Gyms make my flaws stand out.
I grew up as a skinny teenager. Kids called me “Big Tim” as a joke. I couldn’t hurt a fly. I was, and still am, as skinny as a rake.
In 2010, I became so self-conscious about my looks that I joined a gym and got a personal trainer. The Hulk Hogan of personal trainers shouted at me like a drill sergeant.
“I don’t want to hear your excuses Denning. Keep going until you vomit.”
And vomit I did, all over his fluro orange muscle singlet. His shouting took my weight from 132 pounds to 222 pounds.
Every muscle I had exploded in size.
Yet I was deeply depressed.
Never the same again
The huge muscles didn’t last. I found out I had mental illness and things spiraled out of control.
At the same time, I walked away from the business I helped create and lost all my money. So I could no longer afford the fancy personal trainer.
I went back to training at the gym by myself. Within three months I dropped down to 154 pounds.
Most of the gains vanished.
But the importance of the gym never escaped me. On days when my debilitating anxiety crippled me, the gym was the one thing that healed my body. It’s as if the anxiety dripped out of me in the form of sweat and onto the treadmill.
So, I kept going to the gym ever since. Then coroni-macaroni struck…
Two years without gym
No one knew the bat disease would last as long as it did.
When the gyms shut I expected them to reopen in 30 days. My optimism blinded me from the reality of how these infectious diseases work. They normally last five years. They don’t just fly away like a little birdy in the sky.
My wife was smart.
She trained at home with Youtube videos. I kept saying “I’ll join you soon honey” and never did. I went from being a fitness enthusiast to a couch potato. I got so lazy that walking to the fridge felt like work.
Gyms then reopened. The fear passed.
But the journey back to the gym took me by surprise.
Going back to the gym is unbelievably hard
“It’s time to make my Rocky Balboa comeback” I announced to my wife.
Her eyes rolled. I talk as if I’m a fitness superstar. But my skinny ass looks like I have no clue about fitness.
After the announcement I delayed ringing the gym. Thankfully, they called me and put me on the spot.
“Are you coming back or what?”
I told them to restart my membership out of embarrassment. I went back to the gym for a week. The health crisis ravaged on and shut my gym down multiple times. I felt quietly relieved.
Then at the end of last year the gyms opened back up for good. For the last 90 days, I’ve been working out again — although it’s different.
Normal people don’t feel like going to the gym
That’s how I felt. Going back became hard. My excuses took over.
“It’s too hot today.”
“I don’t have time.”
“The garage is being repaired so I can’t get there.”
I became the master of excuses. Overcoming them required…
1. The power of habit
What I realized is how crucial a habit is.
When I had a gym habit I didn’t think about going or not going. The process was automated. The decision was already made.
But without my habit I realized I had to reform it.
So I laid out my gym clothes on the floor the night before. As soon as I woke up I put my gym clothes on, not my house clothes.
Wearing gym clothes triggers my brain to mentally prepare for exercise.
2. Make the goal smaller
Doing a full workout felt impossible.
I set a new goal: arrive at the gym. Just get your skinny ass through the door and you’ve won I told myself.
Then I switched to just 10 minutes in the gym is plenty.
Not going to the gym and not training for ten minutes felt so small I couldn’t fail. And I didn’t. Gradually I built my way back up to three sessions a week of between 30–45 minutes.
Everything feels different
What used to feel easy at the gym felt hard.
My muscles became tired quickly. I had no endurance. I couldn’t support my own body weight.
When you realize your fitness level has taken a sharp u-turn and fallen off a cliff, it doesn’t feel good.
You feel like you’ve let yourself down. There’s a form of fitness guilt. You know you should move your body. Yet I didn’t move a muscle in my body for two years. But little by little you rebuild.
You start with the baby weights. The big dudes look at you as if you’re weak as piss. You see their glances and keep going despite their judgment.
You feel weak but you know it’s temporary. You think of your future self, not your current self.
The environment changes too.
Since the health crisis I’ve become allergic to subscriptions. A gym is yet another recurring cost. It’s not cheap and when the payments haven’t been coming out for two years you start to notice them. It’s not hard to tell yourself that this is a huge expense.
Yes, you could exercise at home.
But what works about the gym is it’s not your home. You have to go there. Others notice you doing it. And everybody in the gym is there for the same reason as you: health and fitness.
The person next to you doing pushups makes your pushups feel easier. Bizarre, but true.
What I didn’t expect
After the health crisis I became a germ freak.
Now when I go to the gym I wipe everything down with wipes. I sanitize my hands several times the way a murderer does to cover up their crimes.
I’ve noticed others in the gym judge me.
95% of people don’t wipe down the equipment. They train in each other’s sweat as if there isn’t an invisible illness lurking around. Most of them have caught coroni and don’t care about the long-term after-effects.
Wiping gym equipment down makes you a pussy in my gym. That’s okay for me. I’ll be a pussy if it keeps me healthy.
The other part I’m hypersensitive to now is sweat.
I’ve never noticed before but my gym stinks of sweat. The smell reminds me of dog urine left on the carpet for two days to marinate.
It’s musky and horrid. The smell is as bad when I walk into the gym as when I exit. I don’t get used to it.
This new gym I’m at has another crisis: phone zombies.
The amount of fitness goers talking on their phones while training is un-freaking-believable. Yesterday a guy flew off the treadmill at top speed and landed face first. Blood everywhere. All because he can’t stop looking at his phone while running.
The noise of these phone zombies is deafening. They speak as if they’re in space and nobody can hear them for miles.
They’re so time poor that they have to resort to talking to their mother while sweating their asses off at the gym. I feel sorry for them.
The best part of exercise that’s easily forgotten
Let’s finish on a high.
The best part about being back at the gym for the last 90 days is the endorphins that get released at the end of a workout.
Endorphins are the crack of the fitness world. I’m addicted to them.
They make me feel good after a workout. Sitting down to write becomes a joy with freshly minted gym endorphins floating around my body.
These endorphins also help to put me in a powerful flow state. Flow states are the engine of my writing career that do all the grunt work.
Exercise regularly to get your serving of endorphins. Don’t be a phone zombie. Build a tiny exercise habit. Ignore the judgment of others. And lay your gym clothes out the night before to lower the resistance.
That’s what I learned being back at the gym for 90 days.