Soooo many things! Some happen over time, some happen immediately. But so many things are not spoken about much. These are some things – in no particular order – that might happen, when you start exercising in a formalised sense.
If you are prone to anxiety, you’ll hate training at intensity – initially at least. The symptoms – shortness of breath, rapid heart rate – they’re too similar.
You might start to feel strong, or you might start to feel weak. When we train for strength, the actual training will leave us feeling weak and vulnerable. Then we adapt and recover and grow stronger. Training for endurance will leave us feeling exhausted. Then we adapt and recover and develop the capacity to endure. Training for fun will, hopefully, leave us feeling like we had a good time.
Your body awareness will develop. You’ll start to get a sense of what your body likes and dislikes, how it likes to move and what it resists – what you resist. This requires attention. Like strength and the capacity to work hard, your body awareness develops over time. It might not be logical. You might discover – like me – that you enjoy training your back. It feels good, you feel a sense of satisfaction and progress. You might also discover – like me – that you are really slow to develop your pressing movements. You might discover you love jogging, or you don’t. You might discover your shoulder mobility is excellent, but your hamstrings are tight. You may wish to investigate this further or you may not.
Ridicule. This one happens too, sometimes in subtle ways. Sometimes not. Many dudes in gyms have been heard to say shit like “my grandmother lifts faster/stronger/more betterer than you”. Guys who feel like they respond well to this tend to perpetrate that kind of encouragement. Guys who do not respond well to that – like me – tend to enjoy training alone more than in groups.
You may also feel marginalised because you are too small, or too big, or too blonde, or too hipster. This is regrettable. In order to progress athletically and develop your potential, shaming is unnecessary. At least, if nothing else, you can try to avoid shaming yourself.
It took me the longest time to work out that there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you’re human. Humans are diverse. There’s no such thing as perfection, only diversity.
Injuries. The kick in the teeth – so to speak – is this: if you train, you risk getting injured. If you don’t train, you risk getting injured. Maybe training will develop muscle imbalances and lead to joint dysfunction. Maybe not training will result in atrophy and muscular tightness and lead to joint dysfunction. Pay attention to how you feel – try to develop an awareness of the difference between your muscles and your joints. Unfortunately we are encouraged to watch TV while jogging, we are told to hate our bodies, so of course the last thing we want to do is be reminded that we have one. If you ignore and push through your injuries they will get worse. Investigate, rehabilitate, massage and train smart.
Fear of fatigue. People often seem to feel as if needing to rest is a sign of weakness. It’s just as much a sign of commitment. All people need to rest. At the gym, we seek out fatigue, because enduring fatigue stimulates development. Also, stupidity encourages injuries and depletion. I believe in resting as long as you like, and training in a way that you enjoy. If you work harder, you’ll need to rest harder. Or maybe longer. Sometimes you might feel like you’re not progressing – you aren’t lifting more weight or capable of doing more advanced exercises – but maybe you’re not having to rest as long in between exercises as you used to? Or maybe you need to rest for longer and you feel like you’re regressing – but actually it’s your ability to work hard that has increased, and so you require more rest? This is a sign of progress. Things are not immediately apparent.
Failure. If you train, you will experience failure. If you’re okay with that, you will probably progress well, and if you’re not okay with failing at stuff, your progress will most likely be stunted. This is a very contentious topic. Failure in an ideal world – is where you can no longer complete the technique you are practicing. Maybe you’ve done eight reps of a heavy bench press and you cannot complete the ninth. Failure is tied up with the ridicule and shame point. It’s a mixed bag. Only you know what failure means to you. Failure means something quite different to the hypothetical bodybuilding gym junkie than it does to someone with chronic fatigue, diabetes, anxiety, depression, joint disorders, heart conditions, asthma – in short, all non-fictitious humans. You have no obligation to anyone other than yourself when you train. Bullies would like you to believe otherwise, but they’re wrong. Your only obligation is to yourself – you are not obliged to bust your ass, you’re only obliged to care for yourself.
Fun. You will have fun. You will experience the joy of striving in the face of adversity, the joy of accepting and meeting challenges on your own terms, and you will experience the strength and freedom that independence brings.
Self-confidence. You will experience improved or worsened self-confidence. This has a lot to do with your training environment. The reason gyms have mirrors is not to help you with technique, it’s to make you feel bad about yourself. The more you work for your own development, on your own terms, the more you build strength of character and confidence. The more you work for the approval of other people, the more it erodes your confidence. This can be exceptionally tricky. Beware of cults, or people who would value your worth based on your appearance, work ethic, or anything other than the fact that you too, are human.
I’ve been working in fitness for several years and been training in some formalised capacity for more than two decades. I still – from time to time – feel self conscious when I’m training in front of other people. Especially when I’m ‘pushing failure’.
You’ll get sweaty, and/or short of breath.
Your muscles will feel strange.
You might experience light-headedness – especially if you’re eating ‘low carb’ or you’re training before breakfast.
You may feel euphoric during or after training.
You may feel tranquil and focused, you may feel a greater attention to detail, and you might also feel an improved ability to concentrate and still the mind.
You might find that your ability to cope with stress improves, over time.
You will probably not notice much change in your body’s weight or appearance. Try not to worry about it too much - study after study reveals that exercise is still good for you even if your weight remains the same. The exercise is not ‘not working’. In fact, it’s probably doing exactly what it’s meant to. If you’re having fun, still looking the same won’t be enough to make you to stop training altogether.
If you work according to your own intuition or judgement you might start trusting your own intuition or judgement.
If you train according to how you feel, you might start liking your body more, and you might not hate the signs of distress - you might not hate being reminded you have a body that requires care and deserves respect.
When taking care of yourself is not a euphemism for starvation and punishment... y’know, it’s kinda enjoyable.