Time to stop feeling sorry for myself!
December 12, 2010 4:17 AM   Subscribe

If you tried and failed and tried and failed and then succeeded in getting fit- what finally worked for you?

23-year-old female. I basically never did any form of intense physical activity I wasn't forced to do until about a year and a half ago- my family is pretty couch-potato-y, and so I never really thought exercise was an important part of life.

I finally realized I needed to take better care of myself, so I began doing stuff like taking a one-semester weightlifting class and starting couch to 5k. But once the class ended I never kept lifting, and I got like two weeks into couch to 5k about three times, and every time I quit for some dumb reason, like it was finals week or I was just too tired, man. I did enjoy taking a hoop dancing class, but it's not all that physically taxing, so while I got a lot better at twirling, I don't think I got any fitter. However, I did go to the class pretty much every week, which is more discipline than I gave to any self-directed efforts.

I know this is lame, and I feel like I should be able to just do like a lot of my friends do, and just go for a run or to the gym on a regular basis. And yes, I've tried going with them- it never takes. I never keep it up.

I'm 5'6" and probably about 140 pounds, none of it muscle. I get winded going up four flights of stairs. I don't care about weight loss. I just want to be healthy!

I'm about to graduate from school, so I'll have more free time, and I want to take another crack at getting fit.

Things I've considered-
Trying c25k again. But what could make me keep it up this time?
Joining a dance class that's more taxing than hoop dance. But will any dance class actually get me in shape?
Taking a martial arts class of some kind. I feel like this might be my best bet... but in my current physical state, I worry that it will be too intense for me and I'll burn out quickly.
Just walking a whole lot more, like an hour every day of just walking. This has been great for my mom. But it won't help me with strength or endurance much.

I'm sure there's a lot more I haven't considered, as well. But every time I go to fitness forums or whatever to look for advice, it's all "only eat tuna and cottage cheese, do these 27 exercises in this order on Tuesday but that order on Thursday" and I basically just throw up my hands and give up. It can't be THAT hard, can it?
posted by showbiz_liz to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (45 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Dedication. It's like quitting smoking really, with a touch more sweat and less paranoia.

No seriously: walk.
And on the diet side, just cut on the in-between meals sweets if you can.

Strength is a side issue I dare say. Endurance can come with walking, and more walking pushes you to walk gradually faster; it's not annoying, it's not a pain to do it, and it's something you can just do anywhere. And it works, not only for your mom :)

The killer is the lack of movement, not the lack of sports.
posted by Vanifriss at 4:48 AM on December 12, 2010

Taking karate classes worked for me. The belt system provided a natural incentive to keep going, as did the physical benefits (plus, it's fun to feel like you're training to be a badass). A good dojo should accommodate a broad range of fitness levels, and encourage you to be aware of your physical limitations, if any (I say this a little ruefully, 1 ruptured tendon and 1 fractured shoulder later).

I can't speak to dance classes, because they're still on my bucket list. I have admired salsa dancers from up close, though, and I can affirm that salsa dancing will most certainly get you in shape and then some.

The most important ingredient of fitness is fun. If it feels like a tuna-and-cottage-cheese-type of chore, you'll stop sooner rather than later. But if your fitness program revolves around activities you fanatically look forward to, there's no reason not to enjoy healthy living for the rest of your life.

Good luck.
posted by YamwotIam at 4:51 AM on December 12, 2010

It depends on your personality, but the things that work for me are:
  • A no-brain-needed exercise schedule. When I was in college, this was easy. At exactly 8am every Mon, Tues, Thurs my alarm would go off, I would get out of bed, get on my clothes and go to the gym.
  • If I skipped a session, my buddy Josh would give me crap because he was expecting me there.
In post-college world (and once you have a family, believe me) setting aside a rock-solid schedule that never changes is very hard. Same goes for finding an exercise buddy, which is why many people join teams or go to classes. But for me, those two elements are 90% of the battle, the exercise is an afterthought.
posted by jeremias at 4:54 AM on December 12, 2010

As a fellow lazy ass woman in her early twenties, my advice to you is: work out with friends. A year ago my weekend mornings were spent watching Thursday night's 30 Rock and eating Easy Mac. Now, I'm taking muay thai classes and running 5ks and crawling through obstacle courses and shit. All thanks to the incredible motivational power of friends.

Just find someone you know and like (doesn't really matter who as long as they won't mock you for sucking at first and they're not flaky or as lazy as you are. It's also helpful that they not be in insanely good, make you feel bad about yourself shape), call or text them and be like, "Hey! Let's go running! Right now!" Or if you're hanging out and they start talking about this super awesome Zumba class they're taking or some weird gimmicky race they're running: invite yourself! Get a free trial membership to their gym. Register for that race. Get excited about it: you get to see your friend AND you get to move your ass. Make it an event and that way if you flake out you feel like a jerk.
posted by Tha Race Card at 4:58 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was like you. I am a huge indoor kid who like never left her house, and suddenly had a realization that it wasn't a healthy way to live and wanted to change.
I easily lost 20 pounds just from going on an hour and a half walk each day. I would listen to podcasts or upbeat dancey music to keep me going. It didn't help with my strength, but it definitely helped with my endurance. After a couple months, I could walk 5.5 miles in that time like it was nothing. Combined with a more sensible eating plan (drink more water, eat more vegetables, eat fewer (not none) sweets) and I found weight loss surprisingly easy.
Plus, I found that once I saw some success, it was a lot easier to stick to my plan and schedule.
posted by FakePalindrome at 5:07 AM on December 12, 2010

I'm an entirely different demographic than you (single mom of 3 kids who can't get to a gym or a class), but exercise DVDs worked for me.

Almost every day I get up before my kids and force myself to do either a Chalene Johnson, P90X, or Jillian Michaels video. I think the reason it works for me is because I really do hate to exercise but those frickin' DVDs stare me in the face and say, "Hey, we know you hate us but remember how good you feel when you're done."

(I also love to walk and hike and surf but as an old lady with an old-lady metabolism, I need a bigger calorie-burning boost daily.)

7+ years of doing the videos and I'm really toned and fit, I have a lot more energy and I can eat pretty much what I want.

But I still stare at the countdown clock every time I work out, thinking "Only 40 minutes left..only 20 minutes left...cooldown, SCORE!"
posted by dzaz at 5:09 AM on December 12, 2010

Fun is the key. I am in the best shape of my life since I took up roller derby three years ago. I still can't force myself to go to the gym for extra workouts on top of practice, though.
posted by corvine at 5:37 AM on December 12, 2010 [7 favorites]

Don't write off dance classes entirely. Surely that's pretty much what zumba is all about, shaking it to music? I did Go Go dancing weekly with friends (think 60s bandstand not pole dancing skanks) and I would sweat like a whore in mass. It was lots of fun, and definitely improving my cardio fitness (which was pretty much zero)

I think you can play around trying different dance classes to work into bits and pieces of other activities. It could certainly be *part* of what you do.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 5:38 AM on December 12, 2010

I was a lot like you, I joined a Crossfit gym. It takes a certain kind of personality for sure, but the community and the awesome feeling of accomplishment kept me going, even though during the first two weeks I was definitely pretty tired, man. And after a few months the results kept me going back.

If you tell us where you are in the world, we can probably recommend a good one near you. I can think of very few other programs that will a) get you in shape very quickly, and b) keep you coming back. I went from totally inactive and unathletic to now considering myself "in shape" and above average strong and coordinated in less than a year. I used to shy away from physical activities with my friends, like hiking or playing a sport, but now I feel like I can do those things, and even if it's something totally new to me I might kick ass.
posted by telegraph at 5:49 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing a gym. Don't just go to the nearest one, though - that's a good recipe for wasting money.

Check out gyms in your area. Ask to talk to a personal trainer. See if you can get a guest pass for a workout or two. Get a good feel for the way they like to work with people and if you feel like you'll be comfortable there. Ask about what interests you and if there are things you think you'd enjoy beyond "conventional" exercise - maybe treadmills and pumping iron don't interest you, but something like spinning or slow flow yoga might strike a chord?

Once you feel like you have a good fit, it starts being an enjoyable part of your routine, not a chore.

I've been overweight for a very long time, but after finding a gym and a trainer that felt natural and encouraging to work with, I've been going regularly for the past five months, and losing a lot of weight in the process.

Something else that helped me was I started writing a log of everything I eat or drink, and every time I work out - time, duration, etx, and I email it to a couple of my friends. And if I miss an email, they'll call me to ask why and what's going on. It makes a big difference for keeping me honest.

Last thing I'd suggest is that if you do sign up for some kind of gym or fitness classes, get a specific amount of classes or gym time (2 months?). Don't take them up on an "unlimited" or auto-renewing membership if there's an option.

I found that when I was getting started, that made a nice psychological lever to MAKE myself go to the gym, because I couldn't just say "Oh, well, I'll reschedule for tomorrow...or the next day..." Instead, I was telling myself "Get of your ass and go, or you wasted $30 on that class.", and it got me in the car and driving there even on days when I didn't really want to leave the house.
posted by BZArcher at 6:08 AM on December 12, 2010

i used to have a much harder time than i do now at working out. it helped for me to learn a bit about the central nervous system.

As well as our BODIES being out of shape, those messages 'i can't do it, it's too hard, i want to quit' etc are actually a part of our central nervous system (CNS) that's out of shape too.

but when we get in better shape, we're also training our CNS to learn that we won't actually die by working out. so those messages go away.

now, when i hear myself saying "i don't want to go for a run, i can't keep going" i realize that it's not ME being lazy, it's my pre-programmed CNS, and it's normal to hear those messages but it's not going to stop me from going to the gym! and the more i go to the gym, the faster those messages change into 'i can do this, i'm strong.' it's an actual physiological response, as much as bigger muscles or reducing fat is.

(okokok, TECHNICALLY my CNS is part of ME - but it's the part of me that isn't being useful, so that's why i think of it like this.)
posted by andreapandrea at 6:10 AM on December 12, 2010 [14 favorites]

Find an activity you love. Not only will you want to do this activity a lot, but there's a good chance that you'll make friends who are more active than you and will want you to join them in doing active things. Peer pressure is powerful.

For me it was martial arts.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:27 AM on December 12, 2010

I alternate between workout videos and jogging, but having a brief stint with a personal trainer helped me to get my technique right and helped me to push myself a little harder.
For keeping yourself going you might need to get a personal trainer so you will have someone to be accountable to that won't let you off the hook too much. Plus they might introduce you to some new activities that you enjoy. I know that a personal trainer sounds expensive, but you might find someone right out of school or even still in school who might need some experience hours for class. My friend found a guy with a reasonable price. Ask around. Maybe meet with your trainer once or twice a week with exercise assignments to do before the next meeting. It's easy to skip a class full of people - harder to skip a one-on-one meeting. Good luck!
posted by LilBit at 6:58 AM on December 12, 2010

Nthing the above, Martial arts was it for me too. The trick is to find a dojo where you like the style, like the teacher and like the people. Then it becomes like a second family and you feel motivated to meet them and motivated to improve because you actually like the style. That is, the style suits your personality. There are many styles, take a look at different things, from Aikido, Capoiera, Brazlian ju-jitsu, Karate, Kick boxing, etc ... they all feel different.

About the gym, the thing that did it for me and made it fun and motivating was to develop a system of my own training .. I read up on the latest scientific research on what's most effective and works. Once I figured that out- going to the gym didn't seem like I was just going there and going through the motions as I knew what I was doing, was guiding my own progress, could see improvements quickly and it became fun.
posted by blueyellow at 7:03 AM on December 12, 2010

1) I believe low carb paleo diets are healthy. A good place to start with is the Primal Blueprint. Even if you don't go for that, diet is as important a foundation to being in shape as exercise. Try at least cutting out dairy products and gluten and getting in lots of nutrients from meat, fish and veggies and healthy fats.

2) Lift weights. I don't know what your weightlifting class was, but I think that free weights are the most ergonomic and good for men and women. If you got a basic full body free weight programme together with squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, curl, row and then get more advice as you progress. Just stop when you're strong enough. It would be hard to get butch, not that there's anything wrong with that, but you'll just look like a fit woman unless you go mad. You can do a full body workout twice a week for an hour or so. Simple.

The muscle burns energy and makes you tones keeping you looking good, and you feel strong and fit.

3) Sprints or Intervals. If you have problems sticking to a routine, doing a very short thing a couple of times a week might be easier. And although I like longer exercise, there's an argument that sprints and interval training give you just as much endurance.

There's loads of things you could do. If you can go outside or in a hall, one thing to do is just sprint for 100 metres as hard as you possibly can, then wait until you're fully rested then do it again a few times.

Intervals is where you train in short bursts then rest then train again. Different from sprints in that it's not maximum intensity. I don't know exactly what the different benefits are, but I mix it up. Google Tabata. You could do this with running again, or all manner of exercises. FWIW I do box jumps at the moment, jumping a couple of feet onto steps then down again.

You could do these before a weights session or seperately.

So that would leave you with working out only twice a week, or maybe more if you did 15mins of sprints or tabata seperately. You don't have to stress about when you workout or missing a session, just fit it in around stuff and try and get 2 sessions in.

I think that would get you to a great standard of fitness. There are loads of other things and ideas of what you can do, but if you just stuck to a manageable thing for now, your body will probably start craving more exercise naturally and you'll be looking for things to do, so just take it easy and do a little important stuff not take on too much.
posted by Not Supplied at 7:35 AM on December 12, 2010

Make a public commitment, or at least a commitment to a few friends/family.

I know it's "better" somehow to be self-motivated, but I am not. When a friend and I, both of us overweight, let everyone at work know we going to have a competition to see who could lose 10% of bodyweight first, I suddenly had no problem sticking with a workout plan and a regimen of healthy eating. Once I got in that habit, I was able to stick with it. (For a few years. I've since gotten lazy again and am, heh, having trouble motivating myself to get back in shape.)
posted by voodoochile at 7:36 AM on December 12, 2010

By accepting several facets of my personality:

1. There is not the ONE thing I will find that I love and that will keep me motivated forever, as some of these posts seem to suggest. I would get into, say, running, for awhile, then after a couple months get bored. Then beat myself up about getting bored and quitting. Now I know I need a variety of activities, and when I get bored enough to stop, I switch to something else. I think this is actually good for you, as you get to work on different types of fitness.

2. Accepting that sometimes you just can't or don't want to work out. Allowing for some flexibility keeps it from being so overwhelming that you give up entirely. If, going forward, you know you can push working out aside for a week during, say, finals, or something similarly crazy, you're more apt to start. It also keeps you from using that all-or-nothing excuse of, well, I blew it, I didn't go this week, might as well give up altogether. It's okay to stop. It's starting again that's important. Just dip your toe in and start again.

3. Work activity into my everyday life and make it second nature. Things like taking the stairs, walking short distances instead of driving, walking to people's offices instead of e-mailing, helping people lift heavy stuff. When it's part of your routine, heck, just daily life, you're not going to toss it aside, because it's just part of your day. Plus it keeps you from backsliding entirely during those hectic times when you can't do a normal work out. Physical activity should be a way of life, not just a thing you do 5 times a week.
posted by unannihilated at 7:39 AM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

What worked for me is cycling - if you can fit it into your daily routine (e.g. going to and from work or college) it overcomes a lot of "oh I can't be bothered to leave my house and go out to the gym" type laziness. And you can put in as little or as much effort as you like.
posted by Dali Atomicus at 7:41 AM on December 12, 2010

As someone who is a huge fan of workout videos (don't require alot of machines, are relatively cheap, and I don't have to leave my house), I would encourage doing those. However, the Jillian Michaels and p90x dvds are tough. I'd start with Jillian's 30 day shred if you want to go that route.
posted by quodlibet at 7:43 AM on December 12, 2010

I am the least athletically inclined individual you are likely to meet. I've never been coordintated, or flexible, I have no upper body strength, no hand-eye coordintion, no lung capacity, nothing physical going for me at all. But I love yoga, because it starts wherever a persons ability is. I like its quietness, its stretchiness and twistiness, its peacefulness. I do ashtanga, so there's more movement and strength building than some other forms, but seriously, if I can do it, anyone can.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:43 AM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Anything that will get you moving regularly is good, period.

Borrow a neigbour's energetic dog and become their dedicated, scheduled, free dog walker and walk regularly - it's lots of fun with a dog as you can play with it and the thought of the poor dog sitting there with its legs crossed if you don't come goes some way towards overcoming inertia.

Dance classes - absolutely, it's cardio, it tends to strengthen the core as you maintain posture etc so go for it.

Any kind of exercise class you like - try lots until you find something that works for you and stick with it. Just by doing 3 classes a week (one was aerobics, one circuit training and one was called something like thighs, bums and tums) regularly I lost lots of weight and managed to build up lots of strength. I think the circuit training class was key to the strength bit though because you really only compete against yourself all the time and it's totally ok to be really out of shape initially as you work alone and can do it all at your pace and with as many breaks as you need. After a while of going to those 3 classes I went to the second circuit class they ran, too, because I was alot fitter and had erngy to burn.

Never tried martial arts but absolutely - on my list of things to try.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:51 AM on December 12, 2010

From what you've written, it sounds like you need the structure or commitment of a class, and there has to be an element of fun to the activity, not just exercise.

Sign up for the dance class! Dancing is fun, and a great workout. I've never been able to keep to a walking or running regimen because I find it so boring. I do great with classes, though - aerobics, cardio kick-boxing, pilates, what have you. As long as you do it consistently, and manage to break a sweat, you'll be improving your fitness.

I've also found that I get motivated to eat better and do boring (to me) exercises like lifting weights when I have a goal for doing it other than the activity itself or the vague "getting fit." When I was into rock climbing, or cycling long distances, the desire to improve my performance in those activities led me to engage in other fitness activities. Especially with cycling, it made me careful about what and how much I ate, because I knew physically how much harder going up a hill would be carrying all those extra pounds.
posted by needled at 7:51 AM on December 12, 2010

Sign up for an event or two - a 5K fun run and a 10K a few months after, maybe. It's the only way I've found to make myself run regularly and keep with it - you know that going out for a run this evening might be tough, but it'll pay you back by making the day itself easier. Even better if you can get some friends to sign up too.
posted by penguin pie at 7:57 AM on December 12, 2010

The killer is the lack of movement, not the lack of sports.
What Vanifriss said. Being active is key. If you like dance: dance! That's great. You can always do this 12 minutes a week program for strength.
posted by davar at 7:59 AM on December 12, 2010

Two suggestions, mostly echoing and condensing what others have said above:

1) Recognize your behavioral patterns and the process by which you can change them. In medicine and psych, the most widely-used framework is the Transtheoretical/Stages of Change Model. Try to see how you fit into this framework and how to move yourself from contemplation into preparation and action.

2) Engage as much social support as you can. Once you make a commitment to becoming healthy, tell everyone about it. Tell your family and friends. Tell your spouse/sig other. Try to find someone else who's attempting to get fit and partner up with them. That way, you'll both be able to rely on one another for support and motivation on those days when one of you doesn't want to go work out. Make a behavioral contract with your family if you're living at home and get everyone involved in creating an environment that's conducive to change.
posted by The White Hat at 8:05 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I saw you were in chapel hill. I would suggest going to the community center on tuesdays/thursdays between 6:30 and 8:30 and using their climbing walls. It is an intense workout AND there are some really cool people there. It's kind of crowded, and sometimes you have to wait for a climb, but it's a heck of a workout.

UNC also has 2 climbing gyms you can use. I've only been to 1 of them, but the other is brand new, as in the past couple of years, so it's got that going for it.

Climbing is an amazing workout.

You might also consider working with a trainer, with whatever you do, so you optimize your time spent working out.
posted by TheBones at 8:08 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is really stupid, but it let me overcome a problem that kept me from regularly going to the gym: the false assumption that it'd be a huge time commitment that I had to take lots of steps to prepare for. I had this entirely mistaken image in my mind that going to the gym is this difficult, time-consuming thing that involves balancing lots of factors. Wrong!

What I ended up doing is "distributing" small bits of exercise throughout my day, like chocolate chunks in a pint of full-fat ice cream. I'd be walking across my living room and decide to drop and do ten push-ups. Gently, slowly, without straining. Or hook my feet under an armchair and do a small set of crunches. Or some isometric exercise of some sort.

So now, instead of dreading to have to start to think of getting ready to begin preparing to go to the gym, I just think, "Oh, it's jut more of that thing I do all day long already," and just go. At a moment's notice. Because the most important step is just getting there.
posted by Nomyte at 8:10 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of the ideas that really helped me was someone quoting...

"Doing something 99% is hard. Doing something 100% is easy."

It's totally true. If you decide you're going to go 99% of the time, you'll always be thinking "Maybe this is the day I skip. Maybe this is the meal I cheat." and pretty soon you've given in because that's hard as hell to resist.

But if you do something 100% of the time, then you just do it because you do it 100% of the time. It's not a question of if, but when. When is it on my schedule for today? I prioritize it. I make time. I don't try and 'fit it in'. It is a thing that must be followed because I follow it 100% of the time.

And that makes it easy, so easy. Because there's no cheat food, because I have it set in stone on my schedule, because of all these things Past Me has shed 100 lbs. Current Me feels amazingly awesome. I did a handstand the other day. A handstand. Never have I done a handstand. Never have I considered a handstand to be possible.

I am going to go to the park this summer with my kids and Dad is going to do a handstand.

My daughter hugged me the other day and said "I can tell you've been exercising. I can touch my hands behind your back. I've never hugged you that way before."

I still have 43 more pounds to lose to hit my goal. (I was really fat.) Every day I get up and give a high five to Past Me. And doing it 100% today is easy because I did it 100% yesterday. Because I do it 100% every single day.
posted by unixrat at 8:51 AM on December 12, 2010 [27 favorites]

You don't seem to be obese or in any mortal health danger related to physical fitness. I think you should just pick whatever physical activity you enjoy without worrying too much that it's not "enough of a workout".

But will any dance class actually get me in shape?

This is sort of a self-defeating idea. There is no such thing as "actually in shape". Unless your doctor is worried about your level of cardiovascular health and prescribing a specific fitness regime to get you out of some sort of danger zone, you can do pretty much any exercise you like.

This sort of thing is all very personal. When yoga/dance/martial arts classes start getting challenging, I find that a major turnoff and have a hard time motivating myself to go. But weirdly enough, I've been doing couch to 5K and even though it's all between me and the iPhone app, somehow I come back week after week no matter how hard it gets. You just need to find what works for you.

Try everything. Try more cardio-intense dance classes. Try vinyasa yoga. Try kickboxing. Try martial arts. Try cycling. Maybe revisit things you thought you didn't like (I'm amazed how I've taken to running since I used to hate it and swore I'd never become a runner). Mix up different intensity levels. Play! Have fun! You don't have to feel punished for a workout to have an effect!
posted by Sara C. at 9:36 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Doing something 99% is hard. Doing something 100% is easy."

This might be the essence of all the other advice, and something I will take to heart for my own self.

Exercise needs to be a part of our lives that we are just as committed to as eating and sleeping. All the people I know who are fit (as opposed to merely thin...) are people that commit to taking care of their bodies. Maybe commit isn't even the right word- you can break a commitment and it will make you feel emotionally bad, but you will get over it. But if you look at it as an essential part of your life that is always there, that you have just been ignoring for too long, maybe that's a better way of looking at it.

In that sense, making it "fun" is sort of a recipe for failure. When it ceases to be fun, by that definition you get to stop doing it. Sort of. Maybe fulfilling is a better word. Sometimes it is fulfilling by being fun, or by being a new challenge. But it is ALWAYS fulfilling because it is a good thing and the right thing to do.

(And yes, the mental attitude while you are doing it makes all the difference. I remember in gym class or while being forced to walk places I'd rather drive, I had a constant mental thought stream of "this sucks when will it be over I'm tired this sucks," over and over. I was focusing on the negative, programming myself to hate physical activity. You have to make a single, easy, revolutionary change to the way you think: change your internal framework from "I think what I believe" to "I believe what I think". Understand that the things that we believe don't just come from nowhere, or come from how we are wired or intuition, and that when we exercise and the "I hate this" thoughts are simply reflections of some kind of True Nature of Ourselves. It is not a chicken or the egg problem- our beliefs come from what we think about. Banish the unproductive thoughts and replace them with productive ones. When our muscles start burning, and the "stop and eat pudding" though starts to appear, replace it instead with "awesome, I am making progress- soon I will be able to do this without the burning!")
posted by gjc at 9:47 AM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a wise commenter said in an earlier but similar thread: "The best exercise is the one you do."

What do you love to do? Do you love to dance? Dance! Do you love to be outside? Do outdoorsy stuff! (Doesn't have to be running, either, unless you actually *want* to run. I'm a die-hard runner, but it's not some kind of be-all end-all of exercise, especially if you don't like doing it.)

Finding a buddy helps, as does finding a group or class (right now I stay motivated by training for races and by hashing -- if you like sophomoric humor and beer mixed with your exercise, there's a few kennels in your area.)

And don't worry about what exercise is "best." There is no best, first of all -- the best exercise for a power lifter is really different from the best exercise for a marathon runner, which is totally different from the best exercise for a gymnast. All of them might be highly skilled athletes in their own right, but their skills and focus are completely different. And that's how it is for the rest of us rank-and-file people. I run, swim, and bike. My friend lifts weights and does kickboxing. My little brother lifts weights and fences. All three of us are in good shape, but in different ways. Second of all, ANY exercise is better than none at all! Get into the habit of moving your body first. Then, if you want to, worry about setting your own individual goals and finding ways to move toward them.

When I was in college, I actually got into ridiculously good shape by playing DDR for hours on end. So if you're a confirmed indoorsy type, DDR, Wii Fit, exercise DVDs, or anything like that could also work well for you. The secret is still to actually find it enjoyable. You're trying to make a better, happier life for yourself by wanting to get fit -- you deserve to find an exercise that you find intrinsically rewarding.
posted by kataclysm at 9:54 AM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Walk. Try stuff. Keep trying stuff until you find something you like.

At this point, it's really about developing a habit - that takes about thirty days to develop, so finding ways to stick with it might include tracking your efforts, and using running up four flights of stairs as a way of testing your progress.
posted by medea42 at 10:02 AM on December 12, 2010

Taking a martial arts class of some kind. I feel like this might be my best bet... but in my current physical state, I worry that it will be too intense for me and I'll burn out quickly.

Find a dojo that caters to adults (having kids' classes is fine, but make sure there's a reasonable number of adult students), has a mix of male and female instructors (and students), and is friendly. I found mine because I happened to take a women's self-defense class from one of the instructors and she recommended I try martial arts.

In my experience, the classes are as challenging as you make them. My instructors always give a range or offer modifications (i.e., "Do up to 30 pushups, from your feet or your knees" or "Kick to the groin, or the knee if your range of motion is limited"). I try to work as hard as I can, but I've never been criticized for doing fewer pushups with good form rather than more pushups with bad form. I started out not in terrible shape, but definitely not in good shape. I've gotten stronger, haven't burned out, and still find the classes really fun.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:44 AM on December 12, 2010

In my experience, it has to be built in to your schedule without negotiation, front-loaded, like going to work or something. I figured out the time that worked best for me--in my case, as soon as my husband leaves for work and before I take a shower and start working myself. It's set up so if I don't it's kind of weird and trips up how the rest of my routine goes. I get up, drink a glass full of protein-ed up milk before I do anything which perks me up, and go do my thing outside. Come home and lift a little and then shower and eat breakfast. It has to be a thing that I start to do without even thinking, like on autopilot, and by the time I AM cognizant enough to go "hey wait I'm exercising at 7 in the freakin' morning" I'm already out the door and on my way. To aid in this, I make sure the night before I'm ready for it to be something I fall out of bed ready to do: my exercise outfit's laid out complete with gloves if it's going to be cold out, my keys and phone are already in the pockets of my exercise jacket so if I DON'T go, I'll have to actually remove them and actively choose defeat, you know. Just stupid little things like that. Set it up ahead of time so doing it is the default path and not doing it would muck things up a little and set you off course for the day. Also, I know the night before to go to bed on time so I'm not exhausted and won't go in the morning, which is a two-fold benefit.
posted by ifjuly at 10:50 AM on December 12, 2010

Health is mostly about nutrition, exercise is also important but less so. I would second the paleolithic nutrition people, but with some modifications. I just wrote up a summary of my several month obsession with nutrition, I hope you will find it useful.

Exercise is best done with either very high intensity (lifting, sprinting) or very low intensity (walking). The benefits of medium-intensity cardio are not really much more than you get from walking, and the risk of injury is much higher. If you go back to lifting, make sure you're increasing the weight whenever you can - otherwise you aren't getting much out of it. Doing 10-lb dumbbell curls in front of the mirror doesn't really help you.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:40 AM on December 12, 2010

It's probably kind of specific to my own personality, but I find learning stuff fascinating, not so much the doing. That's why CrossFit appealed to me. You learn stuff. Lots of different stuff. Technique. Not just a prescribed diet to follow, but nutrition theory to apply to yourself in whatever experimental way you find works. You don't just run more, you learn how to run right. While practicing how to do an efficient kipping pullup, oops, I accidentally just did 20 not-so-good ones and didn't even notice at the time, like I would standing there, looking at a bar, and thinking, shit. I have to do 20 pullups, yuck. I have had to force myself mentally to STOP picking up that bar, because I can't stand almost but not quite getting the perfect snatch technique. The videos on the site about how the program was developed - Glassman's theory of what fitness IS, are pretty motivating (to me); they make me want to go try it out right now.

The workouts are varied to keep the interest up and most are short enough (not counting warmup and skills practice, less than 20 minutes usually, sometimes 5-10) to not have time to think, bleh, I'm bored. The workouts have a "score" aspect, whether the work is timed, or if you see how much you can do in a certain time, that make a game out of it.

Another thing that helps is that a lot of them are deceptively easy sounding. Here's a scaled down version I use sometimes: 2 pullups, 4 pushups, 6 squats (no bar). Repeat that as many times as you can in 10 min, score is number of complete sets. How hard can that be, right? Keep a bucket handy.

I'm not claiming the CrossFit, uh, how do you say, dogma? - that the teachings are all correct and that it's the one true way. Just saying, the format is very motivating for me and it has improved my fitness drastically.
posted by ctmf at 11:52 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

An attractive (to you) trainer. No, really. I am not a big fan of moving. But I have a trainer. And yes, it's expensive, but I decided I could afford it and that was that [I realize this is not an option for everyone, and also that there are cheaper trainers and gyms than the one I use for a variety of logistical reasons].
I say [attractive to you] trainer because of the variety of incentives that work for me:
-the cost makes me show up. Yes, I realize it's it's a sunk cost, but I'm not actually 'rational economic (wo)man'.
-he's totally waiting for me to show, and if I don't I'm going to be getting, at minimum, irritated voicemail THAT I DO NOT WANT.
-I'm crazy busy right now between work and school, and being in the gym with the trainer means my time is being used really efficiently. I tend to show up and run on the elliptical for 45min or so. He KICKS MY BUTT for an hour. [also, getting my butt kicked is an amazing stress reliver. I'm pretty sure it's the only thing standing between me and some serious mental health intervention at the moment.]
-He's really cute. Did I mention that? And like my "finding a physical therapist" philosophy, I will try to do harder/better that thing I hate (or hurts, if we're talking physical therapy) if my trainer's really cute. Is that lame? Sure. Is it true? Yeah.
posted by atomicstone at 12:15 PM on December 12, 2010

I think trying c25k is your best because once you're out the door, you're doing it. Walk, run, walk and don't worry about staying on schedule. Just drink in your surroundings and enjoy the fact that you're an animal that evolved to run down ungulates across the packed, dry dirt of Africa. Wonderful, eh?!

If the weather is warm enough, consider getting some Vibram Bikilas. I love mine because my feet and ankles feel stronger and my knees are a lot better than they were. I'm 46 and I haven't been my able to maintain my current weight this long since grade 11.

A little exercise is so much better than no exercise.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:29 PM on December 12, 2010

Some people find an exercise regime not very enticing and fare better with game oriented sports: squash, volleyball, batminton, tennis, football etc.
posted by joost de vries at 3:01 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I always hated exercise and dropped out of classes, programs, etc, after the initial novelty wore off...

UNTIL: I found stuff I really enjoyed doing, AND set up a system where I had an obligation to someone else.

Rockclimbing (including indoor) turned out to be ideal for both those reasons. You have to climb with a partner: we had regularly scheduled climbing days, and if I didn't show, she didn't get to climb either, and was mad at me. Plus I really really enjoyed it.

Weightlifting is also one of those things. My workout partner needs me to spot her, and she also finds it hard to motivate herself to go if she knows I won't be there, so I feel an obligation to her. Plus I find lifting awesome fun.

The fun might be enough on its own, but the obligation to someone really helps. You won't feel the same sense of obligation if you exercise in a group since one person fewer doesn't make much difference: a pair is the best way.
posted by lollusc at 3:11 PM on December 12, 2010

Yeah, you know you'll go to classes, so sign up for classes! I have gotten to the point that everything I do at the gym is a class - bootcamp or spinning or yoga or zumba. I not only am more likely to show up for a class, I'm also more likely to drive myself harder. Campuses can be great for fitness class opportunities, so ask around and choose something you enjoy.

And the thing that made the biggest difference for me was realizing that the gym was going to be an essential part of my life for as long as I could make it, and that was a wonderful, healthy thing.
posted by ldthomps at 6:19 PM on December 12, 2010

I was a lot like you until recently. Same inactive family upbringing, thin but no muscle, chronically inactive, tried exercising only to give up a few weeks in. Over the last year or so I've managed to start and keep a regular exercise regimen. Here's what I did:

- Set myself up for success. This was important in so many ways.
Instead of setting goals for myself that were easy to fail ("I will exercise 4 times per week"), I set goals for myself that made it easy to succeed: "I will be more active today than I was before". When you're starting activity level is 0 like mine was, even the most minimal amount of exercise meets the goal.

- Eliminate excuses. I realized that when I used gyms, I would use any inclement weather as an excuse not to go. Now I workout at home.

- Pick exercise you enjoy. If you don't like the exercise you're doing, it will feel like a chore and you will find reasons to avoid it. I hate running, so doing C25K is not going to work for me. I like some of the Wii fitness games because I can trick myself into thinking I'm playing a game. I like hiking because the scenery is so nice, I forget I'm getting exercise.

- Keep it fresh. I get bored fairly easily, and once I'm bored I find myself dreading my work out. When I get to that point, I switch to something else. I use a combination of various exercise DVDs, Wii fitness games, and outdoor activities to prevent boredom. Netflix is great for renting exercise DVDs if you like to always have something new.

- Go easy on yourself. I used to go all out my first few workouts, until I found myself so sore after the first week that I dreaded working out and would give up after the 2nd week. Pace yourself. You don't need to exercise to muscle fatigue right from the start. Remember if you're starting from nothing, any exercise is better than none.

- Cut yourself some slack. There will be days when for whatever reason, you just don't feel like working out: sick, tired, too busy, etc. That's OK. Don't use a missed day or even week as an excuse to quit. Just get right back to it at the next opportunity.
posted by geeky at 8:43 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are many ways to keep motivation for physical fitness, but if your inclined to analytical thinking then you should make sure you measure something. I've found that once I'm keeping track of my progress the motivation comes much easier. Exercising becomes part of what I do rather than something I force.

Of course you should pick sensible things to measure. Try to pick something intrinsic to the activity (duration, distance, speed, etc) rather than something about your body, such as weight. The point is to mentally dig into the workout and detach.
posted by dgran at 8:12 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are a couple of different ways you can approach exercise. One is to find an exercise that you like, so you'll be more likely to do it. Another is to acknowledge that exercising sucks, and only crazy people like it, so when it starts to suck you can say to yourself "Me, I knew this was going to suck when I started. And it's sucking. I can't say I didn't warn me". No surprises.

Sticking with it was always the problem for me. The nice thing is that after about two years I became "a runner" and now it's hard for me not to run in the morning (I haven't run in a week because of a cold and my body is complaining). The bad news is that it did actually take about two years. I have a couple of suggestions here:

1. Have a goal. Couch to 5K is great, but I'd really suggest planning that 5K before you start. And when you are done with that race, schedule another race immediately. Then plan a 10K for six months out and pencil in a couple of dates for that half marathon.

2. Go easy on yourself. Missing a day (or two) or even a week (or two) isn't the end of the world. Give yourself permission to flake out every now and then and you'll find it easier to get back into the grove. In fact, assume you are going to flake. Don't plan on five days a week of exercise, because then doing only two days is a failure. Plan on two days a week and then doing two days is a success!
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:19 AM on December 13, 2010

But I think that unixrat's and ifjuly's and gjc's comments about simply making regular exercise the default choice, above, are perhaps expressing some similar restructuring-your-psyche sentiments from a secular perspective.

As I read the other day: You can't be the person you want to be if you don't stop being the person that you are.
posted by unixrat at 12:01 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

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