I hate the gym, so I found an alternative

This is a bit of an unusual article, since I never consider myself into fitness. After all, I write extensively about Arts, Music and other craftsmanship, why would I write about working out? However, since I’ve recently taken on a fitness challenge, I figure I would write about what I learn, and how that changes the relationship with my body. 

To be fair, I have a decent active lifestyle, I go hiking weekly, or bi-monthly, varying from 5 to 12 miles, I go to dance class every now and then. I walk everywhere (just like anyone living in San Francisco) and stand on the train. I’m an Mesomorph, may have looked (visibly) chubby at some point in the past, can gain or lose weight as I wish. I do have a certain goal of losing body fat and the activities mentioned don’t suffice. People told me I should go to the gym.

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Truth is I hated it: the smell of sweat on rubber mats, the sound of heavy lift crashing the floor, and the pair of Lululemon yoga pants that is overpriced for its functionality. I came to the gym thinking I could make new friends (as I normally bond in any social activities), only to get disappointed that people come in to get the work done, and get out as soon as they’re done.

So many trails with fantastic view in the Bay Area!

Last year I started giving ClassPass a try. I went to aerial dance class, pole dance class, biking class, barre class, TRX, I went swimming, etc. As I love diversity, the variety of options on ClassPass was more than enough to feed my craving. Some classes stick, some I decided was too difficult and not so interesting (aerial dance was one of them). I’m not a fan of the logistics that come with going to class: Showing up 15 mins earlier to check in, taking a shower afterwards (yes, I have curly hair and that means bringing my own shampoo, conditioner, waiting forever for my hair to dry, etc.), planning my commute. I then turned to home workout as an alternative. 

Long story short, after trying several work out Youtube videos (Emy Wong, Hana Giang Anh, Chloe Ting, and a bunch of other PT that I don’t recall the names, sorry 😔 ), I stick to Chloe Ting, for several reasons: 

  • Her workout is short, and has intense focus. Quite frankly, I don’t like indoor workout. I then learned focus to get the most out of my time.  
  • It requires no equipment, or just minimal equipment, so it eliminates the choices I need to make.
  • The progression bar on the top of the video makes it easy to adjust at your pace.
  • Clear schedule. I started out with the 26 days Hourglass program. It works like a no brainer to me, I just have the schedule in front of me, follow the videos, and don’t have to think about it. 

So by 11-Nov 2019, I already completed the programs, with visible results.

I was surprised that I’m able to complete the program within the timeframe (I gave myself an extra 15 days, which I actually didn’t need to use), but more pleasantly surprised about my learnings: 

  • Know what motivates you: I’ve never been motivated about the look. I thought it would be nice to accelerate my hiking pace, and maintain an active social life without doing harm to my fitness progress (it means eating out at events without increasing my waistline). I wanted to keep one aspect of my life in check (fitness), so I have room and energy for other aspects (that I deemed, of higher priority). 
  • Have a specific goal: I wanted to grow some muscles on my belly, thigh and butt, so although hiking and running are good, they weren’t optimized for my goal. 
  • Fit your workout into your lifestyle, not the other way around: I still don’t like going to the gym for reasons I mentioned before. If it’s on my calendar, it’s a Job-To-Be-Done. I don’t need pep talk and don’t display my goal in public because I need someone to keep me accountable (Peer accountability/pressure is how most gyms are designed around). Indeed, I opted for a routine that works for me as a morning person. That left me bandwidth to enjoy my evening activities without having to cut it short. You wouldn’t find me excusing a social/artistic outing “to go to the gym”. 
  • Listen to your body: Journaling is my way to thoroughly reflect different life aspects, and so far it has proven effective in showing me signals of where my micro-improvement should occur. In other words, it takes the guess work out of my mind, so I can make specific action to get me closer to the desired outcome. My body responds well to HIIT and Cardio. I tried some arms weight lift before, and my comfort level is of 25-30lbs each.
  • Understand your tendency, and make peace with it: I’m all about having various options and I’m comfortable juggling those. To counter the ‘boredom’ of home workout, I need a program that gives me enough variety in exercises.
  • Pick your environment: I don’t like the aggressiveness in competition, and that’s okay. External rewards don’t mean much to me. I’ve seen countless articles on how competition helps raise the bar, and supportive groups can backfire. I couldn’t disagree more. I did switch from a high end gym in FiDi in San Francisco, where everyone is rigorously competitive, to a more relaxed/friendly gym in the Mission. I still got the same work done, and I opted for the ambiance that best suits my personality.
  • Research, and constantly iterate: I used to dread researching anything gym related. Really, it wasn’t the most fascinating topic I lean toward, but I realized that health and fitness didn’t only happen in the gym. It’s about being mindful in your choices of food and the degree of activities through out your day. I’m still new in navigating this whole scene, but I suppose this uncomfortable phase is part of the journey. I’ll keep talking to bodybuilders and scrutinizing the schedule of people who have achieved the results I wanted.
  • Measure your progress based on Consistency and Intensity. When I first started, I struggled most with Consistency. Now that I have built a habit, I can add more Intensity into my routine. While it’s important to feel stronger, it’s even more important to feel connected to your body.

I didn’t fully follow Chloe Ting’s program on the eating side. I didn’t eat clean, neither do I do fasting (I’m a morning person and get hangry if I don’t eat on time). However, I did cut down on sugar on a daily basis, which was a great achievement for me since I’m a sweet tooth. I’m still able to have dessert as I want, with very moderate consumption.  I no longer have sugar rush.

So what’s next: I took only 2 days off after the program, and still work out 5 days a week. I don’t have mental resistance anymore, I just wake up and put on Chloe Ting’s video and start my day. I’m following her other programs, exploring the balance of cardio and strength, with the compound and isolation movements, and experimenting other changes in my metabolism.
I have no guilt nor anxiety admitting that my lukewarm relationship with the gym isn’t going to change any time soon, but it’s okay as long as I’m in a healthy relationship with my body.

fitness, healthy eating

If you haven’t checked out Hans, it’s a great brunch spot over by Nob Hill. Their Bibimbap, Chicken Teriyaki and Beef Teriyaki are so rich and healthy!

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