Six weeks ago I was not only disinterested in exercise, I was also afraid of it. After an ongoing battle with anxiety - in which you'll do anything to keep your heart rate from sky-rocketing, for fear it'll set you off again - I had developed a little phobia around any kind of physical exertion. Silly, I know, given that the one natural resource you have to keep your mental health in tip top condition has always been exercise. I knew this deep down, but still, I was going to need a little push in the right direction. Another fear I'd been harbouring was that of the gym: in my head I imagined lots of ridiculously attractive people, decked out in only the finest work-out gear, pumping their guns with ease while I, in my old baggy t-shirt, would huff and puff around machines I had no clue how to use, like a spare, embarrassing tool. Why would I do that to myself when my fluffy onesie and a 'Say Yes to the Dress' binge-fest sounded so much more lovely?
It then dawned on me that that fear wasn't going anywhere 'til I faced it head on. What's the worst that could happen? I'd find myself a little more toned? I'd feel less guilty about having that cupcake in work? And what if, there was maybe even the smallest chance, that I'd actually enjoy it? 'LOL', I scoffed to myself as I made my way to Educogym Blackrock, as IF I could find exercising enjoyable.?
But I was wrong. Very wrong.
I teamed up with trainer Andrea Lawlor who was far from the abusive, shouting army-sergeant I imagined; she understood my fears, promised that I'd never find myself puking for having been pushed beyond what I was capable of, and she instantly put me at ease. This was not about surviving on chickpeas and protein shakes so that I'd have no folds in my bikini; it was about empowerment. It was about all those feel good hormones that would kick my anxiety right in the teeth. It was a chance to show myself that 'hey, that wasn't such a big deal after all, was it?' and 'wow, turns out you're capable of way more than you thought'. Regardless of any physical changes, that kind of mental confidence was enough of a selling point for me.
I trained three times a week for six weeks, and it was all based around weights. By week two, if I went more than three days without having been, I'd miss it. One day we'd focus on my back and chest, the next we'd do legs - or what I liked to call HELL day - and on the third day it was time to tone up those arms and shoulders. Each day we finished off with some ab work. When I tell you that I am weak, a wuss, and more likely to take flight than work up a decent sweat, you've got to believe me. But what fellow scaredy-cats must know is that you're not expected to be at Arnold Schwarzenegger's level on day one (or ever, for that matter); you get stronger every day, week by week and as for visible results, you just need a little patience. Each session was max 20 minutes. It was intense, and sometimes really really tough, but before I ever had time to start whinging to Andrea that she was the devil herself, I was done. Home in time for dinner.
Week two of @andreamlawlor kicking my ass at #educogym #fitness #weights
A photo posted by Caroline Foran (@carolineforan) on Mar 9, 2015 at 11:21am PDT
The best thing about Educogym is that because you are always with a trainer, you are guaranteed to always make progress. You're not relying on yourself alone as you would anywhere else; they're there to encourage you - always positively - when you feel you've nothing left to give. I know for damn sure I'd never push myself at home alone, would you? It's too easy to quit, but just knowing that Andrea knew I could do it, made me want to succeed even more. What's more, there's no fear about doing it wrong or really hurting yourself; the trainers are always on hand to correct your form and make sure you're getting the most from your twenty minute work-out.
Another thing I learned at Educogym was that gyms aren't full of posers boasting abs that curved like a calculus graph; they were normal human beings doing their bit to keep fit, just like me. Some are there just to tone up; others are there to shed those excess pounds before an upcoming wedding and guess what? Not a single person there was concerned with me, my body or how I looked. What a pointless, almost arrogant worry that was.
And now for the results: I am handling stress far better; I'm calmer in situations that used to ruffle my feathers. I LOVED the feeling of satisfaction each day when I left the gym. I have more energy, and I've been sleeping like a baby. With their nutritional expertise, I'm eating more of what's good for me, and less of what's not. Add to that the muscle gained, the reduction in body fat and the 5 cm lost from my tummy, and I'm feeling pretty good.
I've just signed up for another two months because much to my surprise, a sedentary lifestyle doesn't do much for my mojo anymore.
Not convinced? There's a wealth of scientific studies out there to support the benefits of exercise for mental health. Lena Dunham's also been speaking out recently about how it's helped her anxiety, depression and OCD. As she perfectly puts it, it's not necessarily all 'about the ass, it's about the brain.'
So that's our new approach to exercise. How about you?