We’ve all heard “get your beach bod ready,” “flatten out that tummy,” and “sculpt a leaner, sexier you,” thrown around every spring season, gearing up for the summer. And for one reason or another, there will be that surge for dieting and fitness every spring in the gym and the streets. You see people out jogging, or your company starts to offer Zumba. Your coworker starts ordering salads instead of burgers. For some people who don’t exercise regularly, getting in shape can seem daunting, even impossible. Where do you start? Do you start training for a local marathon? Join your YMCA’s master swim team? One of the first steps to getting started is a lot simpler than that. The first step is this just accepting who you are. Accept your bone structure, your body shape and metabolism. One of the best ways to start that is with body positivity. Loving yourself and knowing your body is the first step to a healthier, happier life.
However, getting started can be the hardest step when done incorrectly. Some people can jump straight into a strict diet and start going to the gym every morning, and it suits them well. But for those who cannot do that as well, find it intimidating, or don’t even know where to start, here’s a step-by-step beginner guide to getting in shape:
Acceptance of self
Knowing your goals
Putting goals into action
Acceptance of Self
Much like accepting your addiction, for those trying to overcome one, accepting your body for what it is, is the first and most difficult step.
In my own experience, knowing what my body is and isn’t capable of saved me from a lot of injury. In my freshman year of high school, I joined the swim team. It’s a non-contact sport, which was important to me because I was basically made of sticks back then. Over the past six years, I’ve gained enough muscle to know that I am now capable of starting new forms of exercise, and because of that, I joined my college’s softball team. Softball is still a low-contact sport, but I’m confident to say that if I had the body I had six years ago now, I’d be so much more prone to injury, and I would be tempted to quit working out altogether.
Moral of the story: know your limits, and find something that fits your capabilities.
Something else I always found interesting was with my sister and me. I grew into a lanky person while she remained shorter (at five feet tall, only four inches shorter than me) and curvaceous. We both swam throughout high school, and we’re both still swimming at our respective colleges. When we swim together, we get to be very competitive, which is unfortunate not only because we swim different strokes, but also different distances. Due to my longer legs, I am more apt for sprinting events, but her body allows her to conserve her energy better for longer events, such as swimming the mile. I envied her ability to do that, but I realized that we were built so differently that there was no chance I could ever beat her in such a race, and applauded her for that. Likewise, her idea of hell was my events that last for a 200 (eight laps).
Moral of the story: know your shape, know other shapes, and know what your body can do for you.
(source) From Howard Schatz’s book, Athletes: here are some Olympians with different body shapes to put it in perspective.
Know how to love your body. Why do you love your body? Why do you hate it? Learn how to turn your hate into love. I’m not going to tell you that this is an easy feat, but it will be well worth it. Your legs are thick: your legs carry you every day. You have stretch marks: your skin is striped like a tiger’s, and they are revered for their beauty. There has been a surge in social media as of late toward ideas of having “thigh gap” (when standing, having space between your thighs when your feet touch), blogs solely about “thinspiration” (inspiration to be thin, usually phrases indicating it is better to be skinny than to eat), and others that are all demeaning to those who are not of a certain size. This sets a lot of people back, and they turn to hating who they are. Don’t let this be you. Stand in front of a mirror, naked, and take in everything you hate. If you’re a list-maker, pull out a pen and paper and write it down. And then tell yourself something good about everything you thought was bad.
Here’s a role model: two months ago, a Los Angeles woman strutted around Hollywood Blvd in just a bikini to promote body positivity and acceptance. Most of us can’t just start loving ourselves so openly like that at the flip of a switch. My personal advice would be to “fake it ‘till you make it,” because someday, you’ll believe it yourself.
Make Some Goals
Being an avid list maker, this was, and still is, my favorite part. One of the first questions to ask is, “what is my goal?” and this is important because this will dictate how you progress in your fitness. Some common goals include getting in better shape before summer (time-crunched workouts/diets), dropping a few pant sizes, being overall toned, be able to run a 5k without stopping, etc. When I first started swimming, I didn’t have much of a goal in terms of what I thought I wanted in my body, but after one season of swimming, I noticed my legs and arms began to develop some shape and muscle definition. When I entered college, I started working out in the gym more, targeting certain leg muscles so I would have better stamina kicking when I jumped back into the pool. I had a goal in mind: stronger muscles to endure longer races.
Know your goal. If you aren’t exactly sure what you’re aiming for, dig into what you’ve wished for (to fit in a size 4, wear a medium, run around the block, etc.), and use those as a temporary goal. It’s important here to be flexible in your goals, because these things can change all the time. What I did was to just continue what form of exercise I really loved to do, and see how that positively affected my body. Waiting to see change is not a bad idea. Doing what you love, or what feels right, will always be better than pushing yourself into doing something you have no desire to do. Forcing yourself will cause you to have a negative reaction to getting healthy, and that’s the opposite of what you want to do.
Putting Goals into Action
It’s important to implement your goal and start moving forward. Whether it’s with baby steps or giant leaps, moving forward is key. Don’t be afraid of breaks, or pauses on the road to your end goal, but do not be dissuaded. Everyone has their own speed, so find what you are comfortable with, and stick with it. Many people say that leaving your comfort zone is where the real work is put in, but for the start of your journey, find a comfort zone.
If you ever have any concerns, always consult a professional or a doctor. It’s comforting to hear other people’s stories, translate them into your own life, and follow what your peers have done, but this is a prime example of accepting yourself: your body is different from everyone else’s. Your body will require something different than what your husband’s or your sister’s body requires.
This is the first installment of a series of a beginner’s guide to health and fitness. Getting started can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Make it fun! Incorporate your family – do group activities, have everyone help in how to stock your fridge, etc. Learn to love yourself, and love the imperfections in not just yourself, but everyone around you. Knowing yourself and your body type will make the transition into a whole new routine that much easier. Setting up small goals for a new regime of fitness and diets will come later. But first, love what you have, and cherish your body for carrying you through your life.