just about training your body, but training your mind as well. It’s an educational process, like undergoing a University course.
Everyone starts with the knowledge that they have been exposed to. Afterall, that’s all we can really know. No one is expecting you to get exercises right the first-time round, or even the hundredth. You can only get better at specific movement through the practice of specific movement. I always say to my clients, ‘no one can drive a manual car when they first get in one. You’re going to stall it a few times until you get it right’. If we approach exercise, or just general life in the gym, with the same approach, it becomes a lot easier to manage. I think a lot of people are hard on themselves, because after a few months of training, they’re not in the corner with the muscle heads giving their biceps a sweet caress, or keeping up with Mr Bolt and Mr Farah on the treadmill. Again, approach your learning curve with some realistic expectations, don’t be hard on yourself and accept that getting better in the gym is an educational process. Trust me, it’s a good headspace to be in.
When I take on a new client or have somebody join me in class for the first time, they quite often want to compare themselves to the others in the gym. They are observing what they’re doing, how well they’re moving and what their performance is like in comparison to their own. Again, be realistic here. Understand that others have perhaps been training longer than you, they've been exposed to more of this ‘gym education’ I keep on banging on about. If it was as easy as one trip, don’t you think that everyone would have done it by now. It takes time to catch up, but it absolutely can happen with a little patience, willingness to learn and time. Honestly, nearly everyone falls into this trap.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to compare yourself, well, to yourself. It doesn’t matter what level you are currently at, whether you can do 100 strict push ups or not even get into a push up position, as long as you make progress moving forwards, that’s all that really counts. That’s why tracking progress is vitally important if you want to see success within the gym.
Tracking progress doesn’t need to be an overly complicated process by any means. Make it simple. It can be as easy as keeping a small diary. Write down how you feel after a session in the gym. This is often a good place to start before anything else. As you start to build up confidence, you can start to record a few numbers, such as weights you’ve lifted or the time it took you to complete a specific workout. Keeping a diary might seem old school, but the truth is that it’s the best way to track your progress. It’s very accessible, easy to dip in and out of, flick back through its pages a few months down the line and see just how far you’ve come. The motivation a diary can give you is second to none and can act as another source of accountability.
Another good way to track your progress is through simple photos. Everyone wants to stand on the scales and think that their weight in kilograms is the best measure of their health. Forget about that right now. Your bodyweight is just an accumulation of parts, not an accurate measure of fitness (in most cases anyway). I could write, and probably will, a whole post on weighing yourself, but for now, maybe take some time off the scales and think about other ways you can track your progress. Photographs give you a direct visual response. Just try taking one photo of yourself at the end of every month. Keep it as part of your diary. Though the scales may not have changed a great deal, you might be surprised at what you see with your eyes.
Ultimately, tracking your progress in the gym and at home should be a personal process that suits you. Again, like anything we start in life, there is going to be a longer period of trial and error than you first expected. Take the time to see what works for you. Where do you see the results and how does it make you feel? If you figure this out, you are very fortunate. Pick it up with both hands and ride with it. Track your progress in as many manageable ways as you can. Look back at where you started and compare it to where you are now. When we have done this and realised that we have perhaps exceeded our initial goals, you’ll continue to soar with success after success.