30 Day Gym Challenge | What I Learnt

At the start of February, I realised I had been to the gym a total of 3.5 times in January (the .5 is because there was a day whereby I walked in, turned around, and then walked straight back out again -_- ). Being the new money-conscious goal-oriented me (see New Year Goals post here), I decided to set myself the challenge of going to the gym everyday come rain or shine for 30 days. I genuinely wanted to make the most of my gym membership and see the impact going to the gym for 30 days ‘straight’ would have on my physique, especially after seeing the difference that it had made on a woman I follow on Instagram. She posted before and after pictures of herself, and honestly the physical difference was amazing. She isn’t a fitspo or anything; just a normal gal trying to lose weight before her wedding and be healthy. She also raved about the difference going to the gym everyday for 3 – 4 weeks made on her mental and physical health. Curious, and inspired, I decided to give it a go. But if I was going to set myself a challenge, I was going to do it properly.

The Challenge

A challenge without some set rules isn’t really a challenge, so I set myself the following parameters for what I personally hashtagged the #30daygymchallenge:

  • Go to the gym everyday, consecutively (unless I physically can’t make it due to being in a different location or an event) for 30 days;
  • Stay accountable by updating my Instagram Stories after every gym session with the gym day and workout performed e.g. ‘Day 1: DONE – Abs and Cardio, 40 MINS’;
  • A gym session = 30 minutes or more of physical activity;
  • Log progress weekly via waist measurements.

If you know me, then you’ll know that I love nothing more than rising to a challenge.

Wiped out after 10 mins * cries * (Weights day always gets me!)

I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that the challenge was a success! I went for 30 days ‘straight’ (bar the odd few days which I couldn’t because I was in a different city or an evening event), I lost a total of 3 inches all over my stomach area, got back into a pair of jeans that I haven’t been able to squeeze my chubby legs into since September 2017 and ultimately, fell in love with the gym again. Now, I feel weird if there’s a day that I don’t go to the gym. Which is baffling to me sometimes when I think about – considering the potato that I am!

Here are 5 insightful nuggets I discovered from doing the challenge, on my own terms, and in my own time:

1. It made me more conscious of exercise in general.

Doing the challenge had positive knock-on effects on other aspects of my life. I tried walking everywhere I could to increase my exercise levels (thus helping to improve my cardio-vascular fitness all round). This also helped me clear my mind, made me feel more relaxed, and generally just made me more conscious of what I was putting into my body and how I was feeling (really good by the way!). It made opting for more healthy food choices easier, if not natural, and had a significant positive effect on my mood. I drink lots of water anyway but with the challenge at the forefront of my consciousness, I made sure I was on top of my 3L-4L intake daily! I just felt great about life and tended to have more of a positive outlook on things in general – being committed to going to the gym seemed to provide some sort of foundation or even objective to my day to accomplish, and after I had done my session for the day, I felt great!

2. I felt the benefits 10 days in.

10 days in, I had lost inches on my waist (which meant that I had most likely lost fat), overall looked more toned and had a lot more energy. I simply felt more agile and ready to take on the day. There was this feeling of accomplishment that came with every sweaty session, especially on the days where I really wasn’t in the mood to go. The challenge meant no ifs, no buts, I simply put on my gym gear and went for it. Posting daily on Instagram Stories really helped, especially when people praised me or swooped in and encouraged me to keep going. In addition to having more energy, I was also falling asleep a lot more quickly when I headed to bed, which I was really happy about as I’ve had sleeping issues for over a year now (either sleeping too much or sleeping too little – and sometimes not at all).

3. Accountability is important to success.

This has to be the most critical factor to my success in completing the challenge. It really helped me stay motivated and most importantly, accountable, because I knew I had to update my Instagram Stories to post the status of my progress everyday, and as I didn’t want to appear a ‘failure’, it spurred me on. In a weird sort of subconscious way, I wanted to show that I – the ordinary non-gym-goer with the physique of a potato – could do this challenge – and do it well. So key takeaway here – the key factors to succeeding in a challenge or something where you’re pushing yourself: have a set framework to stick to, and establish some level of accountability – otherwise it’s easy to let it fall to the way side. And fundamentally, whatever you’re doing, make sure it works for you and fits within your lifestyle or the one that you’re trying to mould yourself into!

4. Focusing on daily changes and habit formation will lead to results (not the other way round).

After 15 days or so, I felt like it was becoming a habit. Once it became a daily thing – a part of my routine – it became so much easier. It’s like getting up and going to work – apart from the occassional sick day, you can’t really miss it – you just get up and go. This discovery of going to the gym as something I simply just do everyday, without question, without having an internal battle of ‘will I or won’t I’ – saved me eons of time and wasted energy.

By setting myself the challenge, I got rid of the one thing that tends to hold people back when it comes to being successful in making a change, especially exercising and dieting: decision-making. In Psychology this concept is known as ego-depletion, which is based on the idea that we have a limited pool of mental resources or thinking energy, and so the more decisions you have to make throughout a day, the more your self-control and willpower is drained or ‘used up’. A good example for instance is when people are dieting – they start the day off ‘on track’, only to get to the end of the evening and ‘binge’ on food or ‘fall off the bandwagon’ because their willpower/decison-making ‘muscle’ has been over-worked and worn out – I’m writing this in simplistic terms, but you get the idea. It’s why people like Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates state that they wear the same outfit everyday, so they eliminate a decision in the morning, and thus save their thinking power for more important things. I have taken on this in many ways too, prepping my lunch the day before work (best life hack ever btw), so I am no longer fretting about what to eat during my lunch period, whether it’s going to be tasty or not and deciding whether it fits my diet or not. This all causes me an undue amount of stress and I end up wasting half of my lunch break just trying to decide what to eat!

Before I digress any further, the point is, the challenge forced me into the headspace and practice of forming a habit. Once it had become a habit, it no longer even felt like a difficult challenge, but something I simply did, like brushing my teeth in the morning and before I go to bed. There’s not much thinking involved in it – it just has to be done. I really started to enjoy going to the gym at this point too – I came to see it as ‘me time’ and my way to unwind, especially if I was feeling particularly stressed or overthinking things – which I have a tendency to do.

A reminder – Keith Cunningham‘s simple yet effective mantra:

“Ordinary things done consistently produce extraordinary results.”

It’s easy to forget the fact that extraordinary results come from daily habit formation. You have to be in it for the long-haul!

5. There’s a level of confidence that comes with doing something for yourself.

This is actually something that took me pleasantly by surprise, but with each day that I went to the gym and challenged myself both mentally and physically to try new exercises, lift heavier weights and have a go at using a different machine, I felt stronger and more confident within myself. I struggled with my health (on various levels) throughout 2017, and it was only in January 2018, after receiving treatment from the NHS over the course of three months, that I started to make progress. Doing this 30 day gym challenge helped me build on that progress dramatically. The great thing is that I’ve still been going to the gym pretty much everyday since I finished the challenge in March.

Another thing – I made sure the challenge wasn’t a chore either; I didn’t have a set time or rigid schedule – I just made sure I went everyday after work and on the weekends, whenever I fancied. Staying flexible made it enjoyable for me, suited my personality and worked well with my schedule. I also tried not to take it too seriously, which meant that if I did have to skip a day due to an event or something else, I wouldn’t feel bad – I would just make up the day/workout later.

If I was to do the challenge again (which I am thinking of doing actually with slightly different parameters) I would aim to follow a workout programme, because I think my results would be even better. I also want to do a 30 day diet challenge once Ramadan is over, so watch this space for another challenge-type blog post on diet-related success!

I hope this post proved useful. If you’re struggling to get into the gym or get back into it after some time out, I would highly recommend doing a challenge like this, with the caveat to check with your doctor that you are able to undertake exercise if this is something you haven’t done before. Let me know if you decide to give it a go!

I came across the following quote whilst trawling Insta for some inspo – thought it would be a good note to leave on and the importance of taking pride in one’s body and health!

“A well built physique is a status symbol. It reflects the hard work you’ve put in. You can’t steal it, you can’t borrow it and you cannot hold onto it without constant (and consistent) work. It’s from dedication, discipline, self-respect and dignity.”

The daily posts that I did throughout the challenge on my Instagram Stories can still be viewed on my highlight reel – you can check out my personal Instagram here if you don’t follow me already.

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