3 truths about lifelong fitness that personal trainers will never tell you

Shutterstock/Uber ImagesWhat a chore!
  • I’ve worked out four nights a week for 25 years. And I’ve noticed that personal trainers never tell their clients the three most important facts about lifelong fitness. They are:
  • Don’t go to the nicest gym you can afford. Go to the one closest to your house.
  • Yes, you can skip the exercises you hate.
  • Going to the gym even when you don’t feel like it is probably the single most beneficial exercise there is.

It’s the New Year. If you’re thinking, “I am finally going to join a gym, get fit, and lose some weight,” you are not alone.

The problem is, you are highly likely to stop going to the gym after just a few months. The dirty secret of the gym business is that most people who pay for memberships stop going. The gym keeps their money. A Swiss fitness instructor confessed as much last year: 90% of gym memberships are paid for by “no shows” – people who buy in but don’t actually appear at the gym.

So how do you become one of the 10% of people who incorporate fitness as part of their life, and go regularly, forever?

I have the answers.

I’ve been working out four nights a week for about 25 years. Now, I feel qualified to reveal – drumroll! – the three best-kept secrets of lifelong fitness. They are also three things that no gym employee or personal fitness trainer will ever tell you.

My advice comes with caveats: I am – obviously – not going to win any beauty competitions any time soon. I’m not a model or an athlete or one of those ripped dudes in a muscle t-shirt. My secrets will not help you drop 30 pounds in 30 days, or anything like that. I am, however, in reasonable shape for my age (I’m in my 40s). I can bench-press my own bodyweight, run a 5K without getting out of breath, and swim 30 standard pool lengths in 30 minutes. My body-mass index is (just!) within the correct range for my height.

These aren’t very impressive feats. My point is that, unlike you, I don’t hibernate on the sofa for six months of the year.

So here’s the ugly truth about going to the gym and sticking with it. If you can follow these three bits of advice, you’ll enjoy lifelong fitness:

1. Go to the nearest gym to you, not the nicest gym you can afford.

SaunaShutterstockThese people are not your friends.

You will be tempted to join the fanciest gym you can afford – like that nice one you saw with the hot tub and the sauna. But your ability to continue showing up will depend on your work schedule and your personal life, not whether the steam smells minty fresh. If the gym commute is more than 10 minutes, it suddenly becomes difficult to squeeze in a workout before or after work. Ideally, you want to work out for about an hour each day. Once you factor in showering and changing, and the commute to and from your gym, that can easily end up closer to two and a half hours. No one has two spare hours every day. The commute is the one bit you can reduce. There is an inverse relationship between the distance from your house to the gym and how often you go, according to data pulled from the fitness industry by Dstillery, which measures these things. Be smart. Go to the nearest gym.

2. Do the exercises you enjoy doing, and don’t bother with those you hate.

Stomach crunchesEthan Miller/ Getty ImagesYou don’t have to do this.

Everyone knows that full-body fitness is all about changing things up! Muscle confusion! And not getting stuck in a rut! That is true. It’s good advice if you want to end up looking like Cristiano Ronaldo. But if you’re a normal person, take it from me: You want the gym to be enjoyable. You do not want it to be a chore. So do the things you enjoy doing. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul and it’s not going to work if you hate it. I like weights, running, and swimming. I almost never use an elliptical machine or one of those yoga balls. Many, many personal trainers have recommended stomach crunches to me even though stomach crunches are one of the most useless forms of exercise. (The flatness of your stomach is almost entirely dependent on your diet and the overall amount of exercise you do, not whether you use the itty-bitty muscles just under your ribs.) They’re also really boring.

So I never do crunches.

3. Go to the gym even when you feel tired and don’t want to.

Jim EdwardsJim Edwards

The No.1 cause of not going to the gym is deciding to not go to the gym. There will be many, many days when you feel too tired, or it’s too late, or you have a cold coming on, and the idea of putting your feet on the coffee table seems much more appealing. But you can’t do that. Show up at the gym anyway. Whether you like it or not. Working out when you’re tired suuuuuuuuuucks. We all have days when you can only get through about 80% of your “normal” workout – but it’s better than no workout. Even half your normal workout will help you maintain your top fitness level. Not going at all, by contrast, will set you back. Life is going to get in your way. Your boss will make you work late. You will get invitations to dinner. There will be plenty of days when you cannot go to the gym. But on the days you can, you have to go even when you don’t want to. (It is not a coincidence that US Navy SEAL training comes down to the same thing: You have to decide that you’re not going to quit.)

One tip: Take your gym bag to work with you so that you’ve got no excuses when you leave the office.

That’s it! That’s everything you need to know about lifelong fitness.

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