I have a co-worker who likes to say that whenever she thinks she’s in pretty good shape, she tries a new kind of fitness challenge (often in the form of a class) and is quickly reminded how limited her physical capabilities really are. That’s one way to look at it—and when I participated in our office’s chin-up challenge last fall, I certainly felt that way. Although I pride myself on my ability to do pushups (real ones, not modified!), I was completely unable to do even the starter exercises that were designed to help us develop the strength to do a chin-up. Spoiler alert: At the end of the six-week program, I still couldn’t pull myself up to the bar (although I was better at the exercises we did during the training period). This was definitely a little discouraging, and it’s a big part of why I’ve been so hesitant to switch up my fitness routine, even though I know doing the same exercises over and over again makes your body more proficient in those movements and basically makes your workout less effective.
Recently, though, I’ve started to look at new fitness challenges in a different way: They can also be an opportunity to see quick improvement and even get a little ego boost. Last week, I took my first-ever class at an indoor rowing studio near my apartment called Brooklyn Crew. I’d tried rowing a little bit on my own right after my podiatrist told me that I had heel spurs and wouldn’t be able to run, use the elliptical, or cycle for the next several weeks (all of the above gave me heel pain). But as someone who (a) fails miserably at actual rowing whenever my boyfriend and I rent a rowboat in Central Park, and (b) loves reading and/or watching TV while on cardio machines—which is pretty much impossible to do on a rower—I wasn’t a huge fan.
In a class setting, though, where I was taught the proper technique and entertainment wasn’t an issue, I enjoyed the experience a lot more—and I noticed an interesting side effect: Today, when I took my second rowing class, my form had improved greatly, and I was genuinely having fun rowing in sync with the music and the other rowers. Suddenly, this was something I could see myself doing on my own at the gym. I felt good at it—way better than I’d been in the previous rowing class. (As an interesting side note, a recent study we covered on WomensHealthMag.com found that one of the key factors that keeps people working out on a consistent basis is a feeling of competency—we like to feel we’re reasonably good at what we’re doing.)
I had a similar experience recently with yoga, which I’ve been practicing more regularly in the past few weeks: I finally found my balance in Warrior III, and I hovered in Crow Pose for approximately one second at my last class (that’s one second longer than I could hold the pose prior to that!).
Isn’t it interesting how a mental shift can make all the difference? You can focus on all of the things you’re doing wrong—or can’t do at all—in that first yoga or rowing class. Or you can focus on all of the things you’ll soon be able to do if you keep at it. Think about it: If you’ve been running for years, you’ve already achieved a certain level of competency and would have to put in a lot of effort to dramatically better your speed or mileage. But if you’ve rarely done yoga, there’s so much more room for improvement—and you’ll notice yourself becoming more proficient at it pretty quickly. I won’t be ditching my running shoes any time soon, but I am going to make an effort to try new things once in a while—and not just give up when they’re difficult at first. I don’t know about you, but being able to look forward to some quick progress motivates me a lot more than guilting myself with the knowledge that I should switch up my routine because experts say so.