I’ve stopped working out countless times in my life. I don’t even count how many times I start going to the gym because I inevitably stop for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s motivation, a lingering injury, or some other bullshit reason that I drum up in my head to give me a reason to stop.
Consistency is hard, whether it’s writing on Medium or working out. That’s why not everyone is Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tim Denning.
I started working remotely last year and picked up my gym habit for what seems like the hundredth time. I go 5 days a week, usually around lunchtime, and after hitting the gym regularly for a few months I start to notice the same people there.
It’s a split between the regulars and newcomers. Some regulars are your token buff dudes and some are ladies who can squat twice my body weight. They stand out after a while because I always see them. They show up.
New people to the gym are obvious, not due to their (lack of) fitness level, but because they often start out with a personal trainer and then progress to working out on their own.
I still remember what it was like going to the gym for the very first time. I was skinny-fat, self-conscious about everything, and didn’t know what half the equipment did. I’d sit down at a machine and fiddle with the knobs until I could determine how it worked.
I could barely bench press the empty bar, just 45 pounds.
I’m far from a bodybuilder, and even though I’m not lifting hundreds of pounds I consider myself an intermediate weight lifter. My biggest accomplishment in the gym was putting a 45-pound weight on each side of the bar for my three main lifts: bench press, squat, and deadlift.
Those big weights are called plates, and people who work out often will talk about how they can bench two plates, or how they just did a 3-plate deadlift, which is 405lbs.
For me, achieving that first plate for all three of my main lifts took over a year of working out 5 days a week. It was so satisfying to put a 45-pound weight on each side of the bar and rep out a clean set of 8.
There is no shame in lifting light weights. I’ve never seen anyone get mocked or made fun of at the gym. The gym is encouraging, which can seem sort of ridiculous to people who don’t go often. What could be encouraging about being the skinniest, wimpiest kid surrounded by really attractive and fit people?
I’ve had complete strangers walk up and offer to help spot me when they see me struggling. I’ve done the same for other people because we’re all on the same team: us against the weights.
I watch the newcomers because not too long ago I was just like them. I relate more to them. I’m still more like the out of shape guy on the elliptical than the buff dude loudly deadlifting 3 plates. Physically I’m closer to the guy who just started coming to the gym than I am to any bodybuilder, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be buff enough to have a 3 plate benchpress.
Hitting that first plate is the most impressive gym achievement to me because you started a habit from scratch and stuck with it for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, going from 2 plates to 3 is also impressive, but in a different way. At that point, you’ve been lifting for years, and you’ve built a consistent habit and a stronger base muscle strength.
But starting to workout for the first time, maybe for the first time ever in your life, takes work, commitment, and mental fortitude to stick with it. You have to put all doubt aside and show up, even when you’re not seeing results and you’re afraid everyone at the gym is judging you.
Hitting that first milestone at the gym takes longer than you want. You can go to the gym for months without seeing much progress and it can take 3 to 4 months to see the muscles develop, depending on your current level of fitness.
After a year I’m finally seeing muscles appear that I’ve been working out 5 days a week to get. I can finally do a lot of pull-ups in a comfortable way. I did 40 today, but it took me a year to get there.
The trick to getting fit? Consistency. If you want to be good at anything the formula is the exact same. Success = time + effort.
Show up. Put the work in.
And take inspiration from those starting their journey because you’re more like them than you think.
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