Spring just hit and the sun’s shining once again. With the warmer weather comes the perfect opportunity to consider investing proper time into increasing your fitness. I’m writing this in order to give anybody starting their fitness-related journey a little knowledge on what to expect. Several years removed from the start of my own journey, I wanted to share some of my experiences. The first half of what you’re about to read will briefly discuss a breakthrough in my fitness journey, and the last half will serve to outline some options available to you when considering where to start. Hopefully by sharing some insights and things I’ve learned along the way, I will help you progress faster than I ever did.

I had always been athletic growing up, feeling strong, fast, and healthy. Despite this, my athleticism never matched my own perception of how I thought I should physically appear. Having always been skinny, there came a point in time when I was tired of how I looked.   It was time to make a change. At around 20, I started lifting weights with more intention and purpose than any of my prior, brief stints at the gym. Now, I’ll admit — It wasn’t necessarily out of the necessity for fitness so much as it was a means to improve my self-confidence and match how I looked on the outside to how I felt on the inside. I slowly fumbled my way through a long learning process filled with many errors, mistakes, and lessons. In fact, I’m still fumbling today, but I can say that in the four years I’ve spent training, only within the last 10 months or so have I truly started to find my groove when it comes to lifting weights and properly applying the discipline needed to make gains. One of the breakthroughs came into shifting away from lazy habits and being more consistent. For a long while I was extremely on and off, never committing to schedule or maximal effort.  Thinking back on it though, my growth wouldn’t have been possible had I not applied the techniques and lessons acquired in my time spent boxing – the true breakthrough in my training. Let me explain.

Early on I took a detour into training boxing. My dad having been a successful amateur boxer in his youth and now the coach of some of Alberta’s most promising young boxers, it was only fitting that I give it a shot. Fighting didn’t necessarily interest me, but athletics did and so I attended the classes to see what I could get out of them. It was a tough process, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything. Along the way I not only learned about boxing technique, cardio, endurance, proper diet and nutrition, but also how to lift weights with correct form. Little did I know that gaining knowledge of these various topics would pale in comparison to the true takeaways of the classes.

I primarily trained out of Southpaw Boxing Gym with the Goldenstars team, and with their help and encouragement, I built up to sparring and eventually went on to compete myself. Although it was a recreational outlet for me and a way to engage my interest for fitness, and despite the fact that I would eventually return to dedicate more time to weight-lifting, my overall fitness progress wouldn’t have existed had it not been for my time at Southpaw.  The true invaluable worth of boxing was that it taught me how to adhere to a schedule — how to be on time and get up early in the morning to get my butt to training even when I didn’t feel like it. It ingrained a sense of habit within my day-to-day life, which is essential in progressing in anything. It taught me discipline, focus, dedication, and about the effort required in repeatedly hammering away at goals, whatever shape they take. The lessons I took away from the boxing gym have followed me to other form of fitness that I’ve tackled without fail. Without boxing, I wouldn’t be in the shape I am today. Somewhere along the way I also started to develop the physique I always thought I should have too, so I consider that the icing on the cake.

With all of that being said, I wanted to round up some information below to help those who have no clue on how to get started on their journeys, and who also don’t want to break the bank in the process. I will be outlining information pertaining to the most popular methods of engaging oneself in the realm of fitness. I’ll briefly cover each method and conclude with a deeper look into boxing classes to give you a better idea of what to expect. Whether your goal is to shift into a healthier life-style by eating cleaner and being more active, or if you simply want to get in shape to look better in your summer clothes in the months to come, it doesn’t matter. Whatever the reason, the following is for you:

WEIGHT-LIFTING GYMS

Perhaps an obvious starting choice, commercial gyms have branches spread across any major city. Commercial gyms offer memberships that give you access to a wide variety of weight-lifting equipment that’s usually available at convenient hours of the day, seven days a week. Obviously hours vary from one franchise to the next, but pricing for memberships is usually competitive and thus somewhat standardized. After a free try-out period that lasts several days to a week, gyms charge on either a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, and you can expect to pay roughly $75 a month on average on the lower end when signing up. Monthly prices can keep going up from there depending on what amenities the branch location and franchise offers, and whether or not you’re set up on a month-to-month payment schedule instead of a one or two year contract. Locking yourself into a contract may be cheaper per month up front, but understand that expensive cancellation fees are involved (approximately $100 – $200) should you decide you want to the leave the gym or find you no longer have the time to go. One-time registration/ sign-up fees of around $50 – $75 should also be expected when first starting your membership.

One of the largest barriers-to-entry with any weight-lifting gym is the freedom you’re afforded. Without any scheduling done on your behalf by the gym (more on that later), it rests on you to schedule your own workouts throughout the week, figure out what you’ll be training, how to properly train, and build your entire routine from scratch. Initially, this can be confusing, off-putting and possibly a waste of time and money if you don’t consistently put in the effort to make it work. To alleviate this, most commercial gyms offer personal training. A staff member with certifications will schedule your workouts and guide you through a series of exercises targeted at getting your general level of fitness up. Of course this doesn’t come free, and after several free sessions expect to pay a considerable amount going forward. Though a viable option, always be skeptical and inquisitive about any program you’re put on. Certifications don’t always equate to you getting the most effective or optimal workout.  Self-education is king here, and if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll find a plethora of readily available information online just waiting to be utilized. Use common sense; sift through whatever looks dodgy, find plans that look legitimate and suited for your skill level, don’t be afraid to experiment, and you’ll find that when it comes to lifting weights, signing up for personal training isn’t always necessary.

Perhaps the last barrier to entry (and definitely the most superficial) is the intimidation factor. Starting out at any gym you’ll be surrounded by members of varying fitness levels, some of whom will be advanced. Seeing others that are well-built and that handle much heavier weight than you can lead to feelings of insecurity and disappointment with your own image. Understand that this is completely the wrong mindset to occupy, and know that everyone in the gym is there for their own reasons. It’s okay to aspire to someone else’s physique, but always focus on yourself and compete with yourself. When offered help or advice from others, humbly accept and listen to what people have to say, then decide for yourself if the information you’re receiving is right for you.

FITNESS CLASSES

For more structure, including scheduled classes at certain hours of the day, some facilities offer a wide variety of aerobic-type group exercises, such as dancing, spinning, circuit training, and even a mix of weight-lifting and plyometric exercises for around $100 per month. Many others offer routines in the form of muay thai or kickboxing classes. Most of these classes claim to offer, “the best workout ever”, but unless you’re committing to going multiple times a week, these types of classes mostly serve as rudimentary introductions to fitness, and lack any real sense of progression. The primary motivator to attend such classes is in the large groups of people working through the exercises, bringing a communal and social aspect to training which is certainly beneficial for overall mood and energy going into workouts. Understand that the social aspect for the majority of these classes is obviously not designed to meet your specific fitness needs, and rather than the class molding to what you require, you must mold to the curriculum of the class.

You must also be wary of instructors that conduct your classes. You’ll want to look for instructors with particular experience and realm knowledge of the activity they teach, and accreditation never hurts. Often you’ll find instructors that teach the classes part-time and only possess a minimal threshold of experience and knowledge on the particular subject, and carry little teaching or coaching expertise. Remembering that not all who run such classes are required to be experts at their field will go a long way in helping you decide if a class may or may not be right for you. Always go into such classes with an inquisitive mindset, and question if what you’re doing makes sense for your goals. I feel confident in recommending such classes as viable introductions to your fitness journey, but only as introductions. Better options still exist.

MARTIAL-ART GYMS

Gyms teaching martial-arts such as karate, taekwando, etc., are certainly not bad places to start, but know going in that these types of establishments have specific goals pertaining to the martial-art they teach. If your goal to gain some certain skill and ability in a particular martial-art, then by all means join. Memberships usually fluctuate from $100 per month and up depending on how many classes you take and what type of membership you choose. Classes are conducted in a group setting and structured at certain hours of the day. Though not primarily fitness oriented, learning a martial-art will get you in shape if you stick around long enough, but the main return on your time will be in the valuable skills and discipline you acquire in the process.

If you prefer to go it alone, sometimes the option exists to find yourself a personal martial-arts trainer. Focused primarily on you, you can expect your technical skill and physical transformation to grow at a much more rapid pace. Though it sounds nice, this is usually one of the most costly options, and that doesn’t even take into consideration the quality of training you’ll be receiving. Paying anywhere from $50 – $120 for one hour increments without bullet-proof results will set you back both time-wise and money-wise. Finding a good trainer is a complicated process, best navigated by proper research, trusted word of mouth and trial and error.

BOXING GYMS

If you’re looking to lose weight, get in shape, build muscle, and learn valuable skills and techniques on top of that, there’s nothing better. Being a high-level athlete in boxing equates to having an excellent fitness level, and this translates to entry-level boxers too. It will be tough at first, but no other sport that I have tried better exemplified the idea of getting out what you put in. Most boxing gyms offer different kinds of conditioning and fitness classes, and in most cases the coaches who work with high-level athletes on technique will also run these classes. Regarded as a ‘poor man’s sport’, legitimate boxing club prices are usually on par with (if not lower than) commercial gym chains and other fitness centers. Memberships cost around $100 per month and classes are structured at least five days a week, allowing some flexibility to accommodate your schedule. However, the service that’s provided is usually beyond and above any weight-lifting gym you’ll find. Even though most classes occur in a group atmosphere, personal attention is given generously. Conditioning classes are usually separated from the technical boxing classes, and so you get a good selection of which environment you want to train in, although both complement one another and pair well when taken together during the week. Not only that, but being that boxing is such a demanding sport, you’ll receive help and advice pertaining to proper nutrition and how to lift weights to help further your boxing technique. And all this for the same price as any other fitness gym that wouldn’t offer the same.  Combine that with a gym that houses friendly environment and encourages both respect and growth, you have a recipe for success.

Of course, not every boxing gym will shine through. As with anything, you have to do your research before making an informed decision. Get the usual suspects out of the way first. In using the free classes that you’ll get prior to signing up, make sure the gym is clean, fosters an environment and atmosphere that works for you and helps you grow, and lines up with your schedule. The most important thing to look for however, is making sure the gym has a big and successful competitive team. This is important to have because a boxing gym that houses lots of amateur and professional boxers with successful careers and impressive resumes means the coaches are doing their job, know what they’re doing, and most importantly are able to get through to their athletes and properly teach them. Just like anything else, success in boxing is measured in results. If coaches can successfully instruct and develop high-level athletes, they’re doing something right. Finally, it’s important to remember two things: without a high level of fitness, high-level athletes don’t exist, and if a coach can teach and train competitive athletes, they can teach you too and will make a difference in your life. All high-level athletes started somewhere.

No matter what you choose, the important part is that you feel satisfied and happy with the choice you’ve made and the place you’ve landed at. If you feel that something isn’t working for you, walk away and try again. Perhaps some place feels too restrictive, or it could be as simple as someone aggressively trying to lock you into some type of contract you’re not sure about. Don’t waste your time — there are plenty of other options. I’m glad if I helped you decide on something one way or another, or at least got you to start thinking about bettering yourself. Get in shape, stay healthy, and be happy!

David G.

photo credit to DR Prints

 

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