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:
- Fitness goals. What are the kinds of activities you want to do outside of the gym?
- Weak areas. What are areas of your body that are not strong that you want to develop?
- 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.