I walk into the weight room with my water bottle in one hand and my phone with an app outlining today’s workout in the other, scoping out the area and coolly assessing where I’d claim my space. There’s a bit of a territory game when you work out in a gym and while everyone plays it friendly enough, no one wants to see their desired machine in the hands of another. Squat rack’s free? It’s mine! I stride over, set up the bar, and get to work.
It’s funny how we adapt over time. I recently added more days to my program which required me to become comfortable doing a lot of the new strength moves I’d spent six months learning, on my own. Even after all that time, I still feel somewhat intimidated walking into a weight room that usually has a higher male to female ratio. Sometimes I’m the only female in there and as much as I hate saying it, there’s a mental adjustment that takes place when I walk through to find my space for the day.
But in spite of that admission, I feel less hesitation than I did a month ago. There’s that adaptability coupled with the confidence that blooms when you prove to yourself that you can handle those situations pretty well.
It’s with appreciation of my jumping over this hurdle of solo training in a typically male-dominated arena that I look back at where all of this started: in my small, cramped bedroom facing the TV.
Three years ago, I didn’t have a personal trainer or a gym membership and I’d never heard of a squat rack. What I did have was a somewhat irrational fear of the gym and a stubborn streak a mile wide. I was at the beginning of this new stage in my journey and the process of digging out what caused all of this fear was a tiny seed of an idea that was just starting to grow roots in my mind.
In the summer of 2009, all I knew was I wanted to lose weight, I was too scared to join a gym, and whatever workouts I did needed to keep my interest for longer than five minutes. Enter the workout DVD.
Some trainers can barely contain their contempt for the workout DVD as they roll their eyes and cluck their tongues at the very mention of Jillian Michaels or Shaun T. There are accusations of poor training, bad form, dangerous moves, and ineffective exercises all across the internet as training professionals blast and lampoon the fitness-for-profit industry represented by the celebrity trainers hawking their latest 10-minute-core-defining-butt-blasting-extreme cardio workout craze in DVD form. I’ve had these conversations myself. You can practically hear the sneer before it crosses their faces.
I get it. I really do, especially now as I’m shaping my own philosophy about fitness and learning more about how the body works. So, I hear you trainers.
But, here’s the thing. As much as I can understand the point of view of the critics, the reality is that these DVDs provide an avenue for the average person who is not so much interested in the credentials Jillian Michaels has in teaching the proper form for kettlebell swings, as they are in losing weight. They’re a gateway to a world of fitness for people in a way that’s financially viable and isn’t intimidating.
I forget that I was there too once upon a time. Before I made the commitment to really get serious about my issues with food and exercise, I’d do anything I could to justify my behavior. I’d go out to dinner and have a huge plate of pasta with bread and cheese, followed by several drinks and then walk an extra ten blocks to the train station that was further away because that would work off my meal. In fact, I could eat more because I knew I was talking that little walk afterward. I believed that particular story for a long time before I finally woke up.
I bought my first workout DVD then because it was what made the sense to me at the time. I spent most of my free time not eating or drinking, camped out in front of my television. It didn’t matter to me that the 10-minute pilates DVD wouldn’t do all of the things I’ve since learned are optimal for weight loss. I wasn’t interested in lifting anything over five pounds.
The thought of stepping into a gym without having any clue of what I was doing, looking the way I looked, just wasn’t an option for me. Besides, at that point, my mindset needed the biggest adjustment. I had to move past the hump that always tripped me up in the past and that needed to happen where I felt the safest, which was at home in front of my television.
The benchmark for me came when I completed the first level of Jillian Michael’s insanely popular 30-Day Shred DVD without stopping, making adjustments, or pausing to doubt. I’d started weeks before watching these people on my screen do full pushups and squats, and all I could think was, There’s no way I can do that. What was I thinking? Can Amazon give me a refund?
Instead of succumbing to the doubt (which was really driven by fear), I pushed on and managed to get through that level with my heart and mind intact. Moreover, I fed off the adrenaline. Through that considerably challenging program (yes, Michaels’ DVDs are HARD!), I was able to break through some of my own resistance in order to begin challenging myself physically.
Finally being able to do a pushup on my toes did it for me. Jumping, squatting, lunging, and crunching for twenty-minutes straight did it for me. Seeing all of my hard work pay off by seeing my weight go down and my clothes drop in size did it for me. Doing all of that in the safe space of my home with no one but myself watching made that all possible. For under $10 and a few hours of work a week, I was able to get on this path that I’m on now. How can I hate the DVD that got me started?
The most important lesson I’ve learned about the world of fitness and nutrition is that our relationships with our bodies are so personal and unique. There is no one magic plan that works for everyone. Those of us who make it our mission to devote our time and our careers talking to others about diet and exercise need to remember that special relationship and understand that maybe we were there too once and that we shouldn’t forget how difficult it was to figure out what worked for us.
It doesn’t matter if you start with a DVD or at a zumba class or running around the block or with a personal trainer. What matters is that you’re making the choice to begin. Not for anyone else, but for yourself.
I realize this each time someone asks me how I got started or what I do to stay in shape. The information out there telling us what to do or not do regarding our health is often contradictory and frustrating to follow. I hear this confusion when people ask me their questions or tell me their stories: I can’t afford a gym so how can I exercise? Aren’t carbs bad for you? Will lifting making me bulky? How do you stay motivated?
And it’s that last question that sticks with me because a positive mindset is the key to real change. My motivation comes from a culmination of experiences that brought me right here, to this moment. The choices I made to try out a workout DVD or gradually make changes to my diet were the result of an open-minded attempt to figure out what worked for me. I honed in on what made me feel good and fed off the success so that I could build up from there. That took time and patience, but it was the way to go for me.
I used to wish that I could say I just started strength training at the gym one day and it stuck. But not anymore. I give a lot of credit to those DVDs for helping me get here. I’m moved by the ambition it took for me to start not just the physical journey, but the mental and emotional one, from the girl jumping alone in the space in front of my television three years ago to the one doing squats next the guy at the gym now. It’s not just the inspiring quote passed through social media or the pat on the back from a friend that keeps me motivated. It’s the whole damn picture.
But it’s my picture. Which experiences make up yours?