In post #1 of this series, I wrote about finding your reason as the first step towards your health journey. This is followed by post #2 on identifying your health baseline and risks to help you make informed decisions on immediate actions to take and develop a long-term health plan. This third post will be focusing on starting an active lifestyle, with the intention of getting leaner, stronger and fitter through suitable forms of physical activities.
As we know, getting into shape takes time, commitment and discipline. If we want to see sustainable results, we're in it for the long haul. So it's not just about doing an hour of yoga every two weeks, taking a kickboxing class every day for only a month, or going for a walk whenever the weather isn't too hot. It's about doing something consistently that it eventually becomes part of your daily habits. That's why, for many people, this may be the most challenging aspects of becoming healthier and the ultimate definition of hell.
One of the reasons why it's so (to the power of infinity) challenging to include physical activities into your daily routine is the many voices that I personally guarantee will mess with your mind when you first start out. Heck! These voices still appear occasionally for many of us who are already embarking in this fitness journey for awhile. So ladies, don't I know them all.
It's hard work and there's no way I'll be able to keep it up! (They don't call it a "work"out for nothing.)
It's not enjoyable and boring. I'd rather watch Netflix, thank you very much!
I'll need to change my lifestyle. I can no longer sleep in because I need to get to the gym before work every morning.
I suck at it! People are going to laugh at me when they see me trying to pop my hips at Zumba.
I'm not strong or fit enough. There's no fucking way I'll be able to do those pushups, burpees and squats.
I need to lose weight first. My current body is just not ready yet. I'm too embarrassed to be seen in leggings at the gym. I mean, look at me!
I can't do it on my own. I need someone to keep me motivated and accountable. Too bad, none my friends like working out.
It's expensive. Gym membership, equipment and workout attire/gear costs $$$.
I don't know what to do or where to start? There are simply too much information out there. I mean, have you seen what's on YouTube?! How do I know which one is suitable for me? I could get injured! I could kill myself!
See? I told you, I know 'em all because I've been on this path before. (Tell me if you hear other voices than the ones I've listed above.)
In this post, I will try to share my experiences on how I've learned to reason with these voices and coax them to get the fuck out of my head. It doesn't always work but I'm beginning to manage them pretty well after five years.
As a caveat, different people with different level of fitness, mental state, health condition, etc. respond differently to the types of workout mentioned in this post. So this is purely based on my condition and situation. I would strongly recommend you to seek professional advice (from a physician, certified personal trainer or fitness instructor, etc.) if you can afford it. If not, please do your own research and experiment what works best for you slowly, carefully and ensuring personal safety at all time.
I will also link some YouTube posts that I find helpful and reliable to get you started since I know it can be overwhelming with so much information out there. I have been consuming and following quite a number of fitness channels in the last couple of years to be able to pick out some I find credible and easy to understand.
My fitness, mental state and health background
I started this fitness journey at the age of 40 when I weighed 80kg. I am160cm tall. I do not have any heart condition or serious physical or physiological injury. I was pre-diabetic, had high cholesterol level, hypothyroidism and fatty liver - all four conditions which benefit from regular physical exercises.
I have arthritis on my knees and according to my orthopedist, it could be due to my weight or the impact of "over-exercising" when I was much younger. As such, I should avoid doing exercises that will strain my knees such as jumping or running.
As a child, I did ballet for 11 years, participated in my school's track and field events (short distance running and long jump) and played badminton competitively. I started swimming regularly when I was 17 and kept up with a fairly active lifestyle when I was in university; cycling, dancing and aerobics. Suffice to say that I was active and enjoyed different forms of sports.
I believe that my fitness background does give me some advantages. For a start, I genuinely love being active and I am pretty good at certain sports. So to be fair, I do not associate physical activities as something negative. However, it doesn't mean I am motivated every single time. I do have my "lazy" moments and there are days when it is particularly difficult for me to put on my activewear (e.g. when I am occupied at work, feeling tired or down) and hit the gym.
There is another thing that has been preventing me from being as active as I would like - my knees as they get inflamed when I over-exert myself. When they are inflamed, it is extremely painful for me to do any form of physical exercise and I literally need a couple of days or weeks to recover.
Secondly, my ballet training gives me some sort of foundation to be able to adapt my body to different kinds of exercises from an endurance, strength and flexibility perspective.
Lastly, I have a mesomorph body type which means it is easier for me to gain muscle and burn fat if I exercise regularly. If you would like to learn more about what type of body you have, please watch the video below by Joanna Soh. It helps to put things into perspectives if you stumble into a roadblock when it could just be something beyond your control due to your genetic makeup.
How do I get started and what keeps me going?
My attempt to lose weight started longer than five years ago. At that time, I was uncomfortably big that I didn't think any high impact workout would be suitable for me. The thought of going to the gym depressed me and I was too cheapskate to engage a personal trainer. So I enrolled in a yoga class that was held at my apartment's community center. I only went once a week and I kept it up for nearly two years. I didn't see much results and I didn't understand why. Now, I know that doing a low-impact workout like yoga once a week (possibly burning less than 200 calories) was insufficient to put me on any calorie deficit when I was eating around 2000 calories a day. The science of losing weight is as simple as burning more calories than you consume. This YouTuber, Kenza Tounakti explained it best here.
In the end, I took up a gym membership; not to use their equipment, but to join the interesting classes they have. I could have done home workouts with the wealth of free resources online but I was convinced that I was the type who needed to be in a group setting to be pumped and motivated. NONE of my friends like working out and I never liked doing anything solo and repetitive. (They should really call a treadmill "dreadmill" because I hate it with all my might.)
The gym I went to have all sorts of Les Mills workouts and I started with Body Combat although the level of difficulty was high for me at that time. It is quite a high impact cardio and strength workout and I would find myself gasping for air most of the time. However, the moves (punching and kicking) choreographed to a highly charged music captivated me and I began to enjoy myself more and more.
The other thing that got me hooked was the instructors and believe me, they made a huge difference because the good ones had a way of pumping up the energy and atmosphere in the room. I liked it so much that I began to take at least three to six classes a week. That was when I began to see changes in my body. I would be drenched in sweat after each class, high with adrenaline. Combined with a healthier diet (this will be covered in upcoming posts), the kilos started shedding weeks after weeks.
My fitness level improved tremendously as I was able to go through the whole class without feeling like my heart was going to give out as it did when I first started. I was feeling so much stronger that I would sometimes continue with another class like Body Pump or Body Balance so that I could build on my strength and mobility.
As I became stronger, I also became more confident and started joining classes that were more challenging such as kickboxing, boxing and metcon (a type of metabolic conditioning or high-intensity interval training/HIIT inspired by the crossfit community). While they are super enjoyable, fun and effective, they are also brutally punishing, particularly metcon.
For someone who doesn't like repetitive workouts, metcon hits all the right spot because the exercises are done in circuits in between short intervals. Since its key purpose is to push your heart rate up to a level where you will burn energy (calories) at its most efficient and continue to do so even at resting period, it needs to be high intensity. Some typical exercises in a circuit can be: running as fast as you can on a treadmill, pullups, box jumps, burpees and dumbbell thrusters, each exercise to be performed for 50 seconds with10 seconds of rest in between. When you train your heart at such intensity, Body Combat becomes child's play.
I could have kept it up but for my knees. I started experiencing knee pain doing kickboxing and metcon to a point where it was no longer enjoyable for me. That was when I decided to stop going to these classes. You need to know when to stop once it becomes a burden to your body and makes you miserable.
Now, this is the key message I want to share about what keeps me going for five years now. I firmly believe until today that the most important factor that turned me into a gym junkie (I kid you not. I enjoyed going to my gym classes so much that it was the only thing that would get me out of my office at exactly 5:30pm every day. The world literally stopped for an hour or two when I was at the gym.) was discovering the types of workout and setting I truly enjoy. When I enjoy it, I will stick to it. When I stick to it, I will get results. When I see results, I'll enjoy it even more. See the cycle?
How do I know what types of exercises suit me?
I would like to say it depends on what goals you are aiming for as doing the right workouts can definitely help to optimize results. For example, you are probably not going to build muscles by doing cardio alone. However, since this post is meant for a beginner who is starting her fitness journey, I would say the type that you enjoy doing, with an average challenge level. What this means is that it shouldn't be so challenging that it becomes a burden to you (like what metcon was for me) because you will give up. On the other hand, it shouldn't be so easy that it doesn't challenge your body enough or at all, to make any difference or impact. When you don't see any impact, you will give up.
The only way you're going to find out what type of exercise and level of challenge are suitable for you is to try them out. It's like clothes shopping. You're not going to know if something looks good on you until you try it out. I have tried muay thai, sh'bam, belly dancing, pilates, TRX, and RPM and did not enjoy them.
Would I become obsessive and in danger of over-exercising?
Now, let me take a quick moment to address some people's criticism of over-exercising or me using the term gym junkie. It was probably a wrong term to use as it would imply an unhealthy form of addiction. Let me just say that there is a differentiation between an addiction to exercising and embracing working out as part of a lifestyle because you enjoy doing it. Yes, it's true that science has proven that when one exercises, one releases feel-good hormones like endorphins or dopamine, creating a sensation of "high" that can become addictive. But what's wrong with enjoying the "high" that comes from this, especially when we have been told by health experts to engage in physical activities to help reduce stress or manage depression? Would it be better for us to turn to alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or sex instead?
Setting aside time to commit to doing something you enjoy every day is a lifestyle. We don't go ape shit on someone who likes reading, watching movies, drinking coffee, etc. As long as it doesn't become the primary focus of your life or it starts to take over other meaningful things or people around you, IT IS FINE. Get worried only when you work everything else around your gym schedule.
Anyway, I was able to sustain my gym lifestyle for five years until COVID-19 happened and the rest becomes history as you know it. My gym life literally came to a halt. In the next post, I will be sharing how I had adapted my fitness journey during this pandemic.
What happens if I no longer enjoy my workout or feel motivated?
The earlier question speaks of the concern of one becoming obsessed with exercising, but there is also the other possibility where one might as easily feel demotivated or get bored of doing the same thing after a long time. In economics, the theory of utility speaks of "Utils", an imaginary and psychological units, which are used to measure satisfaction (utility) obtained from consumption of a certain quantity of a commodity. The more one consumes something, the less Utils it has.
Lucy Lismore did such a banging job in her video below where she talks about staying motivated that I am just going to leave it at that. Suffice to say that every time I feel unmotivated, I just put on my workout attire and do something active no matter how short it is; a 10-minute abs workout, 8 minutes Tabata session, handstand practice or walking to my neighbourhood grocer. I am trying to associate moving my body as just part of a daily routine like brushing my teeth or taking a shower. Don't question it, just do it. And you know what? There is zero time when I regret or I don't feel better after completing whatever activity I chose.
Challenging those voices that prevent me from working out
As usual I would like to challenge or debunk all those excuses I listed above.
1. It's hard work and there's no way I'll be able to keep it up! (They don't call it a "work"out for nothing.)
You probably heard this saying before "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." Find something you enjoy doing and remember the cycle I mentioned earlier? Never mind, it's worth repeating here: When I enjoy it, I will stick to it. When I stick to it, I will get results. When I see results, I'll enjoy it even more.
2. It's not enjoyable and boring. I'd rather watch Netflix, thank you very much!
I often hear my friends say this, "I'm not the sporty kind. There's no way I'll like Zumba (replace with whatever other type of workout or exercise)." The funny thing is, people who often say this are also the ones who haven't given any of these workout a try. None of my friends who say this have ever gone to the gym even once in their life.
Seriously, how the fuck do you know you're or aren't going to enjoy something if you don't even give it a try?!! Fair enough if you have, but are you sure you have tried EVERYTHING? Surely there is something you might like. Not every form of physical activity is confined to the gym. There's hiking, gardening, roller-blading, cycling, surfing, swimming, salsa dancing, paint-balling, tai-chi- ping-pong, badminton, judo, bowling, etc. OK, worst case scenario, all you like is shopping. Fine, stop parking your car as close to the entrance as possible or use the elevator. Just fucking walk the whole damn mall, girl.
At least be truthful that it's not about enjoyment. It's just easier doing nothing.
3. I'll need to change my lifestyle. I can no longer sleep in because I need to get to the gym before work every morning.
COVID-19 has taught me that this is rubbish. With the gym no longer in my life, I have discovered the freedom of working out whenever I want to and with no equipment at all. Even if we get back to our office life, there are ways to fit in time with minimal disruption to what must be a goddamn important and fabulous life you have. (Hey, even world leaders can fit in a workout session.) You'll see in my next post that all it takes is a minimum of 6 minutes a day to fit in an effective workout.
4. I suck at it! People are going to laugh at me when they see me trying to pop my hips at Zumba.
Yes, there are some people who truly suck at anything physical or do not have good body coordination, but this doesn't mean they cannot get better. This is related to point #2. Not trying at all will get you no where and you won't discover the things you may actually be good at.
I struggled when I first started at the gym because I was not fit and strong, but I persevere and guess what? I got better and there are many things I can do now which I couldn't before. I still have a weak core and can't do many exercises (pullups, Russian twist, pistol squats, diamond pushups, etc.) which frustrates me but I know if I keep going at it, I will get better because that's just how it works.
FYI, majority of people at the gym start out at the same level as I did. We are there for the same reasons (one of which is not competing with each other) and believe me, no one ever laughs at someone who messes up and if anything, it's a pretty supportive community. There's no greater joy than watching a klutz doing the Zumba with such abandon and TBH, these are the real heroes who don't give a toss about what other people think about them. That's Coolness with a capital C.
5. I'm not strong or fit enough. There's no fucking way I'll be able to do those pushups, burpees and squats.
See point #4 and tell me, will you be able to do those pushups, burpees and squats by lying in bed and watching Netflix instead?
6. I need to lose weight first. My current body is just not ready yet. I'm too embarrassed to be seen in leggings at the gym. I mean, look at me!
Unfortunately, you kinda need to challenge yourself physically in order to lose those weight. So if you're going to wait for your body to be ready first before hitting the gym, it just ain't going to happen, sista. Anyway you don't have to workout at a gym. It can be something else where you don't have to expose yourself publicly. TBH nobody gives a damn how you look because everyone's too preoccupied with their own insecurities at the gym.
7. I can't do it on my own. I need someone to keep me motivated and accountable. Too bad, none my friends like working out.
Stop relying on your friends and get a membership at a gym that offers fantastic group classes. Again, with COVID-19, I discovered that I can actually work out on my own. It might shock you now if I tell you that I may not go back to the gym once this pandemic is over.
8. It's expensive. Gym membership, equipment and workout attire/gear costs $$$.
You don't need a gym membership, equipment or expensive workout attire to get fit. You'll find more information on how in my next post. Also, you'll be surprised how affordable a gym membership is when you learn how to optimise usage. Besides, you get a tax redemption for gym membership in countries like Malaysia.
9. I don't know what to do or where to start? There are simply too much information out there. I mean, have you seen what's on YouTube?! How do I know which one is suitable for me? I could get injured! I could kill myself!
This is what My Body Language series aims to do. Keep your eyes peeled for all my posts with the #MBL tag.
Helpful fitness YouTube channels to follow:
Nicki Positano (She's not a fitness YouTuber but she certainly lives an active lifestyle and it just proves that not everything needs to be done in the gym or conform to certain fitness regime. Plus, she's a joy a watch!)
ALL THE BEST, LADIES. AND ENJOY THE JOURNEY!
Next post: #MBL SERIES: No.4 - Eight things to know about fitness training