How I’ve Worked Out Consistently for 5 Years After Hating the Gym

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  • I used to hate the gym but have worked out consistently for five years.
  • Everything changed when I found ways of moving that I actively love, like weight lifting.
  • To stay consistent I make exercising easy, do what I love, and don’t beat myself up over weak sessions.

In my early 20s, I was categorically not a “fitness person.” I hated the gym because I thought it was boring and unpleasant. I only occasionally subjected myself to a session on an elliptical machine, which I didn’t enjoy but thought I needed to do to lose weight.

Now, aged 30, I work out five times most weeks, and have been doing so for over five years.

What changed? 

Firstly, my mindset. I stopped equating exercising with burning calories (and now know that is not only unhealthy but also nonsensical, because exercise only makes up 5-10% of our overall daily calorie-burn). Instead, I think of exercise as a way to boost my mental and physical health, and empower myself.

But the main game changer for me was discovering the types of exercise that I actively enjoy, rather than just the feeling of finishing afterwards.

I only do exercise that I enjoy

My main form of movement is weight-lifting, which I got into unintentionally after trying it out for work years ago. I didn’t expect to continue afterwards, but it was tons of fun. I love it, and can deadlift 320 pounds now.

Progress is slow, because working out is part of my life not my whole life, but having a relaxed attitude towards exercise helps keep me consistent.

When I started strength-training, I’d never done a deadlift. At first I lifted about 90 pounds while I was learning the right technique. After six weeks, I deadlifted 220 pounds (thank you, newbie gains!). Strength gains come more slowly the longer you’ve been lifting, so I haven’t made such huge leaps since, but I love how empowering it is to feel strong, and I love seeing myself progress, however gradually. 

I also love netball, dancing, and walking. And the main reason I’ve stayed consistently active for over five years is that I enjoy the activities I do. They don’t feel like a chore like running often did. 

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If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick to it, personal trainer Emily Ricketts told Insider.

“So often people put pressure on themselves to train a certain way because somebody else does and they think that’s how they should workout, or they think that’s the only way to make progress,” she said. “In reality there are lots of effective ways to move your body, move it in a way that feels best for you — that’s how you’ll make progress, because you’ll consistently be able to show up.”

Sometimes I don’t feel like going to the gym, but mostly, I still go. It’s a habit now, as much as brushing my teeth. Research suggests that working out at the same time every day is the key to making it a habit.

Ricketts tells herself and her clients to “just show up.”

“What I mean by that is showing up for your body and mind in whatever way you can that day. Take the pressure off it being a perfect performance, an hour-long workout or a super long walk. Just focus on simply showing up, and doing what you can that day,” she said.

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Make working out as easy as possible

The main problem most people encounter when trying to get fit is a lack of consistency, personal trainer and former US special forces instructor Mark Lauren told Insider.

When the cost of the behavior outweighs the reward — for example having to drive 30 minutes to the gym — it’s harder to stick to, he said.

I’ve made it as as easy as possible to work out by joining gyms close to my work or home.

I also often plan when I’m going to workout in advance. When things get busy, putting workouts in your diary ensures life is less likely to take over.

However, I also don’t beat myself up when I can’t do as many workouts as I would like, because I think about my progress in the long-term.

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Thinking long-term makes consistency easier

Staying active is for life. There is no finish date, and when you think of fitness as something you’ll do forever, you know missing a workout here or there won’t have much impact on your long-term goals.

There have been periods over the past five years when I haven’t made it to the gym for weeks or even months, and I’ve worked out differently, less, or not at all.

Consistency to me doesn’t mean working out the same amount every single week forever. It means doing the best you can or taking time off altogether, and then getting back on track.

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It’s not about perfection. 

I know that not every workout will feel great. Sometimes I get to the gym and I’m just not feeling it. I feel sluggish and weak. But by knowing that’s inevitable sometimes, it helps you keep going and not give up. It’s part of the process. 

“It’s not about every session being perfect, or hitting every single session, every single week,” Ricketts said. “It’s about showing up and doing the best you can each and every day.”