SOME THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT EXERCISE

By the time I started doing exercise, I didn’t know shit about it.

Thanks in part to my abysmal physical education and, more likely, my own excruciating laziness, I stumbled into adulthood with all the exercise-capability of an elephant in ice skates.

I’d heard rumours and I clung, for dear life, onto the ones that I liked the sound of; 100 sit-ups a night would get me a flat stomach, a brisk walk was better for me than a run, that 15 minute workouts, three times a week, were enough to get me into shape.

But I didn’t know anything with any real confidence. I didn’t know if running was better for me outside or on the treadmill. I didn’t know how to get abs if not for sit-ups. I didn’t know how much I needed to do before it would make a difference. I didn’t know the difference between fat and muscle. I didn’t know how long a workout should be, or how often I ought to be doing them. I didn’t know what exercise was best for my body-type. I didn’t know what time of day to workout at. I didn’t know if I should be boxing or spinning, running or lifting, stretching or swimming.

Like I say, by the time I came to start doing exercise, I didn’t know shit.

And for a long time after that too actually, things remained the same.

I’d go to the gym, I’d try the classes, buy the leggings, do the sit-ups, inhale the proteins and stretch the muscles, all the while not really knowing what it was I was doing… Or why I was even doing it.

Even as I got fitter and fitter, learning more and more as I went, there remained this block in my head; this lack of confidence that came from having to “learn on the job”.

I think I thought that until I was less than 5% body fat and running ultra marathons every morning before my egg white omelette breakfast, I wouldn’t “know” enough about exercise.

But I’ve realised, over the last few months, as I’ve been training to run Edinburgh Marathon and therefore spending an inordinate amount of time, even by my standards, in activewear, that I actually know rather a lot. I’ve been exercising, at times quite impressively, for seven years now and I realise I’ve cultivated a rather expansive breadth of knowledge… And literally none of it is what I thought it would be.

So with that in mind, I thought I would share some of the little things that I have learned about exercise. The things that I didn’t think I had learned, or was right to believe. The little tips and tricks and helpful nuggets of wisdom and joy that I have picked up along the way.

  • Walking actually counts
  • You don’t have to do it every day
  • There are so many different types
  • Five minutes are so much better than no minutes
  • You don’t have to be in a gym to exercise
  • You can literally stop as many times as you need to
  • You will almost never regret a workout
  • Weightlifting does not make you bulky
  • If you don’t like one form of exercise it’s okay to stop it and look for an alternative
  • It is clinically proven to help sufferers of mental illness
  • It can be sociable
  • It can be really fun
  • No, it actually can be
  • So much of it is in your head
  • You don’t need to have 2% body fat to be deemed “fit”
  • You can actually have fat rolls and be fit
  • You can also eat pizza and be fit
  • No one in the gym is really looking at you
  • No honestly, they’re not
  • Weight loss is mostly diet related (soz)
  • Good trainers are really important
  • Swimming is a bloody faff but unreal for your body (read my ‘how to swim in a public pool post here!)
  • Booking into a class is a great incentive to actually go
  • Everyone was a beginner once
  • You don’t need expensive kit to get started
  • Running really actually is nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other
  • Cycling is sometimes almost easy
  • It’s okay to not really know what you’re doing
  • It’s okay to ask for help
  • It’s really true that the more you do, the better you’ll get
  • Documenting your workouts can really help (I use a Garmin running watch and the Polar app when I’m in the gym)
  • There is nothing quite as good for the soul as putting your body through absolute hell, risking bursting an eardrum as you blast an emotive song through your headphones, sweating, burning, ready to quit, but deciding to keep going for just one more minute…
  • Better than any therapy, I reckon.

And because there is always more to learn, I decided to put the question to my Instagram followers too; what’s the most important thing they’ve learned about exercise?

  • Exercise isn’t a competition
  • Sweat is nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s just proof that you’ve worked hard!
  • Exercise is done for you and not for anyone else
  • Exercise is a privilege and not a chore
  • It isn’t about the way you look, it’s about how you feel
  • The mental benefits are actually better than the physical ones
  • When you find something you love, it won’t feel so much like hard work
  • Persistence is key
  • One step is all it takes
  • Focussing on physical strength rather than using weight as a target is far more effective
  • That people say it makes you feel better for a reason
  • Stretching is key
  • Not to measure progress by someone else’s scale
  • Pain can become pleasant after a while
  • Exercise isn’t there to punish you, it’s something to help your mind and your body to feel goof
  • If you feel guilty for not exercising, you are exercising for the wrong reasons
  • I might not always want it but I’ll regret the workouts I don’t do
  • It’s a fantastic healer
  • Slow and steady
  • Meet yourself where you are and show yourself some grace when it is hard; it’s your journey
  • Consistency is key
  • It is for EVERYONE no matter your size or experience
  • When I exercise I am happier
  • Don’t judge yourself against others, everyone’s fitness journey is different
  • For every moment of sadness, you lose a moment of happiness
  • Doing something is better than nothing, Doing 1 rep out of 5 is better than not going at all
  • When you look back at all those little bit betters, they’ll have made a massive impact
  • There comes a great sense of freedom and knowing you’re doing a little bit better than before
  • It takes for fucking ever for you to notice the results, but when you do it is GREAT
  • Don’t do it for anyone but yourself
  • The key to success is to switch it up and keep yourself interested
  • Have fun and do something you actually enjoy
  • Never to feel discouraged by other gym goers, we are all there to improve!
  • To breathe in your nose and out through your mouth, I never believed it in PE but it’s a lifesaver
  • It’s better to do 5 reps of an exercise done well than 12 reps done badly
  • Don’t base your efforts off of others
  • Most of it is in your head; motivation can do everything
  • Progress can be slow but celebrate the small wins
  • You can gain wonderful friends through suffering together
  • It saved me
  • Half an hour of exercise in the morning sets you in the right mood for the rest of the day
  • It’s best to leave your ego outside
  • It doesn’t have to involve kit or glasses, just move, do your own thing and enjoy!
  • You have to get to know your body in order to be friends with it
  • Sit-ups don’t get rid of belly fat
  • It can be a lifesaver for anxiety
  • Exercise made me realise how disconnected I had become with my body
  • No matter your shape or your size, you are doing this for you and for nobody else
  • It gets easier

These are the things I wish I had learned so much sooner about exercise. I often wonder what the physical landscape in this country would look like if we were taught the mental importance of keeping fit when we were at school.

If we weren’t forced into competitive sports, rather, found something that worked for us an encouraged to keep at it until the benefits made themselves known.

Alas, physical education remains a bit of a disaster and most of these lessons, we’ve learned in adulthood. Which I suppose, is better than if we hadn’t learned them at all.

Exercise is great for our bodies, but essential to our minds. It’s not about other people, it’s not a competition or a race, it is something we should do entirely for ourselves. It’s not a chore, it’s a privilege and we ought to try and enjoy it wherever we possibly can.

Unless you’re doing burpees, in which case, you’re well within your rights to cry and moan and scream and flounce out of the gym like the lil’ diva that you are.

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