How a personal trainer made me fall in love with the gym

My conversion from haphazard runner to gym rat was an eye-opener. It wasn’t my health, or the rapidly approaching 3–0 that changed my mind. This the story of how a personal trainer made me love the gym.

Confession time: I am not….the most athletic. I sometimes fall over when I’m standing still (you have to see it to understand, but I am not exaggerating). I did yoga every once in a while, grudgingly went for runs once or twice a week (fine, once) and convinced myself that walking around hilly Dunedin counted as cardio.

It wasn’t that I was anti-gym, it just felt like the gym wasn’t for me. That was for people who had goals, whether it was losing weight or lifting weights. I just wanted to be fit enough to survive until 120 years old and strong enough to hike on the weekends. So why would I need to go to a gym?

For the record, it was peer pressure that got me into the gym. My friend’s personal trainer, Alex, offered a discount if we trained together, and out of fear of being uncool, I said yes.

Peer pressure: sometimes good! You heard it here first.

The first surprise was when Alex asked to meet me before our first session. We talked about my approach to exercise, my day-to-day life, and my goals. I didn’t even realize I had goals! He figured out that I was worried about future back problems due to genetics and a sedentary job, and that I wanted to be able to carry an 18-pack of beer to a party without having to stop and rest my arms.

Listen, I’m not necessarily proud of that one. But a goal’s a goal.

At first, I was just happy to not embarrass myself when we trained. Fifteen body-weight squats? I can do that! Ten burpees? Sure thing, as long as you don’t mind sweat flying everywhere!

Every week, Alex introduced us (mostly me, the newbie) to a new machine, a new exercise, a new technique. He never made us feel silly for not knowing how to do something. He always made sure we understood how to do it even when he wasn’t there. And I didn’t realize it, but he increased the difficulty so slowly that I didn’t even feel like I was being pushed. I just thought we were trying new things!

Eventually, I knew how to use almost everything in the gym. I knew which kettleball to grab for which exercise, and could stride confidently over to the squat rack. I looked forward to our sessions with glee instead of trepidation.

And then, Alex moved. To London.

But I kept going to the gym. And was excited about going to the gym. What had happened? Who had I become? Was I….a gym rat?

Behind the magic

Now that Alex is gone, I can see much more clearly the gift he gave me, and how he did it. He made me feel welcome, confident and secure at the gym. He showed me that the barriers were either in my head (no one actually cares that you’re a girl in the barbell area) or easily surmountable (practice makes perfect).

In short, he created the perfect recipe for a gym rat.

There were a few wonderfully sneaky things Alex did to transform my attitude, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I would never have kept on if he hadn’t done them.

  • He took my goals seriously. He met with me, asked me questions to figure out those goals even though I didn’t know what they were, wrote down notes, and kept them in mind throughout our sessions.
  • He explained why he chose the exercises. Alex didn’t set me to strengthening my back right away, as I thought he would after we established that future back pain was a worry. He focused on strengthening my legs and glutes to support my back, and told me how those exercises contributed to my overall goals.
  • He wrote down my progress and used it to plan the next workout. He used the records of what we’d done the previous session to say “you’ve done this before, you can do it again” when I wasn’t so sure about something. Knowing that Alex was planning my workout based on last week made me feel like he had a clear path in his head for my progress.
  • He always scheduled the next session as soon as we finished a workout. I know I probably wasn’t his most exciting client — no huge weight loss goals, no triathlons to complete, no lifting competitions to train for — but he treated me as if I was just as important as any of the others.

I still go to the gym. Alex didn’t just give me workouts to do, he showed me how and why to do those workouts. He didn’t just tell me that exercise was important, he made me feel like my exercise goals were important and should be taken seriously. So what if I’d never done a deadlift before? That didn’t mean I couldn’t start now.

Someday, maybe I’ll even correct the form of that one dude who keeps doing them wrong.

Nah, maybe not. I’ll leave that to the trainers.

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