I never used to like going to the gym. In fact, I hated it. I dated a personal trainer on and off for three years, and his obsession with the gym made me not only doubt my body fat percentage, but also associate the gym with his douche ass -- for a while.
Even before I met him, though, I'd never been an active girl. I couldn't figure out how to get motivated to work out. Growing up, I was a drama geek all throughout high school. I was that girl who tried to get out of swimming in gym class by having my mom write a doctor’s note for me. Every semester, I’d opt out of class and write a 20-page paper on the benefits of swimming instead (and now I’m a writer!).
When I got to college, though, working out was the cool thing to do. That was also around the time that people really started to get on health kicks, when things like green smoothies and kale for breakfast were "in," and Dunkin Donuts was "out." I noticed that my girlfriends were shrinking in size, and I felt like an outcast for not losing weight and toning up.
And so one day during my sophomore year of college, I snagged a gym membership. I walked in not knowing how to use a single machine and probably looked dumb AF. Women in their tight Spandex and flawless figures intimidated the hell out of me, but oh how I wanted to look like them. And the only way to do that was go to the gym every day after classes. So I did.
Each day called for something different: Pilates on Mondays. Cardio on Tuesdays. Weight training on Wednesdays. The thing is, I began to burn out very quickly. I wasn't even seeing the results I wanted to see because I'd push myself on days I hadn't slept properly or my muscles were sore (days I should have been resting), which made my workouts both half-assed and ineffective.
By week two of my strict exercise (and diet) regiment, I realized none of what I was doing was sustainable. For the sake of getting my dream bod, I killed myself, and I grew to loathe the gym even more than I had when I started.
It wasn't until I made the connection that working out should be about feeling good, not looking good, that the gym became my safe place. Burning out helped me develop a new habit: I stopped going on the days I was exhausted, and started to go only when I really wanted to, like after a tough day at work, or because I had a fight with my sister, or because I had too many thoughts and needed to shut them up while do something mindless for an hour. I found myself actually becoming addicted to the way I felt after leaving a workout.
J. Kip Matthews, Ph.D, a sport and exercise psychologist, explains why endorphin addiction is a real thing, and why it’s especially beneficial for super-anxious people like me.
“The less active we become, the more challenged we are in dealing with stress,” he says. And he’s right. On the days I work out, I sleep worlds better than on the days I don’t. And on rollercoaster days when nothing goes my way, there’s nothing like going to the gym and throwing all of my pent-up aggression onto a punching bag. As much as I wish it were a person sometimes, a bag usually does the trick.
And it f*cking works. After leaving the gym, I actually feel like I just did molly or had a mind-blowing orgasm. It's the best part of my day.
And guess what? A pleasant side effect of exercising was developing tighter calves and toned arms. Looking good became a byproduct of feeling good, and that's the way it should be. That's why I've stuck with working out for three years and counting. If I happen to go one week without hitting the gym, I'm in an entirely different headspace than usual: a bad one.
The trick to loving the gym is you’ve got to for the right reasons: not because you want to look like Jennifer Aniston, or because there’s some girl skinnier than you in your office, or because you think that guy you love will like you back if you just had a six-pack. If those are your reasons for working out, trust me, you’re going to f*cking cave. You’re going to come home after a strenuous workout, look in the mirror, be depressed you don’t look like celebs (who, by the way, have personal trainers and chefs, so it makes no sense to be hard on ourselves) and punish yourself by eating an entire bag of chocolate peppermint bark (no? Was that just me?)
I’m no nutritionist. I am definitely not an athlete (see above anecdote). I also in no way, shape or form have the "perfect" body. I wouldn’t even call myself a gym rat, because there are definitely days I use “It’s too cold out,” “I want to go to happy hour” or “Damn it, I just don’t feel like it” as excuses not to go. I'm a normal human being just like the rest of you.
But these days, I wake up and find myself actually craving a workout, just like how I crave Nutella when I’m PMSing.
As with anything in life, the hardest part is starting. For me, the difficult part is getting to the gym in freezing cold weather. Once I’m there, sweating it out and punching sh*t, I'm in the zone.
Pro-tip: it also doesn’t hurt to have a workout buddy. My friend and coworker Gigi is a bad bitch and motivates me to get off my ass after a long day. Nine times out of ten, I thank her for it.
I’m not trying to sell y’all anything. The bottom line is you've got to be patient and give yourself time to love the gym. It may take weeks, months or even years, but sticking with it and trusting in endorphin highs is the key. It turns out it isn't such a bad thing to feel really, really good.