A bit of a background. A little over a year ago, I moved from Ohio to Colorado. I had just graduated from college, was job hunting, getting used to a new place, dating, making friends, getting used to a new job and going through all of the emotional distress and tumult that goes with it. Somehow throughout all of the chaos, I managed to get in the best shape of my life. I was never fat per se, but I definitely had what I like to refer to as “custard curves,” wasn’t super strong and was in mediocre cardio shape. I didn’t think I had weight to lose, but all of a sudden, dresses that I purchased in Ohio looked like gunny sacks.
A lot of this change came because I was living in a place where you try to grab a hungover breakfast on a Saturday morning and everyone else is in work-out clothes because they’ve been up since 5 biking or doing yoga. There are gyms and opportunities to exercise everywhere, a stark contrast from everywhere I’ve lived before.
But most of this change came because I did the things I’ve listed below. You too can develop healthy exercise habits in a time of tumult in your young life. I’ve been privileged to have enough time and just enough disposable income to spend it getting in shape. I realize that not everyone will be in a similar situation, but many college graduates will be, and I’ve heard a lot of friends express interest in getting in better shape now that they don’t have to do homework all the time.
Here goes. There’s much much more where this came from, but I need to do my real job. So someone get me a book deal okay, so I can write this thing for real.
1. Plunk down some money
I understand that not everyone, especially right out of college, is not able to afford to drop mega change on some fancy gym. But I’m going to encourage you to spend a little bit of money on this whole working out thing. If you spend your hard-earned cash on a gym membership, you’re more likely to go to make it worth your while. If you buy new running shoes, you’re more likely to use them, because you could have bought 5 handles of gin with that money. Again, I appreciate that you may not have much money at this point in time, but the initial $$ plop down is key to building these foundations, because at the beginning of your exercising, it’s going to be really hard to stay motivated. For me financial motivation is huge.
Also, think of it this way: if you can afford to go out to eat more than once a week, you can afford to join a gym. I know plenty of 20 somethings who eat out multiple times a week (like every single day), yet balk at a gym membership. But if you can’t afford to do this, don’t worry. I have some tips for you too.
2. Enlist a friend
I go to this class at my gym called Body Pump (more on that later) with my best friend. When it’s cold outside and I’d rather just snuggle with my cat, I remember that I can go to the gym and hang out with her, and get out of bed. Get a running buddy, a weightlifting buddy, someone who invites to to all of the pick-up soccer games. Make exercise a social event and you’re more likely to do it.
3. Weight Lifting
I went through a period during college when I didn’t exercise at all. At all. I grew up in the country, climbing trees, riding bikes, swimming in the creek, running track and playing sports. Not exercising was really weird. But I was recovering from some mental health shit and found that I was not able to exercise in a healthy, responsible way. So I didn’t really do it. Also I lived in Eastern Kentucky and everyone smoked and drank all the time, so it wasn’t super condusive to learning to eat and exercise in a healthy way. But I digress.
Then I discovered weight-lifting through the help of the wonderful Oberlin College women’s soccer coach, who bless her heart taught a women’s strength training class. It changed my outlook on exercise completely. No longer was exercise about burning calories or looking skinny. It was about being strong. I noticed crazy changes in my body almost right away. And I was good at it! Learning how to properly weight-lift changed my life. And when I moved to Colorado, I got back into it, in the form of Body Pump, a choreographed, high intensity weight-lifting class.
I can’t recommend strength-training highly enough to women and men alike. It has contributed greatly to my physical and mental well-being.
4. Utilize technology
There are tons of free apps and websites (7 Minute work-out, the free version of Run Keeper, Map My Run) as well as some $1.99 ones (I really like Runtastic, which was the same price as a large cup of coffee) that can help track your work out, week you accountable via social media (if you choose to go that route) and show your progress over time, which can be really rewarding! Some of them give you a work-out plan (that Couch Potato to 5K comes to mind), while others act like a stop watch/coach (7 minute work out).
For me, having a record of my times has been the single most encouraging factor in my running progress. I hit a plateau a few months ago when I struggled motivating myself to make it further than 4 miles on my own (I’m not an ultra-runner by any means) and was upset and disappointed in myself. I’d been running consistently for nearly a year and couldn’t push myself to get the progress I wanted to see. But then I was looking at my running app, and realized that my average mile time for running 4 miles had dropped by over a minute in the past two months! See, I wasn’t sucking! I was just measuring the wrong thing! A few weeks later, I went on to run my first 10K in under an hour, which felt pretty damn good. Thank you Runtastic!
5. The Group Effect
So this weight-lifting class I do, Body Pump likes to advertise what they call “The Group Effect.” The “Group Effect,” as far as I can tell, is just the idea that if you’re exercising in a group, doing the same things as a group, and being motivated by the group, you’re more likely to work harder. It’s essentially the same principle that cults operate under. And I drank the Kool-Aid. One of the reasons I love my gym is the wonderful selection of exercise classes (another reason to do #1). The instructors are phenomenal and I’m never working out alone. So I push myself harder, get feedback on form, and encouragement from instructors. The “Group Effect” is magical. So sign up for a class or two! Many yoga studios and gyms offer free classes or free trial memberships, so you could presumably get the “group effect” without ever paying for a gym if you live in a city or suburban area.
6. Sign Up for A Race
Or a tournament, or some kind of event that you have to work towards. For me, this was the Boulder Bolder, a famous 10K that is probably a huge financial racket, but has ~50,000 people running it every year. I signed up with a friend (see #2), we shared our training struggles, went on runs together, and encouraged each other on race day. At mile 5 of the race I swore that I would never do something like that again because it hurt too much, but at mile 5.5 I sort of had an out-of-body experience and felt like I was high and didn’t really care that it hurt, so I managed to push up a hill and get my goal time of under an hour. All this is to say that it’s nice to have something to work towards and I’ll probably run a 10K again.
7. Avoid Social Comparison
It’s incredibly easy, especially if you’re doing the group effect or working out with a friend or working a ton at your job or going through financial, social, emotional turmoil (all things that will happen the first year out of college TRUST ME) to get really down on yourself and your progress working out. It’s way too easy to compare your progress to the progress of people in your classes and come up feeling empty-handed. But just don’t. You don’t know their lives. They may not really have to work and spend all of their time at the gym. They may have been child athletes re-awakening old muscles. And for the love of God, do not compare yourself to the 60 year old women working out in your gym. You know why they are fitter than you are at 24? Because they are retired and already have friends and life partners so they don’t have to spend time working and socializing and dating like you do to keep your head above water. So whether you work out once a week or 6 days a week, know that just by getting some exercise, you are doing something good for yourself. So don’t be down, y’all, and enjoy the victories for you, not the high school girl that kicked your ass at the fun run (have fun with puberty, bitch) or the retired professor who can do 3 times your weight at the gym. You’re doing great!