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How I Learned to Enjoy Working Out Outside the Gym

When I Lost Access to a Gym, I Lost All Motivation, Too — Until I Shifted My Mindset

Cropped shot of a woman tying the shoelaces of her sports shoe

I've been working out consistently for more than 10 years, always in a gym or studio and never at home. I've tried everything from kickboxing and big-box gyms to Pilates and personal training. Currently my love is F45, where I get the benefit of high-intensity interval training, weights, a supportive community, and a feeling that I'm one less degree of separation from Mark Wahlberg.

The common denominator among them all is that my workouts have always been scheduled. I've had somewhere to be at a specific time where someone was expecting me to show up. I do well with that level of accountability. My competitive spirit thrives in a gym environment. Knowing that someone is watching always helps to keep me going. I'm constantly in secret battles with the people around me, and I'm grateful every time a trainer challenges me to increase my weight or my speed, pushing me outside my self-imposed limits.

When COVID-19 forced gyms to close, so much of what I love — and thought I needed — in my workout routine was gone. No one was counting on me to show up. There was no one to compete with or push me. I was impressed with how quickly my local F45 studio responded, immediately posting modified workouts and hosting live sessions on Facebook. Not to mention there are thousands of other free, at-home workouts available at our fingertips. Technically and logistically, I had no excuse not to seamlessly continue my workout routine. But mentally, I found plenty.

Without someone to hold me accountable, I quickly fell into the trap of telling myself, "I'll do it later," then "I'll do it tomorrow." That cycle went on for several weeks. I made excuses for myself about how the timing of the live workouts didn't fit my schedule (like I had anywhere to go!), and how I just don't push myself as hard on my own. I was struggling to stay motivated and finding every reason to avoid working out from home.

Then I realized that I was looking at the situation with a very narrow lens. My challenge wasn't to take my workout routine and somehow replicate it at home. Instead, I needed to reimagine it completely. If I was going to find a way to work out consistently from home, I had to change my mindset.

Instead of continuing to think that the only workouts that count are the ones that push me to the edge of passing out, I accepted other ways to move my body.
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First, I expanded my definition of working out. Instead of continuing to think that the only workouts that count are the ones that push me to the edge of passing out, I accepted other ways to move my body. I started running again, doing ab exercises at the park, and going on long walks in the afternoon (at a safe distance from everyone else, of course). These are all things I'm not sure I would have ever done had I been able to stay in my gym routine. Are they as intense as my beloved F45 classes? No. Do they burn as many calories? Not even close. But they come with some nice benefits, like being outdoors and giving my boyfriend and I something new to enjoy together.

I also had to define my reason for working out in the first place. I'm not training for a figure competition. I don't need to be the strongest person I know or get down to some ridiculously low body-fat percentage. The reason I work out is not solely for my physical health, but for my mental and emotional wellbeing as well. I simply want to feel good. So stressing myself out over the intensity or consistency of my workouts is completely counterproductive. I had been putting all this pressure on myself to keep up with this challenging routine without evaluating whether it was necessary or even harmful.

Now I livestream F45 classes at home whenever I can, but if I miss a workout, I let it slide. I'm also listening to my body and my mind to figure out what they need that day, and if it's just a long walk to get some fresh air, that's what I do. I still miss my gym workouts, where I'm surrounded by fitness enthusiasts and coached by trainers who push me. I'll be the first in line when my gym reopens — but I also plan to keep some of this new mindset. I'm hoping that's one of the positives that comes from all of this. That I'll be more flexible with my routine, allow space for loved ones and the outdoors to be part of it, and give myself the freedom to stray from it whenever needed.

Image Source: Getty / jeffbergen
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