What's a good mindset/approach for developing a workout routine?
May 21, 2012 5:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm in okay shape, but fitness and athleticism don't come naturally to me at all. Gyms are weird and stressful. Any advice on the best way to think about and develop a good workout routine?

A little background: I'm all about eating well and drinking lots of water, but fitness is kind of a mystery to me.

I was always embarrassingly bad at sports as a kid. That, coupled with generally just being an anxious/awkward dude, has kind of scared me away from any sort of group exercise.

I briefly got into a running routine about a year and a half ago (thanks, Couch to 5k) and got to where I was running 3-5 miles a few times per week, but I moved and started a new job and fell out of that routine. I'd like to pick it back up but I know running's only a piece of the puzzle. I should probably also get over my anxiety and join a gym but I don't think I've lifted weights in a decade, and frankly, I'm not even sure I'd know which ones to go with.

Just to clarify, I'm not asking for a specific workout plan. I'm just wondering if anyone has any advice on the best way to figure out what sort of exercise makes sense for an individual, where the best resources are for planning a workout routine, and so on.

I'm fully aware that I need to get over my fear of making an ass of myself and accept it as inevitable, but I'd be seriously grateful for a little guidance on the education/planning side.
posted by whymog to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
What worked for me was joining a martial arts gym with a tough yet supportive coach. I go to class not only because I want to be fit and healthy, but also because I want to live up to my coach's expectations for me. When he chastises me for not showing up or not working hard enough in class, I feel bad, and when he compliments me I feel AWESOME. It's kept me coming back for like seven months so far, which is a lot longer than I've ever stuck with any form of exercise before.

Basically, I just accepted the fact that I'm not very self-motivated, and I pay someone else to motivate me instead!
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:34 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you're not into the gym, there are lots of body weight exercises that you can do at home with little-to-no equipment. When I was first getting into strength exercises, I used the website SparkPeople.com, which will generate strength workouts and you can specify how often, whether/what equipment you have, etc. (If you're not looking to lose weight, you can totally ignore that part of the site - the workouts and videos are still really useful.)

I've also found that I find the gym less intimidating if I
a) wear headphones and listen to music to sort of tune everyone else out
b) go at non-busy times (especially the first few times until you know where things are, etc.)

Although the weight room can totally seem intimidating, I've been working my way up to doing more workouts there using these strategies! You probably shouldn't try the barbell weights without knowing what you're doing, but most of the machines have instructions on them and little diagrams of what you're supposed to do. If you go at a non-busy time, you can take your time reading the instructions and playing around with different amounts of weights to see what amount is difficult-but-not-impossible.

If you have the $$, of course, you can also hire a personal trainer who could show you how the weight room stuff works and give you a more personalized plan.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:44 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Similar to Couch-to-5K are One Hundred Pushups and its companion sites, 200 Situps, 150 Dips and 200 Squats. You can do most of those wherever you want, which helps with the gym anxiety.
posted by Etrigan at 6:02 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

I joined a gym a few years ago that has a ton of spinning, yoga and pilates classes. I really like structure, but in a group setting.

However, about six months ago I stopped going to the gym altogether, but because I developed a few personal connections while I was there, I just started going again and got a trainer. It really helps having an appointment. I was really obsessed about "finding the right regimen" that it sort of kept me from going to the gym.
posted by phaedon at 6:11 PM on May 21, 2012

I would try a lot of things and see which ones work for you. I used to be all about martial arts and not very in to lifting weights, but now I lift frequently and gave up on martial arts. I used to hate running, now I do it at least weekly. I was never a biker, but I just bought a bike and have been riding it 5-6 times per week. I used to lift at home, then I joined a gym, now I'm mostly back to the gym. I could never get in to bouldering or lap swimming despite trying.

What I'm getting at is: the best exercises for you are the ones you enjoy, so it's worth it to try new things periodically. I'm not saying you have to go try all of those things at once - my story above is the past 6 years - but I think the way to figure out a plan is to try a few things. Borrow a bike and bike around a bit. Buy a barbell and plates and do deadlifts and rows once a week. Many martial arts gyms will do a free session or free week, go to that. If you like something, stick with it, but if you stop liking it go ahead and try something new. What you enjoy can change (especially when your schedule changes and you have to re-order your time) so don't hesitate to try something new. Also, some of your exercise repertoire doesn't have to be a "routine." I really love canoeing, but I don't get to do it very often. But when I can get out for a 2 hr, 4 hr, or weekend trip, I do. That beats the hell out of a routine.

If you're worried about weights, buy Starting Strength and read/skim it. It keeps things simple, gives good advice, and demystifies lifting weights. It's a really good starting point if you're interested in weights but are feeling lost.

Finally, about the awkward kid thing: I was definitely an adult before most of my awkwardness subsided. I think it's pretty normal to still feel awkward about exercise. The only thing that really helps me (other than caring about others' opinions less now that I'm not a teenager) is just doing more and more physical activity. I was terrible at BJJ when I did it, and after 2 years of doing it I was only at "good enough to do it without embarrassment" level. But you know what? Now I can do it without embarrassment. Same with a lot of the activities I've picked up - I'm never going to be a star, but I just did them anyway and I can do them confidently now. And it gets easier once you've done a few activities. So the best advice I can give is just to get out there and try some things, and the awkwardness will likely subside a little bit every time you're active.
posted by Tehhund at 6:19 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like showbiz_liz, I found joining a martial arts class excellent. I generally feel awkward in exercisatoriums but my taekwondo class has been great. I think the right group is so much more important than the 'best possible exercise'. If you think you might be interested in giving it a go, try out a few places until you strike gold.

My group is encouraging and diverse (kids, seniors, pregnant women, highly accomplished senior belts, about a 50:50 male female mix). I was never shamed for being grossly unfit when I started. Everyone is working at a level they are challenged and have better things to do than watch my every move. It takes me forever to learn combinations of moves and it is no big deal I'm so slow... they just keep showing me.

People text me if I haven't been for a while. Praise feels great. I'm very strong now and enjoy the feeling I could kick someone in the face if I chose to* while walking through an obnoxious shopping centre.

*I would never do this.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:20 PM on May 21, 2012

Set goals for what you personally want to accomplish. If you view your workout as a competition with everyone around you, it's easy to feel intimidated. If you approach it as setting and meeting personal goals, everything else fades into the background (especially once you establish a good work out rhythm). I hated sports and group activities when I was younger, but I have no problem going to a gym now because everything is on my own terms and at my own pace.

The fitness section on reddit is a knowledgeable and welcoming community for figuring out how to set and meet fitness goals.

Also, some gyms have personal trainers you can hire for a session or two. It might be worthwhile to take a few sessions to learn how to use the machines. After that, I'd go during times when it is not busy until you work up your confidence. Also, it's good to remember most other people aren't going to be judging you, they're going to be focused on their own work out. Good luck!
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 6:27 PM on May 21, 2012

You might have to try a few things to find the place that you are really comfortable, but I recommend small-to-medium group classes where you can get *some* direction from a teacher/leader/coach. I find this works a lot better for me, personally, that just going to gym and working out on my own. I also have a bit of that uncomfortableness working out in public, but I've found it goes away a lot quicker when you have someone helping you with your form, and when you have a groups smaller enough that you can get some camaraderie with your classmates.

Gyms like the Y are good for group classes. My workouts of choice are Crossfit and vinyasa yoga though. I also Run 3-4x a week.
posted by Brittanie at 6:34 PM on May 21, 2012

I hate gyms. I've had memberships for years, and have never been able to go on a regular basis.

Two years ago, after I finished rehabbing an ACL repair, I discovered Triathlons. I joined one of the well-known "raise money for our good cause and we'll train you how to finish" organizations. Coaching, group workouts (socialization is always fun, and misery loves company), and learning how to swim, bike and run properly made a tremendous difference. Changed my life. I wasn't in terrible shape, but I finished in the best shape I'd been in since the 1990s.

I've been rehabbing my latest injury for a while now, and I'm reminded again how much I hate gyms. I start cycling and swimming again later this week, and I can't wait.
posted by swngnmonk at 6:35 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't need to be in the gym or on a sports team for fitness stuff. As you say, outdoors running is great. You don't need a gym to get strong either - you can do pullups on playground equipment, pushups and situps anywhere outside, lunges, decline pushups with your feet on a park bench, etc. Body-weight exercise results in a healthy physique and the sort of real-world strength that just makes life easier. I recommend it whole-heartedly.
posted by kavasa at 6:50 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I might suggest not worrying about what is "right." Unless you have an active job, anything you do will be better than not doing anything at all. Running three times a week is great. Add some pushups and crunches into the mix and you'll be in pretty good shape. Not Iron Man shape, probably, but pretty good shape. Once you need more challenges, then you can set more specific goals. But really, just getting into the habit of doing anything at all is a good start.
posted by elizeh at 7:33 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find a small gym; a corporate one in an office building or a hotel one works well. There are generally fewer people there (outside of lunch hours) and you have a lot more room to work out on your own.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:02 PM on May 21, 2012

I was always terrible at sports too. Pickup basketball was humiliating, and I dropped out of the neighborhood soccer league to focus on academics in 6th grade. Not the greatest way to build a balanced life. So, coming from that perspective, for me the best exercise is one you can do consistently several times a week. This same approach applies in a lot of places, from savings plans (automatic is best), to marketing a product. The idea is to have a cue, followed by a routine, followed by a reward. Sometimes a workout buddy can be your cue; paying a trainer is fine but fear of letting down your friends, for better or worse, is one of the most powerful motivations in existence.

If you're running three times a week, especially at a consistent time, that's great. Once you get out of bed, you know what the routine is. Same goes for strength training; have a program so you don't show up at the gym with a glassy stare.

See if you can work a (non-food) reward in there, like timing yourself and tracking it at Fitocracy. I love coming back from a workout to see the latest notch on my metaphorical belt.

As for gyms, please know that I was also intimidated by them. However, also please know that 90% of the people you see have no idea what they are doing, or why. And that specifically includes the trainers, at least at my 24 Hour Fitness. If you come in there with a routine and an emphasis on correct form, you're honestly way ahead of the game. I started off at a small company gym and got my feet wet, now I'm on the Costco deal at 24 Hour Fitness and could not care less what the other people are doing. Remember, just because the guy next to you is using a weight of hundreds of pounds does not mean he is working harder than you, let alone making more progress. Good luck!
posted by wnissen at 8:10 PM on May 21, 2012

Look into your local YMCA! People of all kinds work out there, and it's usually cheaper than a "normal" gym.
posted by zsazsa at 8:53 PM on May 21, 2012

I'm quite uncomfortable in gyms. I like running and biking.

And: Rock climbing is my sport.
posted by krilli at 4:57 AM on May 22, 2012

As a fellow gym-hater and terribly uncoordinated person with no natural sports ability, I still love my sports now that I'm used to them, and after several years of playing I'm much much better at them too! It might help your nerves if you go with a friend who plays - there are a lot of recreational-level soccer and volleyball leagues in my city which welcome noncompetitive players (and other sports, but those are what I play).

I also really liked kung fu, although I don't do it anymore (got lazy/sports are more fun and less hard work). Biking is tolerable too, although I get bored. Squash is super fun and good cardio, and you only need one friend to play against.

I'd try a few different sports and just see how it goes, especially if you're prone to "falling out of routines" like I am. Genuinely enjoying it helps a lot with that!!
posted by randomnity at 5:54 AM on May 22, 2012

If you find gyms weird and stressful, there's no reason you need to join one. What kept you running when you were doing it regularly - what did you like about it? Have you tried biking? Could you bike to work or to run errands? That's an easy way to work exercise into your life.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:57 AM on May 22, 2012

Definitely don't go to gyms if you don't like them.

You Are Your Own Gym

Also, some people like workout DVDs like Insanity.

Try lots of different workouts or sports and perhaps you will find something you like. The key is to like it. Figure out what you like. I like running in part because I like being outside alone and feeling like I am going somewhere. Other people like to be sociable so they exercise with others--maybe a team sport, or they run together, etc.

Some people like to watch TV so they use a treadmill with one of those little built in TVs and they do it during their favorite show.

There is an immense number of ways to be active--inside and outside, team and solo, very organized or less organized. Don't bother with the gym if you don't like it.
posted by massysett at 7:51 AM on May 22, 2012

Lots of good advice here, but one thing you must understand: Nobody at the gym cares about you or your workout. They don't even notice you. True of life in general, in my experience.
posted by LonnieK at 10:21 AM on May 22, 2012

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