Finding an exercise routine that works is all about finding what suits your lifestyle best. Whatever you decide, the important thing is to keep moving!
One of the unique features at ATA’s Annual Conference in New Orleans was a whiteboard placed strategically in a main thoroughfare for attendees. The question on it was simple, but it kept us entertained all week: “What fitness routine or excercise program do you use to deal with your work stress?”
As you can see from the photo above, a lot of us weighed in. There are many gems in there—I’m partial to the one about running from court to jail and back—but the whole thing got me thinking about how this is really an important question. How do we stay healthy and manage our stress?
The number of serious responses both on the whiteboard and shared by attendees on social media clue us into the fact that exercise really does work. Such responses included:
“My productivity definitely went up when my physical therapy started, including regular exercise. The time it takes is much less than the time gained through increased energy.”
We’re all different, but we all need to get this whole fitness thing done somehow. So, I figured I would share the set of tools I use to get the job done. Here we go!
Exerciser, Know Thyself
I know plenty of people who do self-directed exercise, or YouTube videos, or couch to 5k (none of which is for me). The best exercise, as they say, is the exercise you’ll actually do, and that depends on your personality and needs.
Gretchen Rubin, described as “one of today’s most influential and thought-provoking observers of happiness and human nature,” categorizes the motivational aspects of personality into four “tendencies” in her New York Times bestseller The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).1 Since I’m what she calls a Rebel,2 a lot of advice doesn’t work for me, but I’m always on the alert for what Gretchen calls “Rebel-Friendly Solutions”3 that I can adapt. My sister, whom I suspect of being a Questioner4 with a dash of Rebel, has a completely different exercise routine and philosophy that works for her.
To put this into concrete terms: as a Rebel, the moment someone tells me I “should” do something, I typically don’t want to do it—even if that someone is me. So, typically an exercise or diet strategy works best for me if it’s either: a) not a “should,” or b) an effective means of rebelling against something else. If someone told me I would never be able to lift 200 pounds, that would be the best possible way to motivate me to lift weights. As one of my colleagues says, my greatest allies are my enemies.
Meanwhile, my sister motivated herself to exercise by examining the science behind fitness from various angles, experimenting with different things, watching her resting heart rate results with her FitBit Alta (the measurable improvement was both powerfully motivating and a compelling proof of concept to her scientist mind), and analyzing what would be most sustainable in the longterm. Since she’s a mom of a toddler, she’s also modeling good behavior to her child by exercising, which provides added motivation. Again, it’s all about personality and what motivates us as individuals.
Then, of course, there’s the budget consideration. For some a fitness studio membership is affordable, and for others it’s not.
Personally, I’ve found that a combination of identity strategy and convenience strategy works best so far. The best way for me to make those strategies work while also getting a safe workout is with very special types of fitness studio memberships.
Fitness Studio Pros and Cons, Plus My Strategies
The two fitness studios I belong to are Sunstone, a yoga-focused brick and mortar chain based in Texas, and VFit,5 an online studio with classes you can attend from anywhere.
You may be thinking, why a fitness studio? You probably know the counterarguments: you have to pay a monthly fee, you have to get there, a lot of people pay but then don’t show up, etc. Those disadvantages are all real. There are some really powerful advantages, though. For example, if it’s a good studio that invests in properly trained instructors, then you’re going to have a safer experience than you might get on your own. That’s because trained instructors can see you doing each move and correct you if you’re doing anything dangerous. That’s a good thing for beginners and for people like me, who have some chronic back and hip problems. The instructors can also offer tailored advice if you want to improve in a specific area, or if you tell them something doesn’t feel right.
Why did I choose these particular studios and how did I decide? The main consideration to take into account before joining any exercise studio is the quality of the instructors and the philosophy of the studio. So, it’s important to check that out, do a trial period, ask questions, and leave any studio you don’t feel good about ASAP. I chose to stick with Sunstone after my trial period many years ago because in their yoga classes they emphasize not taking your flexibility further than your strength can sustain, which is a healthy injury-prevention philosophy. You also want a friendly and supportive environment to be part of the studio philosophy, and it doesn’t get any more friendly and supportive than VFit.
Then, of course, there’s cost. Studio/gym membership costs vary wildly, as do the availability of discounts through your health plan or employer.
And finally, there’s convenience. I’ll admit that my biggest barrier to doing anything is the effort threshold. In other words, the easier something is, the more likely I am to actually do it. One of my biggest strategies was to only consider joining studios that made things really easy for me. How does that look in practice? While some yoga studios require members to bring their own mats and towels, Sunstone provides mats and towels for every class. If I had to remember these things and lug them around, I would probably do a lot fewer classes. You can also buy a multi-studio level membership that lets you walk into any Sunstone branch you happen to be near and take a class. VFit only requires an internet connection and the Zoom app, so I don’t even have to leave my apartment. (Conversely, if I’m away from home, I can still take a VFit class as long as I have a laptop or device with me.)
Still, since I’m a Rebel, convenience isn’t enough. I like that neither studio triggers my Rebel tendency by making me jump through hoops or projecting a judging atmosphere, but that doesn’t mean I won’t skip class literally just to spite myself. I continue to struggle with that a lot. But that’s where my workout buddy comes in: I’ve discovered that the exercise buddy strategy works for me if I think of it not as an accountability strategy, but as an identity strategy.
In other words, I don’t tell myself, “I have to go to yoga because my yoga buddy is expecting me and it’s my duty.” I tell myself, “I will not flake on my buddy more than a certain low percentage of the time, because being there for my friends is who I am.” Also, flaking would have consequences for her because she attends the classes on my membership’s guest pass. So, not showing up on a frequent basis would constitute what I would consider a breach of my identity as a moral person. But, crucially, my workout buddy is not pushy or judgmental and never frames our workouts or my attendance as a moral issue, so she doesn’t trigger my rebellion instinct. The moral identity piece is all internal and chosen by me. I’ve had two great relationships with two yoga buddies who were on the same page as me about all these things. Since my current yoga buddy and I paired up a few years ago, I’ve practiced more consistently than ever before, and we’ve grown an awesome friendship in the process. We’re also both very flexible!
VFit is something I’m honestly surprised that I stuck with for multiple years, because even though the convenience really helps, I wondered whether I would really go to the classes I signed up for. And yes, that’s still a problem, but I think the secret to sticking with them overall has also been identity-based. I once told the members-only Facebook group that I avoid cardio because it makes me miserable. Instead of judging me or telling me I needed to do more cardio (which is what non-VFitters have done in the past), they just went, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know that was a thing.” They believe you and let you do you, so there’s never a rebellion trigger. And if I don’t feel like doing a particular move in class, the instructors are all supportive of me just marching in place until the next move. If nobody is telling me I have to do a specific thing, then I’m more likely to do at least something.
Other Strategies for Other People and Budgets
Other people with other personalities and budgets will want to do things completely differently. One of my bell choir homies is very self-motivated (I suspect her of being what Gretchen Rubin calls an Upholder, or someone who responds readily to outer and inner expectations). She’s gotten good results from the Beachbody 3-Week Yoga Retreat DVDs.6 To control her monetary costs, she bought the DVDs instead of doing the month-to-month on-demand service, even if it sacrificed some variety. She can do the workouts in her home, on her schedule, but still take advantage of the structured nature of them and the resources that came along with the DVDs. This type of strategy is a great option if you have the self-motivation to actually use the DVDs you buy (or a good external motivation strategy to keep you honest).
My sister, after getting a jump-start with VFit, settled into the Leslie Sansone “Walk at Home” program instead. It’s not the only thing she ever does, of course, but it’s the mainstay. She read Leslie’s book7 as part of her research phase and decided that this approach was the one she felt was most sustainable for her over a lifetime. The walk-based approach is good if you want something that’s simple and low-impact, and the cost is low. Leslie’s programs are available on DVD/Blu-ray, but tons of Leslie’s walks are available on her YouTube channel for free.8 As a mom on a budget, the program works for my sister because you only invest in as much paid content as you can afford (even if that’s zero). The strategy of convenience also applies, because you don’t need any equipment and you can do it anywhere. I’ve visited my sister and done a routine on Blu-ray, and I’ve also hung out in a motel room with her and done a YouTube session. Gretchen Rubin points out that free or low-cost walking/running programs like this can work for Rebels too, if they view their routine as rebelling against the gym and against paying money!
It’s All About What Works Best for You. Just Start Moving!
I realize this article was heavy on specific examples, but if any of you out there are still making up your minds about taking the exercise plunge, I hope hearing about my thought process will give you some ideas for how to figure out what will work for you.
My exercise regimen is still a work in progress, though, so I’ll happily accept any and all tips from fellow Rebels for how to fine-tune! (I want to accept tips from non-Rebels too, but…well, realistically, I won’t. Meaningless rebellion against advice is just part of our thing.)
- Rubin, Gretchen. The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), (Harmony, 2017), https://amzn.to/2LsVdVi.
- Rubin, Gretchen. “Habit Strategies and Tips for Rebels,” http://bit.ly/Tendencies-Rebels.
- Rubin, Gretchen. “How Does a Rebel Change Habits? One Rebel’s Clever Solutions,” http://bit.ly/Rebel-Friendly.
- “Gretchen Rubin Discusses Questioners” (LinkedIn Speaker Series), http://bit.ly/questioners.
- VFit, https://thevfitstudio.com.
- Beachbody 3-Week Yoga Retreat, http://bit.ly/3-week-yoga.
- Sansone, Leslie. Walk Away the Pounds: The Breakthrough 6-Week Program That Helps You Burn Fat, Tone Muscle, and Feel Great Without Dieting (Center Street, 2005), https://amzn.to/2yQ9dmM.
- Leslie Sansone’s “Walk at Home” YouTube channel, http://bit.ly/YouTube-walk.
Sarah Alys Lindholm is an obsessive translator, a linguist, and occasionally a lexicographer. She works as a freelance translator for both corporate and private clients and is also employed as translation supervisor for Funimation Entertainment. She maintains the blog The Detail Woman (http://sal.detailwoman.net/about), which ran the post on which this article is based. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.