It's been 8 months since I decided to start going to a personal trainer. Against all odds, I've managed to keep up with my weekly habit - one-hour strength training, 3 days per week. The results have been pretty good! I decided it'd be worthwhile to share my experience, and maybe pat myself on the back a little.

 Go me!
Go me!

My history and motivation

For as long as I can remember, I've been behind a computer most of every day. I basically spent my 20's and 30's in an office chair. It's not an exaggeration to say I got zero exercise on most days.

The result is predictable: I really didn't like how I looked or felt. In early 2020, I was pushing 190 lbs. (86 kg.), at 68 in. (173 cm.) tall, with basically zero muscle mass. I didn't need those numbers to tell that my body was not the shape I wanted. I couldn't even fit into many of the clothes I liked, and the clothes I could fit into weren't very flattering. I avoided mirrors and scales and tried not to think about my health at all, except for times when my body forcibly reminded me.

When I did want to be active, it wasn't easy or enjoyable. Going for a walk was about as strenuous an exercise as I could manage, and being sweaty and out of breath almost immediately made what could've been a fun experience rather less fun.

What changed?

The big thing that changed was that I've been working hard on my mental health for years, via therapy and practical changes to my lifestyle, and last year I finally felt like I'd freed enough mental resources to turn to my physical health in a serious way. It turns out a great first step toward fixing your physical health is improving your mental health.

(I also think improving your physical health is a great first step toward fixing your mental health. It's kind of a giant self-reinforcing mess in that way. It just so happened for me that getting my mental health in order first worked out pretty well.)

I also turned 40 in 2020. It's just a number, but like most humans, I tend to notice shiny things and round numbers. This particular round number made me think, if not now, when? I don't want to have a heart attack. I've seen elderly people who are still active right up to the end, and I've seen elderly people completely bedridden for their last decade(s), and honestly I'd like to be the former someday rather than the latter. Who wouldn't?

COVID-19 was also a great excuse. If I'm going to catch some pandemic flu, I'd rather catch it while being healthy than while not. Going to a gym was something to get me out of the house during endless pandemic lockdown. It's not like I had anything better to do.

So how has it gone? Overall it's been a positive experience (duh), but let's start with the ""bad"" .

The Bad

Of course getting in shape is more good than bad, but that's not to say it's 100% positives all the time.

  • A trainer costs money. Thanks to COVID-19 turning gyms into cesspools of airborne virus, the only kind of gym I've felt comfortable with is one-on-one trainer time, which costs a lot — hundreds of dollars per month in fact.
    • Counterpoint: What was I spending hundreds of dollars per month on that's more important than improved health, looks and lifespan? Here's one thing: unhealthy food! Another: alcohol! Looking at it that way, maybe it's not such a hard thing to free up some money. I recognize that I'm privileged to be able to afford this, regardless.
  • Exercising takes time. Three hours of training time per week, plus time to get ready, plus showering after, plus travel to/from... it adds up to probably more like six hours per week. Personally I didn't have a lot of trouble altering my habits to fit this in, but I could see it being hard for people with long work commutes, or kids, or what have you.
  • Exercising feels kind of terrible. It just does. Getting sweaty and deliberately hurting your muscles for an hour isn't something I'd choose to do if there was any other way. Unfortunately there isn't another way. I've managed to avoid injuring myself, but I'm sore more days than I'm not, and I imagine that'll continue forever.
  • Dieting sucks. Counting calories is tedious, and recording them in MyFitnessPal is even more tedious. Saying no to delicious food always makes me die a little inside. Dieting is weeks of crankiness, mild headaches, stomach rumbling, fatigue, and low-grade misery.
    • But the key here is low-grade misery. It's not that bad. It's mild discomfort at worst. The benefits of losing weight far outweigh the annoyance of dieting.
  • Anxiety is a bummer. A big part of why I waited for years to start exercising is because the thought of exercising around people is anxiety-inducing in the extreme. During strength training, if you want to make progress, you're going to push yourself to your physical limits, muscle failure, over and over. This is a vulnerable setting to say the least. When you're very out of shape, as I was, with limits that are... very modest, this feels humiliating. You're certainly not going to look your best covered in sweat and panting for breath. God forbid you go really hard and hurt yourself, or get nauseous and throw up (which I have). This is my anxiety disorder's worst nightmare. It took years of therapy for me to get to the point where I could make this happen, and it wasn't easy.
  • Clothes stop fitting. Pants that I could barely button last year now won't even stay up. I liked some of those clothes a lot, and now I can't wear them. And it's not safe to clothes shop during the pandemic! A minor grievance among minor grievances.

The Good

  • I like how I look. Or rather, I stopped disliking how I looked.
  • I can go for an hours-long walk in the park, and not feel winded, exhausted and miserable.
  • I can lift and carry large objects. There are a lot of practical benefits to having a body that functions. For example: moving furniture.
  • My self-esteem is up. Looking better, being more able to do physical things, and the knowledge that I successfully did something hard — this adds up to a decent boost in self-image.
  • I have an excuse to buy lots of new clothes, if stores are ever safe again. Thanks again, pandemic!
  • My life expectancy probably increased, unless I get hit by a bus.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

I'm not going back

I'm happy with how things have gone, and with where I am, and I can't see myself ever going back to pre-2020 Brian, barring some life-destroying catastrophe.

There's a lovely cliché:

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.

The second best time is now.

It's true! The best time for me to start exercising was probably ~20 years ago, but I can't do much about that now. Eight months ago was a great time. Tomorrow's a pretty good day to keep it going, too.

I firmly believe that if I can do this, it's within reach for a great many people who might think otherwise. It wasn't all roses and rainbows, but it was way easier than I dreaded.

March 25, 2021