You work out for awhile and then… you miss a day. Then one missed session turns into two, and two turns into three, and soon you find you can’t remember when the last time you exercised. Was it that spin class you went to with a friend in 2013? But didn’t you go running once last summer, too?
Or maybe you’re here because you’ve never felt comfortable in a gym in the first place (the smell! The bros! And what are all those machines even for?!). Whatever the reason, when you find yourself out of shape and taking the first steps of what you fear might be a LONG road, don’t despair. You don’t have to go it alone: I’ve canvassed many a veteran gym-junkie to create this handy guide to the territory!
Whatever your preferred form of exercise (jiu jitsu anyone?), you’ll find below a list of the things that many of us experience. There’s the good, the bad, and the things that seem bad at first, but turn out to be surprisingly gratifying.
1. Ravenous hunger
You’ve been hungry in the past, but NOT LIKE THIS. If you’ve previously been mostly sedentary, your system will likely be surprised by your sudden increase in activity. So don’t be alarmed if you find yourself hungry enough to eat your own bodyweight in quiche. You may even need to eat a bit MORE than you’re used to eating if you want to burn fat without starving your muscles in the process.
2. Obscene soreness (but not forever!)
Being why-did-I-try-this-I-think-I’m-dying-oh-gawd-make-it-stop sore after your first few training sessions is, in fact, totally normal (even if you’re already active!). Luckily, this should be dramatically reduced after the first week or two.
Bonus: a good coach will help you learn to distinguish between soreness-type pain and pain-pain. You’ll come to know the difference between, as one of my clients puts it, “this hurts in a good way, this is making me stronger” and “this is causing me harm.”
If your workouts consistently leave you feeling WRECKED the next day, you are probably doing too much. Consider pulling back some (less weight, fewer reps, etc) and see how you feel. What you do in the gym should be a compliment to the activities that make up your civilian life (outside of the gym), not a hinderance to them. Just like the old adage: sometimes less is more.
Massage can be helpful too– not just for feeling better, which is great, but also for speeding up recovery time between workouts and having better movement quality and better results. Looking for a kickass local massage therapist? I recommend Zenful Monkey and Lifelong Body Therapy, as they are excellent practitioners who also lift weights themselves and have a nuanced understanding of athletic recovery.
3. More (and better) Z’s
Sleeping like a college student the day after finals are due is an often-overlooked benefit of regular training. Your body is doing more work for you now, so it’s going to shut down a bit more at the end of the day to make up for it. Sometimes there will be sleep disruption while you adjust to a new schedule (waking up earlier to meet with your personal trainer, or winding down after an evening session), but after the first few months you will find that your sleep is greatly improved.
4. More energy outside the gym
On the flipside, if you’re doing it right, exercising regularly will make you feel less sleepy during the rest of the day. Many gym-goers find that they have more consistent energy and focus– even after getting up at the crack of dawn to do kettlebell swings. That means that your workouts could even improve your productivity and help you accomplish more in your work and home life. It’s a double-win!
5. Your new social circle
You’re in the club now, and when others find out that you train, it’ll be like knowing the secret handshake. Enjoy the knowing looks at the chalk dust on your gym duds and the woeful commiseration about getting though… ehem, I mean kicking ass at… all those 6am kettlebell swings. The community is also a serious boon– you don’t just have coaches, but a whole tribe of new friends that can help you find the best zero-rise shoes, figure out how to work your food-tracking app, and even lend you a hand re-racking your weights from time to time.
Oh, and did I mention that your Facebook newsfeed will probably become pictures of women deadlifting more than their own bodyweight, your friends’ latests attempts at batch cooking, and motivation memes galore (see below).
6. Stagnating on the scale
You’re working out, eating better, and feeling great, but the numbers on the scale may not change right away. Oh, you’ll feel the effects of exercise fairly quickly, but if your weight doesn’t drop right away, don’t let it get you down (pun intended, of course). Your new training regimen will build muscle and burn fat… but since muscle weighs more than fat even though it takes up less space, your weight may stay the same or even increase at first. That means that your clothes will probably fit looser (at least in most places…) before the scale tells you that you’ve made any progress toward your goals. Yes, many of us– especially women– need to see it to believe it.
So your dream body may weigh more than you expected it to– isn’t that a good thing?
7. Laundry for days
Did you see this coming? Athletes know that you can save yourself from doing laundry more often than Yoda speaks with inverted syntax by making sure that you have at least one pair of gym clothes for every workout of the week. Invest in new duds if you must– just don’t let “all of my sports bras are in the laundry” be an excuse for not making it to your workout.
8. AWESOME confidence
…and not just because you’re building a smoking hot bod! Testing your body on the mats, under a barbell, on a bike, or any other fit fantastic freaking awesome way that tickles your fancy will build rock solid confidence that you can, in fact, do ANYTHING. Weight training is a lifelong process of building on your skills and abilities a little bit every day. It gets to your head. Soon you’ll be wanting to know what other amazing feats you can accomplish with the right team, practice, and dedication. Your own badassery might surprise (and inspire) you.
Bonus: Exercise has all kinds of nice benefits for your brain chemistry, such as increases in dopamine production and the release of endorphins. Together these neurotransmitters light up the reward center of the brain as they reduce pain, fight stress, and increase feelings of pleasure.
9. Nodding in agreement with cheesy quotes over sunrises
You always said it wouldn’t be you, but…