Becoming Vulnerable to Change

For the past several months, whenever I have ventured to the gym for a weight workout on my own, I’ve repeated the same routine. A routine that works the basic muscle groups, I have felt locked into doing it because it’s what I know and I was at a loss for how to switch it up.


Last week I asked one of the trainers whose group classes I regularly attend how he goes about developing a workout for himself. He had a quick response.

“You know how I go about developing a workout routine? I think about three things:

  1. Fitness goals. What are the kinds of activities you want to do outside of the gym?
  2. Weak areas. What are areas of your body that are not strong that you want to develop?
  3. Appearance. Look at yourself in the mirror. Is there some way that you want to look different and where is that area on your body?”

To my surprise, he then added, “Go home, look at yourself in a mirror, write down the answers to those three questions and get back to me next week. I’ll write a workout for you.”

That sounded terrifying. As I wrote recently, I have been enjoying my no-pressure no-goals workouts.

Also, standing in front of a mirror and assessing my weak areas tends to bring out my self-critical side. Not thin enough. Not strong enough. Not fit enough.

However, the trainer’s offer was an opportunity for change and self-improvement I couldn’t refuse. I’ve talked about my story of sameness, and how I want to make changes to my physical endeavors. This was a way to do that.

I went home and did as the trainer instructed. In order to avoid the pitfall of being paralyzed by self-criticism, I focused on my overall fitness goals for the year: ride brevets; run marathons; and bike tour.

I then thought about the areas of my fitness that I have not paid attention to due to my tendency to run and ride: flexibility; balance; upper back; and arms.

Finally, I took another look in the mirror and jotted down some notes about where I would not mind seeing a visual change. That felt a little vain and weird to do, but also honest.

I returned to the gym on Monday and handed in my homework, not expecting to hear anything back for at least a few days. Tuesday, I arrived at the gym and the trainer said, “I have your workout for you! Let’s do it today.”

“Great!” I answered. “Oh great,” I said in my head.

What followed was a series of exercises that focused on areas that, in line with my self-assessment, were not strong. I moved determinedly yet awkwardly from one activity to the next amid a group of men (as is the case in most weight rooms I’ve frequented) testing muscle groups I’ve mostly avoided. It challenged and humbled me.

When it was over I went back to the locker room, breathed deeply, took my time changing back into my cycling clothes, and thought about how difficult the day had been.

I was self-conscious about maneuvering my way through a weight room dominated by men. It also frustrated me to devote time to activities with which I have yet to feel any degree of competence. It took more concentration than I’m used to having to use in my workouts.

Much as I disliked my story of sameness that evolved over the last three years, trying something totally new that also focused on my areas of weakness was unnerving. It’s easier to stay within my comfort zone.

While I know that creating a new routine is how I develop and grow, I now see that making myself vulnerable to change is harder than I thought.


  1. hmmm. interesting. i *always* considered you thin enough and fit enough. and strong enough to endure long bicycle adventures.

    you really made me think long and hard about myself….and what i need to change….


  2. Changing is necessary… to stay alive.

    Congratulation for your blog. I am new following it and I love the way you write.


  3. This post really resonates with me. Sometimes turning the mirror within is one of the most difficult things to do, but starting new paths and making changes is so worth it. Keep on keeping on.


  4. If confronting this change was tough with a handful of spectators in the gym, what’s it like to share it online with your thousands and thousands of readers?

    Always inspiring and thought provoking MG!


  5. Well done. Challenging post. The implications are far broader than just fitness and challenge me to think about a variety of other personal and organizational changes. Again – well done.


  6. Nice blog…It takes alot of strength to critique yourself and get better. You should know that you are in better shape than the majority of men on our fitness floor. You are also the only person who has jumped into my personal workout and actually pushed me. Thank you


  7. Yo Mary,

    No offense to your efforts at the gym, but you are already a champ. It is great to look good and feel good, but if you can commute by bike and work all week and throw down a couple hundred km’s every weekend, you’ve done well to put me to shame already. You should be someone else’s trainer.



  8. cool blog – I’m in a kind of no change comfort zone myself as far as exercise routine goes, kept there in part because running seems to kill a lot of birds in terms of fitness(what one looks like, strength, stamina), and because I think my genetically predisposed big butt is not subject to change, thanks for the inspiration


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