Unexpected Life Lessons from the Gym

Now there’s a title I never thought I’d type.

It’s been bang on a year since I started regularly going to training at AG Fitness and it’s been nearly 10 months since I upped my sessions to three times a week. In the past, I never saw myself as being a “gym person”, with injuries, chronic illness and a general disdain for exercise, but that’s definitely changed. I’ve spoken a bit about how empowering I found exercise in the past, and after a year of semi-regular gym sessions, I wanted to share some of the unexpected life lessons I’ve learned in the gym environment.

Life lessons learned in the gym - Colours and Carousels

Life Lesson 1: Exercise doesn’t have to be boring

I remember when my local council gym installed those machines with the built-in televisions and I thought it was going to change the game with my gym-going habits. Surprise, surprise – it didn’t. I never thought I’d see the day where I could be bored whilst watching Come Dine With Me, but stick me in the gym and give me dinner party drama is suddenly mind-numbing.

It was off-putting, to say the least, but at the time I thought that was the only kind of gym out there. I tried classes like Zumba and various aerobics style workouts, but they still weren’t my cup of tea. I thought I was doomed to a life of boring exercise, but training with Andy, Juan and Finlay has shown me that exercise doesn’t have to be boring.

They don’t get the glowsticks out (although that’s something I’d pay to see) and the soundtrack can be questionable, but they still make it as enjoyable as exercise possibly can be. 

Life Lesson 2: Success looks different to everyone

This is something that took me a long time to come around to, particularly in the gym environment. I was constantly putting myself down or feeling disheartened because I wasn’t lifting as much as the other people in team training, or because I couldn’t do certain exercises or found something difficult.

Now, I realise that I should be focusing on how far I’ve come in the gym. This time last year I could barely carry my handbag without being in pain from a shoulder injury. Now I can deadlift nearly my entire body weight. Yes, there are still things I struggle with, but I’ve made so much progress in the past year. It’s something I need to appreciate more.

Life Lesson 3: I am more than my injuries and illness

This was one of the first lessons to come out of my time at the gym, and I touched on it back in my post about exercise and empowerment. My health isn’t the greatest for a 23-year-old, with a shoulder injury that’s been the bane of my life since last summer, and chronic conditions that exhaust me daily.

I’ve started referring to my health as a game of Whack-a-Mole, because as soon as one thing is sorted, another issue pops up in its place. It’s not fun, but I’m used to it now, and I know that I’m lucky enough that I can still live a pretty normal life considering. 

What the gym taught me, however, is that I don’t have to be defined by my medical records. Yes, I have a dodgy shoulder, but I can also deadlift more than I ever thought possible. I may not be the picture of health from the outside, but I think I’m the fittest I’ve ever been.

Life Lesson 4: The gym shouldn’t be intimidating

I think Andy prides himself on having built a gym that’s incredibly welcoming and is full of people who are happy to help – he’s right to do so. I used to hate going to the gym, knowing that it was full of sweaty guys staring at themselves in the mirror or people judging others who didn’t know how to use a certain machine. AG Fitness isn’t like that, fortunately, and instead, it’s a really supportive environment without a mirror in sight.

By the time team training rolls around, my brain is usually a little bit fried from a long day in front of a computer or in lectures. I’m not great at figuring out weight percentages, and I’m awful at keeping count of reps, but there’s always someone on hand to help when I’m confused. Multi-tasking isn’t my strong point, so when it comes to remembering to breathe, keeping count and actually doing the exercise, I need all of the help I can get. It’s there, though, ready and waiting for me when I need it.

Life Lesson 5: Rabbit food is for rabbits

Diet is usually my biggest downfall when it comes to the gym. In the past, I felt like exercise went hand in hand with a picture perfect diet, and there was no point in doing one without the other. Not great, considering that good food is one of the greatest joys in my life. Finding a gym with good trainers who can offer useful, actionable and relevant advice on diet and nutrition has been really helpful for me.

Sure, my diet could definitely be better, but at least I know what I should be aiming for and know how to forge better habits. I’ve got a much better awareness of how my body works and what it needs to power it, even if that might not look like a share bag of chocolate buttons.

Food has always been a bit of a sore spot for me, and I’ve not had the healthiest attitude to it in the past, but I’ve been learning how to treat my body better. It’s cliche, but it really is all about balance and moderation, which I’m slowly figuring out. I’m getting better at thinking of the bigger picture and knowing when I can be a bit more lenient with what I eat, as well as where to be stricter. I care more about fuelling my body, as opposed to eating for the sake of eating.

Life Lesson 6: Team work makes the dream work

I’ve realised that accountability and support systems are really important for me to make progress. I like to have people to share experiences with and talk things through with. It was unexpected for me, because I am hugely introverted and have the joy of social anxiety. I genuinely feel more comfortable exercising with someone – even if that is just one of the trainers.

I appreciate having someone on hand to keep me in check and tell me that I’m doing it right, whilst also being there to help me adapt exercises to suit my injuries and find alternatives. It makes the whole experience a lot less intimidating, and makes the challenges feel a whole lot easier to face.

It helps that everyone who goes to AG Fitness is pretty sound, and they’re willing to put up with my shitty music taste when I undertake a hostile takeover of the sound system. There’s only so much Abba most people can put up with, but the team training group have the patience of saints.

All in all, I think I’ve finally found my “thing” that I enjoy with exercise, and that seems to be half the battle for me. I didn’t expect to love the gym as much as I do, and I certainly didn’t expect to learn so many lessons whilst I was there either.