Thus far the return to a regular fitness routine has been going pretty well. I’ve shaken off all vague feelings of illness, so I can’t use that as an excuse any more, and I have a variety of activities that I’m able to do so I don’t get bored. Also, as stupid as it sounds, associating the act of running with one of my favourite characters from Katawa Shoujo — that’s Emi, for anyone not tuning out when I mention that game now — gives me a positive attitude towards it, even if I suck in comparison to people who are fitter and slimmer than me.
Fitness is tricky business, though, as anyone who has tried to get themselves into a decent routine and struggled will attest. Just arbitrarily deciding that you are going to “get fit” isn’t enough for most people, in my experience. You need things to aim for and the means through which to motivate yourself.
I thought what I’d do today is share what I’m doing in the hope that it might rub off on some of you. Feel free to pinch any of my ideas if you’re struggling with the whole “motivation” thing.
First up, I have a selection of things to do — I don’t do the same thing all the time. If you’re a gym member, it’s easy to think that you should be using the gym as much as possible, and when you’re there, it’s also very easy to get stuck in a rut doing the same routine over and over and over again. And sure, sticking to a routine can allow you to work on the parts of the body that you’d really like to focus on, but good grief it gets boring after a while.
So mix it up. When you’re at the gym, try some different machines. If you do weight training, use the machines sometimes and the free weights at others. Try using barbells if you normally use dumbbells. Challenge some different cardiovascular machines. Bump up the difficulty. Set yourself more lofty targets — ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes. Challenge yourself to meet those targets without stopping for a rest, or with only a certain number of rests, or completing a certain amount of distance in that time period.
But don’t necessarily stick to the gym. Go outside and do something like cycling or running. While you may feel horrendously self-conscious attempting to perambulate your wheezing carcass at a faster speed than your normal zombie-like shamble in an environment that contains other people, there are plenty of ways to tune out the outside world. Loud music, for example — and we’ll come back to that point in a minute. The clothing you wear makes a difference, too — hide your face under a hoodie or a hat and you’ll feel much less self-conscious, plus you get the added bonus of being able to pretend you’re Ezio Auditore running away from the city guards. That and keeping the windchill off your ears, too. Also bear in mind that there’s a strong possibility that anyone who sees you running — especially in inclement weather conditions — will be impressed at your dedication to bettering yourself. (This rule is also known as the “Fat People Shouldn’t Be Ashamed To Be Seen At The Gym Rule”.)
On the subject of music, pick something that inspires you. No-one else is going to hear it (unless you have crap headphones that leak sound everywhere, and even then only if you’re exercising around other people and playing your music at full volume) so it can be absolutely anything you want, even the most shameful of crap in your iTunes library. In fact, in the age of Spotify, you can feel free to try out different genres of music to see what gets your pumped up. You may find that 80s cheese does the trick, or thumping dance beats, or — God forbid — dubstep.
Podcasts are a good thing to insert into your earholes while you’re exercising too, not because they’re inherently energetic in themselves, but because they provide the illusion of time passing more quickly. By concentrating on the sound of peoples’ voices and what they are saying, you’ll find you naturally stop clockwatching, simply letting your body run on automatic while you listen to, say, the Minotti brothers yelling at each other on the Exploding Barrel Podcast, or the Squadron of Shame waxing lyrical about chin-strokey gaming topics.
My personal recommendation for listening material is to check out some soundtracks, both movies and games. Action movie soundtracks and games that are full of spectacle typically provide excellent soundtracks to work out to — particular favourites of mine include the soundtracks to Speed, the Matrix series, Metal Gear Solid, Split/Second, Shadow of the Colossus (particularly awesome when lifting weights), the bizarrely cheerful soundtrack to the iPhone version of DoDonPachi Resurrection and Space Channel 5. If you’re a JRPG fan, battle themes are particularly awesome to work out to. If you can create a crescendo of intensity culminating in the most epic final boss themes you can find, so much the better. There’s no better feeling than finishing that last set of reps as the choir starts belting out One Winged Angel.
Finally, and I think this is probably the most powerful motivational factor in my case: track your progress. It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut, but to see measurable results provides powerful inspiration to push yourself harder and go a little further. Exactly how you do this is up to you, but as a gamer and social media junkie I use Runkeeper to track cardiovascular workouts (including mapping my runs when I go outside) and the very excellent Fitocracy social game/network to log complete workouts. I also share my completed workouts on Facebook and Twitter. While some may not like the “spam”, it’s easy enough to ignore, and the few people who do congratulate me on a job well done after the fact makes it worthwhile.
On that note, if you can build up a support network for yourself — be it people you regularly work out with or online friends who cheer you on from afar — you’ll find yourself motivated to succeed, particularly if they’re the sort of friends who would rib you mercilessly if you give up. If you’re going through a programme like the Couch to 5K thing I shared with you all the other day, then work with a friend or team to get through it together.
Above all, though, have fun with it. It may feel like work at times because it is — it’s something you need to make yourself do, and made of activities that your body often doesn’t feel like doing if you tend to live a fairly sedentary lifestyle. But unlike going to actual work, you’re free to tackle it and make it fun in whatever manner you please rather than sitting in a cubicle allowing your soul to be sucked out through your ergonomically-designed management keyboard.
I hope that’s made some of you think a bit. C’mon, if I can get off my arse and get active, I’m pretty sure that you (yes, you, with the beard/glasses/pointy nose/weird hair/lovely hair/nice tits/flatulence/worryingly prominent erection/kind face/greasy trout in your hand/jar of olives clutched to your breast/smelly armpits [delete as applicable]) can do it too.