Before I started working out in April 2004, I was very unhappy with my body. I remember looking at pictures of fitness models/celebrities and thinking, “I want to look like that, but I never will.” I lacked self-esteem and as a result I faced many challenges.
Firstly, I’m Asian. As an Asian teenager who was a late bloomer, I was thin as a stick and as shapely as one. Secondly, I was scared to start working out. I was intimidated by everyone else because clearly everyone was better looking, stronger, or in better shape that I was. Lastly, I didn’t know how to work out. High school was over, and with it, mandatory PE class was not available. I was as sedentary as a rock, and I struggled with trying to get into shape. A lot of people to this day say that my problem (not being able to sustain my weight) is not a problem. That is pretty frustrating because everyone has their own struggles with their body, so just because I was not obese does mean that I didn’t deal with food aversion and body image issues.
Looking back I’ve overcome a lot of personal and technicalobstacles to get to where I am today with my fitness health. I thought that I would share them here.
Mistake #1: Not going to the gym/working out
When I first started going to go the gym, it would be really sporadically. One week, I’d go for 6 days; the next week, 1 day. The inconsistency reflected my lack or motivation and dedication to exercising. Those weeks during which I went for 6 days would also just burn me out that I didn’t want to work out anymore
Solution: Whenever planning my day/week, I would write “go workout” in a RED MARKER. I made it an “unmovable” schedule item. It falls into the category of eat, sleep, poop, and breathe. I also was more reasonable with my expectations. Instead of working out for 6 days, I scheduled a workout every other day, which yielded 3-4 days a week. It really helped me ease into a regular routine that I’ve been able to sustain to this day.
Mistake #2: Not knowing how to work out
I remember my first day at the local 24 hour fitness: I got on the treadmill and I ran. I ran because that all I knew and that’s all that I was comfortable with. But I knew that this wasn’t going to help me build muscle and get stronger in the ways I wanted.
Solution: So, I signed up to work with a couple of personal trainers and I learned all about resistance training and proper form. They were so helpful with teaching me the basics which I still apply today! Asking for help is key. Whether it’s working with personal trainers one-on-one or taking group exercise classes led by professionals, you have so many resources to help you do it right.
Mistake #3: Socializing at the gym too much.
I used to go with my friend and it was great at first. We’d go together and it would really keep me in check. But then I realized that I was talking to my friend more than I was actually working out.
Solution: I decided to stop going with my friend because it was extremely distracting. I generally don’t work out with anyone anymore because I rely on myself to provide the motivation to work out. I plug in my iPod, put in my ear plugs, and block out the world to get into the zone. I’ve run into friends who have been waving me down for minutes before I noticed them because I’m so focused on my routine that I don’t notice the world around me. If you can talk while you’re working out, then you’re not working out hard enough. Ergo, ZIP IT!
Mistake #4: Not pushing hard enough!
After working with my personal trainer, I only workout on weight machines, but never free weights. I was really scared of the weight room because I thought everyone was so much better than me! Lo and behold, I find out that many of the guys in there don’t practice any semblance of good form, and that my fear was all in my head.
Solution: I started to lift free weights. Although cardio is a great way to burn calories, resistance and weight training helps to build muscle (lean body mass) to maintain our metabolic rate and increase strength. You don’t have to lift weights to build giant muscles. But as we grow older, our muscles tend to shrink and our fat stores grow. So throw in a couple of push ups, squats, and bicep curls to develop our muscles and build our strength. Remember, “strong is the new skinny!” Every two weeks, add a variation to your workout or add more weights to challenge yourself even more.
Mistake #5: Going too hard/too heavy/too fast
On the flip side, once I started working out as much as I could. There was an extended time when I would work out for 2 hours every time I went to the gym. I’d also try to lift weights that were too heavy for me. It makes sense…heavier weights = bigger muscles. I got injured a few times and I learned my lesson.
Solution: Start off slowly and build your way up. You don’t build a house from the roof down. You build it from the ground up. So start with those stabilization exercises to lay the foundation of your strength and future workouts. Planks, push ups, squats are great foundational exercises to do and they are all still exercises I do today.
Mistake #6: Holding your breath/improper breathing
It’s common for us to hold our breath while working out, especially when weight training. Holding our breath can lead to decreased oxygen intake and flow and also prevent us from fully exerting our strength during the exercise
Solution: Don’t hold your breath! Also, when doing any exercise, it’s a great rule of thumb to control your breathing as follows: EXHALE as your contract your muscles/exert your force and INHALE as your relax your muscles. Exhaling as your contract really helps you to push even harder!
Mistake #7: (Thinking that you can) Eat whatever you want just because you work out.
After working out for a couple of years, I started school at UCLA. After the first five weeks, I gain 20 pounds (that’s 4 pounds gain each week!) It was because I’d go to the dining halls and literally grab 5-6 entree plates and drink hella soda. Oops.
Solution: After I saw that number on the scale, I started to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. I switched exclusively to water, controlled my portions, and really moderated the amount of junk food I ate. Plus, I worked out even harder because I realized that I was being complacent not just with my diet but with my exercising as well. So, eat a balanced meal of fruits/vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Without properly fueling your body throughout the day and after a workout, you’ll be putting up barriers to your progress. I have a lot of friends who have different types of lifestyle diets based on how they eat. Remember, everyone has different bodies and we all eat differently. Maintain that balance that works for you! Just don’t starve yourself. That’s always a no-no.
Mistake #8: Getting discouraged
When I started working out, I kept seeing all of these people who were more fit than me. It got me really discouraged because I knew I was working out as hard as I could, but it didn’t really show.
Solution: After a year and a half, I really started to notice my body changed. It was after incorporating a lot of the changes that I’ve mentioned above. I really learned that it’s a lifetime process. Patience is something I’ve never been good at, but it takes time! I didn’t want to resort to steroids or any other short cuts. I’m glad I didn’t because they wouldn’t have helped me build my fitness lifestyle now. It’s also a mentality change. I didn’t want to just look stronger, I wanted to feel stronger. I started to feel more energized, more capable, and most importantly, more confident. Sure, there’s a vanity portion to why I work out, but mainly, I love working out because I get that rush from knowing I’m working so very hard to take care of my health. After 8.5 years, I’ve still in it to win it.
Bottom line: Go to the gym with all of your focus and energy because ultimately, it all comes down to how much you want it. I can’t teach you motivation, I’m not going to force you to be dedicated, and I won’t twist your arm to make you go work out. My help is only as good as how far you are willing to take it and how hard you are willing to work to reach your goals.
Fitness is not a state of “being;” it’s a state of “doing.”