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Survival of the fittest

Shyness can be another debilitating barrier for newcomers to the seemingly intimidating gym environment.

Shyness can be another debilitating barrier for newcomers to the seemingly intimidating gym environment.

As October drew to a close, an eerie silence befell our promenades and beaches. Splashing about in the water, playing beach games, and strolling leisurely in the cool evening breeze for some of us are unfortunately replaced by peering at the overcast sky and wistfully waiting for the hot return of summer in 2013.

Statistics show that well under half of all fitness hopefuls signing up for one-year memberships actually survive the initial six-month period
- Matthew Muscat Inglott

To repeat one of my all-time favourite call-to-action phrases, and one which many of my clients are well accustomed to: “Don’t flop about!” As we begin to explore new leisure activities for the cooler seasons, avoid at all costs those that may entail any flopping about whatsoever.

Now that the weather has turned nasty and unpredictable, you will be nice and comfortable inside the safety of your local fitness centre. There you will find staff on hand to assist you, and a selection of like-minded members you can draw communal motivation from.

Gyms in Malta traditionally experience a spike in membership numbers during November; however there is one major snag –adherence. Statistics show that well under half of all fitness hopefuls signing up for one-year memberships actually survive the initial six-month period.

If your chances of sticking to your new exercise regimen are about 50/50, how can we ensure you fall into the right bracket? What characterises the success stories, and just how do the fittest survive and go on to exhibit the beautiful bodies and rippling muscles we seek?

“I’m your best member, I came and paid my membership and only attended for about two weeks.” We hear this often, but all good fitness professionals cringe at this reasoning. Marketing a fitness centre comes at no small expense, and by far our most effective form of publicity is happy members and clients who get results and spread the good news. A drop-out is a lost opportunity, while a successful member is a walking advertisement. So make no mistake, your results matter to you, but they matter very much to us too.

So how can we all pull in the same direction towards your ultimate fitness goals? Let’s examine some practical strategies.

First of all, we need to set the right kind of goals. Your goals must be motivating or they will not hold your interest for very long.

Indulge in some soul searching and ask yourself truly why you want to get in shape. You’ve got to want it, because if you don’t, or you’re doing it for someone else, then you are destined for fitness failure.

Your primary motivating goals should also be realistic, and carry an expiry date. A goal without a time limit is merely an abstract wish. Challenge yourself to achieve five kilos of weight loss within the next two months.

That’s a great short-term goal, but how about also challenging yourself to a long-term goal of shedding 15 kilos and achieving your ideal body shape within a year?

With motivating goals in place, next we must tackle the potential barriers you may face in pursuing them. If you have a physical condition like an injured ankle or back, decide how you can work around the problem.

For more significant barriers, like asthma or heart disease, talk to a fitness professional.

If you suffer from lack of motivation, you might need to re-plan your exercise programme and build it upon activities you find more enjoyable. If you hate running and cycling, then a programme consisting exclusively of running and cycling is certainly not going to keep you very interested.

Experiment with the alternative methods of training available in your gym. You’ll be surprised at some of the things an instructor can show you. Things like kettlebells, kinesis or cable training, resistance bands, group fitness classes, circuit training, or strength training are but some of the many options open to you.

The most common barrier we hear about is time, or more precisely, our perennial lack of it. Your first attack on this barrier should be drawing up a weekly plan of all your current commitments in spreadsheet format.

When you look at your weekly plan, the first things you will notice are those little gaps you weren’t aware of before. These gaps will be empty or filled with unproductive activity. They might also reveal activities that can easily be moved or joined up with others, thus freeing up more time. Wherever you find those gaps, fill them up by fitting in your fitness time.

Shyness can be another debilitating barrier for newcomers to the seemingly intimidating gym environment. Consider that exercise itself has been proven to boost self-esteem and confidence. However, if you aren’t prepared to wait for that to happen, remember that everyone else in the gym is there for the same reasons as you, and everybody has to start somewhere.

If you don’t want to immerse yourself in the social experience of gym attendance, just plug in your head phones and focus on yourself and your workout. If the prospect of crowds is still too much to face, try out one of the smaller fitness centres in your area.

The biggest and most established gyms might be packed at peak time, but the smaller establishments won’t be. When deciding which gym to join, visit at the time you intend to train and judge for yourself if the atmosphere is right for you.

Fortune favours the fit, but will you leave your fitness-adherence odds to chance?

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