Overcoming mental and physical blocks

By Justin Keane, June 2019 Issue.

Committing to your health is arguably the most

important decision you’ll ever make. That doesn’t mean it’s always an easy

decision — heck, that doesn’t mean it’s ever an easy decision. I’ve owned

a gym for the last 10 years and I can say with confidence that the struggles

most folks navigate before they take that first step are, as they say, very


Whether we’re

talking group classes, personal training, or getting ready for a 5k, the most

common roadblock most of us face is that most vestigial of fears: that we just

aren’t good enough yet. This manifests in several different ways, but most

often it’s pretty hard-wired — we worry that we’ll be laughed at, left behind,

found out. We imagine the scene stopping, the record screeching to a halt, the

air getting sucked out of the room and there we are, all by our lonesome in a

gym that’s suddenly, secretly morphed into a middle school cafeteria. Becky

doesn’t belong.

No one wants

to feel that way, especially not while we’re trying to better ourselves. But we

fight this in two ways. The first is practical, and it puts us in the driver’s

seat: we do our homework. If you’re joining a new gym or starting a new

routine, ask your trainers how they on-ramp new athletes into their program or

what resources are available for folks who are new or just getting back into

this fitness thing.


Are there

measures they take or help you take to ensure you’ll get a great workout, stay

safe, and still feel like you’re part of the crew? Can they tell you what to do

if something doesn’t feel right, or you’re unsure how to proceed? Are there

steps you can take to get more assistance if your initial instruction doesn’t

take, or you just need a helping hand? Awesome. You’re in a good place. Have

fun and get to work.

If you’re

coming up with your own routine, I’d still recommend seeking some professional

guidance to get you started — often just a session or two with a licensed

personal trainer can set you up with a great program that’s easy to follow and

will help you make progress for several months at a time. An ounce of

prevention beats a pound of cure here. The last thing you want just as you’re

beginning to build momentum is to hurt yourself and have to start all over again.

The second

measure we take to head off that voice in our heads is one we’re going to want

to hang onto for the entirety of our fitness journey: we remind ourselves that

we are the captains of our own ships.  No

one gets to rent space in our heads free of charge, not least the voices we

imagine jeering us to the sidelines. 

More still, we

want to remember that most of the folks in the gym or on the trails are way too

concerned with their own reps to spend all that much time worrying about

ours.  They put mirrors in most gyms for

a reason, after all.  Run your race and

be confident that the folks around you are making like Fonzie in their own

heads — checking themselves out in search of a nice thumbs up in the mental looking

glass.  They might see you but they

aren’t really seeing you, which is kind of ironic (and yeah I really do

think): the gym, a place where we sweat and grunt and maybe show a little bit

more of ourselves than we might like to, is often a place we can endeavor in

relative anonymity. You do you.

From a

physical standpoint, we need to talk about a few stumbling blocks you may

encounter as you get started. If it were all wine and roses, well, it’d be wine

and roses. Nothing is quite so discouraging as hitting the proverbial starting

blocks and taking a few strides only to feel like you’ve set yourself back, so

we want to make sure we’re setting our expectations correctly.

First, you’re

going to be sore — “pretty, pretty sore,” as Larry David might say. This is a

natural byproduct of getting into a new fitness routine, but there are some

steps we can take to mitigate that soreness and focus forward on recovery into

our next workout:

Drink your water. It’s a little bit of an old wives’ tale that we

all need to be drinking eight glasses of water a day (for some that won’t be

enough and for some too much), but we can confidently say that proper hydration

helps with recovery, replacing the fluids you’ve lost while working out, and

shuttling post-workout toxins and waste product through your system. 

Move! Movement is medicine. If you’ve had a hard leg

workout, chances are you won’t feel so totally awesome about climbing stairs or

getting in and out of your car. The temptation here is to lay low, but you’re

going to want to move around to aid recovery between workouts. A 10 minute walk

around the block, two or three songs on shuffle while you do some jumping jacks

and butt kicks, or a simple mobility routine like Maxwell’s Daily Dozen — all

of these things get your blood flowing, your heart kicked up a bit, and a nice

healthy sweat, and that does a body good between gym days.

Contrast Showers. This is a simple trick

that you can easily fold into your morning routine. After you’ve been in the

shower for a minute or two, begin to alternate the temperature between pretty

cold and pretty hot — about 20 to 30 seconds at each relative extreme. As you

get used to the cold in particular, you can go even colder for a few seconds.

Check out our friends at End of Three Fitness (endofthreefitness.com) for a

nice explanation on the mechanics of contrast showers for recovery. Bonus: they

feel great!

All that said,

we want to learn to distinguish between productive soreness (“man that workout

kicked my ass”) and signs that your body is telling you to take a little extra

time before getting back at it. Here we are paying attention to excessive joint

pain or fatigue, pain that feels sharp rather than dull, or wrong rather

than sensical. 

At the very

least these are reasons to pump the brakes on our next workout, and some may

merit discussion with your doctor if they persist. (You will, of course, have

already consulted the medical professional of your choice before beginning any

new exercise program, yes?) Because, soreness is one thing and we can live

through that quite well thank you, but injury is another story — even smaller

injuries like minor strains can be demoralizing and worsen without proper

healing and rest. 

None of this is to discourage good, hearty

exercise or to indicate that injury is inevitable, but we want to honor the

commitment we’ve made to our health by taking the right steps to maintain

momentum. Momentum is contagious, and as with all we’ve discussed above, the

golden egg here is a commitment to fitness that becomes habit and feeds itself!

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