You Say You Want a Resolution?

The new year is here, and that means it’s time for resolutions of self-improvement and an end to the over-eating, over-drinking and general over-indulgence that seem to come part and parcel with the holiday season.  The solution to this resolution?  The gym.  Unfortunately, the new year also means the beginning of claustrophobia-inducing crowds in pretty much any health club anywhere, as over-zealous individuals, eager to work off the aftermath of pumpkin pie, cookie exchanges and celebratory glasses of champagne crowd the weight room and the cardio machines, making it near impossible to get a fulfilling workout.

That being the case, I thought I’d convert this post into an advice column of sorts, giving some nuggets of wisdom that I think may help maintain this heady can-do go-to-the-gym feeling of new year resolutions beyond the end of January and well into 2012 and beyond.

First off, let’s start by talking about mindset.  Seldom is there anything worthwhile that is easily won, and fitness and many of the other lifestyle changes often contained within new years resolutions are no different.  Whether the goal is weight loss, academic diligence or finally ridding yourself of any number of recalcitrant bad habits, you have to be realistic.  Although it may be possible to go to the gym after several months (maybe even years) of sedentary living and run 4 miles, lift some weights AND do some yoga poses, you will hate yourself in the short term — i.e. the next day — and it will likely ruin any chances of success in the long-term.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is the physique of a Roman soldier. Treat a new gym routine as if you’re trying to learn a new language and admit to yourself that you’re going to have to take it slow at first, gradually building endurance and adding new exercises to your routine (more on that a little later).  With time, you’ll have a plethora of exercises to choose from and the stamina to make it through pretty much any routine, so much so that boredom will no longer be an excuse for not working out.

It’s important to remember that, in essence what you’re doing is reprogramming your body for activity, which at a biochemical level involves altering any number of metabolic and physiologic processes.  This is no easy task, and, surprise surprise, takes time.  Unfortunately, it also hurts, is pretty unpleasant, and, let’s be honest, will probably continue to feel that way even months into a solidified routine (although hopefully less so).  DISCLAIMER: If there’s a reason that you’re at risk for cardiovascular events or any other reason that medically excludes you from normally working out, you’re a special case and should discuss any new exercise regimen with your doctor.

Otherwise, the fact of the matter is that after the initial rush at the beginning of a workout, the following few minutes will — and should to a certain extent — feel incredibly uncomfortable.  No doubt you know the feeling when all the adrenaline’s gone and you start to get winded.  Yep, this is the part where every part of your body seems to be screaming at you to quit. And if you turned the treadmill up to 9 out of 10 in delirious optimism, maybe it’s time to slow it back down. But by all means, keep doing something, even if it means going at a slower pace.  Otherwise, the bulk of the benefit is lost if you quit at this point.

After all, it’s only after this period that your body actually starts to utilize its energy stores and significantly burn calories.  And more importantly in the moment, it’s only after this period that your body starts to supply those wonderful endorphins and (recent research suggests little-known chemicals termed endocannabinoids) that start to make things bearable once more.  Point being: do whatever it takes to get yourself over that initial hump.

So now what?  You’re miserable on a treadmill, right?  Wrong.  Whether cardio, weights or floor exercises, there are countless ways to work any given group of muscles.  Beyond just reducing boredom, as an added bonus, changing things up also continually pushes the body to its limits, and keeps you from plateauing, meaning that your workouts remain ultra-high-yield.

But let’s be real for a second.  Time is limited and work/school are exhausting.  And who wants to head back out to the gym after returning to the comfort of your home?  Let’s face it: the gym is never the number one place that people want to be at the end of a long day.  All this brings me to my next point.

Cut the excuses.

Think about it.  Amongst the countless new years resolutions seldom do you hear, “Stop copping out” or “Start taking accountability,” despite the fact that failure to accomplish these two tasks is at the base of pretty much every failed new years resolution.  If lack of motivation is the reason for not going to the gym, then find a way to reward yourself (Häagen-Dazs  dulce de leche ice cream, anyone?), or if you’re like me, who refuses to leave my apartment after a long day on the wards for anything short of escaping a fire, take your gym bag with you so that there’s no longer an excuse to go home first.  As mentioned above, keeping with a resolution demands a hefty dose of reality, so get real with yourself.  Chances are that any excuse (barring a prohibitive medical condition) has a logical solution that you’re not seeing — whether it be consciously or otherwise.

So make the resolution to outlast the mass of “resolution-aries” that will be crowding the gym for the next few weeks, and meet the challenge of developing a routine that works for you head on.

Picutre of author

About Justin Fiala, MD Candidate

Justin is currently in his third year of medical school at UIC's College of Medicine, and is hoping to pursue a career in internal medicine. He has a strong interest in addressing the health needs urban communities and is part of the College of Medicine's Urban Medicine program. Aside from academics, Justin enjoys cooking, listening to public radio, and perusing the New York Times website. He is also a trained pianist and self-professed lover of all kinds of music.

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