Give your friendly neighbourhood gym another chance

by Saba Imtiaz

I recently moved into a new place around the corner from two doughnut shops, four barbecue restaurants and rather conveniently, a highly rated, pricey gym. As I explored my new neighbourhood (*translation: ate far too many kebabs) I ended up taking a tour of the gym too. I felt like I was on the set of a grungy ’80s Bollywood film. It was dimly lit, no one seemed particularly happy to be there, the weight-training section was dominated by men, and when I enquired about the fees, my guide said, “Well, it’s over 20,000 rupees, but we want to encourage ladies, so it’s 15,000.” Never trust anyone who says “ladies”.

Everyone signs up for a gym membership at least once in their life, even though it’s rare to find anyone who actually enjoys going — or gets their money’s worth. The key to doing that, as I’ve learnt since, is to do more than just sign up for a room with a treadmill.
That room itself has evolved over the years. Exercise spaces today offer everything from the atmospheric (candlelit SoulCycle classes) to the adventurous (Gold Medal Bodies aka the GMB method, a new outlook on fitness that focuses on wholesome results). Like at a buffet, you have to have a strategy chalked out if you want to get the most out of what’s out there. “Most times people don’t have a goal when they sign up at the gym, and just do what everyone else is doing,” observes Satish Narkar, a Mumbai-based trainer. In other words, get your head in the right zone and the body will follow. How do you do that? Just ask yourself these questions.

What do I really want?

“A lot of people think they need to feel a certain way [while exercising] because of what we see in the media,” says GMB co-founder Ryan Hurst. “Focus on the real reason you’re exercising. Maybe you want to be able to play with your children more, or be better at enjoying some of the other things in your life.” Before you start, take time to think about what you like doing, your goals and a space that can help you do that. This way, you’re more likely to be consistent.

Are these people nice?

“As a 20-year-old, I never thought I could stand in front of 60 people in my sports bra,” says Emily Turner, a senior instructor at SoulCycle in New York, describing a self-consciousness that so many women feel at the gym. “Yet I do it, day after day because it’s a safe place.” It’s just as important to find a trainer who understands your body. Narkar is a huge advocate of personal training. “It’ll cost a bit more, but think of the trainer as your teacher.” But stay well away from gym bulliess. Turner says, “Instructors should motivate through positivity that will lift you up instead of breaking you down.”

Who is my Jane Fonda?

Celebrate your body because you can’t change the way you’re built. Maybe you want to ditch #wokeuplikethis and embrace #thickandfit, a la Lita Lewis. The New York-based fitness professional says that as a woman of colour she could never find the right aspirational body type in the media for her muscular frame, and so she decided to be her own model. She started by describing herself as ‘thick’ on social media (@Followthelita) and ended up inspiring thousands of women. “It is super important that we all become our own cheerleaders,” Lewis says.

Is this all about me?

Time you spend exercising is quality me-time. So get comfortable: ditch tight leggings for harem pants and fluorescent tank tops for loose tees. Stay focused on the process, even 
if it’s tempting to run an imaginary race against the person on the treadmill next to you. And no TV, either. Working out requires you to be in the moment, rather than just tick things off a sheet. Hurst says he doesn’t care how many reps you can do as long as you “focus on doing it once as well as you can — and then do it again.”

What’s the small picture?

Check in with your trainer regularly about what you’d like to achieve and how you’re faring. The GMB method measures baby steps — how many more crunches can you do, how many extra seconds can you hold the ‘plank’ — and shows you how far you’ve come. “This awareness is so important,” Hurst says. “It’s the feeling you want: of owning your own body, that sense of complete physical autonomy. Maybe you won’t see these big results right away, but if you’re feeling better about yourself, that’s an improvement.”

Where my peeps at?

Get a gym buddy. “If two people go together, it helps them get out of the comfort zone,” says Narkar. SoulCycle’s runaway success is often credited to the energy and camaraderie in the room. Turner says, “In class, I always say that we support one another’s goals, often without saying a word, just with our actions.” Or get online to feel part of a community: share your progress on social media, or post updates on a fitness app. 

Can I get back on track?

There are so many excuses to skip gym this morning: you’re bloated from the bag of chips you ate last night or maybe you’ve put on weight even after weeks of working out. Remind yourself that a binge isn’t a sin and the weight gain could just as well be from increased muscle mass. Fitness takes resilience and consistency, points out Lewis. “We’re all human, we’re going to slip up. But if the next decision you make is the right one, you’ll inevitably find that the shorter goals turn into bigger goals and successes.”

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