Six Months of Going to the Gym

Posted on March 23, 2024 by Richard Goulter

I’ve been going to the gym consistently for the last six months or so.

Some thoughts:


I started going to the gym to improve my health; especially to lose fat.

Alongside going to the gym, I’ve restricted the amount of soft drink I drink, & limited the amount of fried food I eat.
Those changes alone had a significant impact on the progress I made.
– “Restriction” is an unhappy word. Perhaps “control” would be better. By my estimate, the effort it’d take to burn the calories from soft drinks far outweighs the reward from drinking them.

The gym I attend has a fancy bioelectrical impedance analysis machine. This helps assess body composition; i.e. can be used to measure weight, muscle mass (sorta), and fat. – This makes it easier to track “fat loss” as a target, as distinct from “weight loss”. Without that distinction, building muscle (as a gym beginner) somewhat confounds the goal of losing weight; since it’s good to build muscle, but building muscle increases weight. (Although, sure, it’s easier to burn fat with a calorie deficit, and to build muscle with a calorie surplus[1]).

I also recently started keeping a workout journal. It’s easy enough to keep track of progress when using a treadmill (e.g. “Last week I ran 5km. This week I ran 5.2km. Improvement!”). But, I found it difficult to keep track of progress when using weight machines (& weights). I wanted to write down what I’d done, so then I’d have a reference point to compare against for the next session.

In terms of progress?
Shorts which used to tightly hug my bum will now fall off if I don’t wear a belt.
My chess rating has improved online, which I mainly attribute to improved physical fitness.

Start Small then Work Up

When I first started going to the gym, I would go two or three times each week. Starting out, I focused exclusively on using the treadmill.

Since starting out, I’ve increased the pace at which I run at, and increased the amount of time I run for.

After developing that to a level I was happy with, I was then able to use the days between running to do whatever else at the gym.

Regarding Initial Anxiety and Such

I certainly felt anxious about going to the gym when I started going. I think pretty much everyone feels that way.

I think what I was initially most anxious about was looking silly.. or feeling like some kind of imposter that didn’t belong at the gym.

Part of that was surely thinking “oh, I don’t know what exercises to do; I don’t know how to use the weights or machines”.
There are ways to figure these things out, though.
For one.. since my goal has been ‘fat loss’, it wasn’t so bad to just focus on using the treadmill. For another, the weight machines at the gym are beginner friendly. There are plenty of videos on YouTube which demonstrate how each machine is used. – Though, I’ve seen some pretty compelling arguments that beginners should also make use of free weights.

I think part of gym anxiety is fear of being judged.
Some people who go to the gym are fitter than others; it’d be silly (and rude) for the fitter people to judge others for being less fit at the gym, since by exercising at the gym is a reasonable way to improve fitness.
But, really I can take pride in putting in the effort to show up to the gym, and make each workout a good one that made progress towards my goals. (It takes a long time to lose a bunch of weight; it’s much quicker to change how many times you go to the gym. It’s easier to hit the target of “go to the gym twice a week” and improve that to “three times a week” than it is to hit the target “lose 10kg of fat”).

People do look at what other people are doing in the gym.
Partly this is comparison.
But another reason is curiousity. I know that I’ll want to see what others are doing.
– I reckon not everyone knows everything. I often see the damper on the rowing machines set to a 10. I’m inclined to believe people set it to a 10 thinking “intense workout”, rather than “slow boat”[2].
– The gym I go to has a SkiErg machine. In my months of attending the gym, I hadn’t seen anyone use it. (Although after I used it, I saw PTs advise gym-goers to use it, where the Personal Trainer’s technique diverged unusually/weirdly from the recommended technique[3]).

It varies from gym to gym, but my experience has been that the Personal Trainers are typically unpleasant to interact with. Ideally, PTs would be knowledgeable, friendly, supportive and encouraging. Somehow, commission-based incentives don’t necessarily lead to this. – I mean, dealing with these PTs is an unpleasant part of gym going.

Positively: If you go to the gym routinely, you’ll recognise other people who follow an overlapping routine.

Going to the Gym Can be Fun

I became a gym member in order to improve my health, not for the fun of it. And I’m not always excited to go to the gym, and the gym isn’t always fun. Sure.
But I do think it’s kind of a shame that exercise is thought of as a burdensome chore, rather than something fun.

I reckon in the same way that a dog likes going to the park, your body ought to appreciate the chance to exercise.

For losing fat.. I think running at a high intensity for a long period of time is fun. I do get that “runner’s high”.
Some other things help:
While running, I listen to music. I use the Aftershokz headphones, they’re great, and well suited to exercise. (They don’t cover up the ears). – It’s very fun to listen to an upbeat song, and to be running at high speed to that song.
For endurance activities, part of what I find fun is demonstrating a consistent, high level of effort. Of course it’s boring to finish if a run is too easy. And giving up before the end is also not fun. But enduring to the point where you want to give up while still finishing is relieving.

Some of the exercises that gym equipment allows can be pretty fun:

The gym I go to has a ‘curved motorless treadmill’.
This is kinda like a hamster wheel, but for humans.
Since the machine’s tread goes as fast as you go, it allows you to speed up or slow down as you like. This is friendlier than on a motorised treadmill, which maintains whatever pace you set it, and so has very limited allowance for running slower (or faster) than that pace. It also provides instant feedback as to what pace you’re running. This makes it easy enough to try and keep to a certain pace. And, same as a motorised treadmill, you don’t have to worry about traffic or other obstacles.
By letting you run at whatever speed, this helps you get familiar with what running faster feels like, and is a friendlier way for feeling whether you can maintain a certain pace for some time.

I also enjoy using the rowing machine.
At the gym I go to, the rowing machines are often unused. I think that’s a shame, since it’s a versatile piece of equipment: it can be useful for burning calories, or for building strength. Compared to the treadmill, a rowing machine will exercise more of the body (legs, core muscles, and arms); and unlike running, it’s low-impact. Compared to most weight machines, it engages a variety of muscles. Compared to free weights, it’s friendlier for beginners.
I recently found out there are metronome apps for rowing that give useful cues for stroke rate. These make it much easier to do a workout which aims for maintaining a stroke rate for some period of time.

I recently started attending BodyPump group sessions.
I’ve found these to be pretty fun. It’s a good way of getting a good workout in a good amount of time. This is also a neat way to get familiar with free weights and some free weight exercises.

Using ChatGPT for Learning Basic Things

In addition to seeing demonstations in YouTube videos, I found it useful to ask ChatGPT about fitness things.
Of course, ChatGPT isn’t completely reliable; but.. it’s probably not worse than the blogposts that come up in search engine results (and not worse than a bad PT). Perhaps it’s comparable to what people say about Wikipedia: you ought to not rely too heavily on it, but it makes for a good starting point.

One of the main faults (or ‘characteristics’?) with ChatGPT is these chatbots are decidedly unopinionated. – I mostly find this preferable over being told an unqualified opinion.
Similarly, the public chat-based LLMs are pathologically positive.
– Whereas, when reading articles or blogposts or watching videos, often these will include strong opinions that you have to evaluate.

Another limitation is as the topic of discussion gets more precise, ChatGPT tends to be less useful.


[1] Dr. Mike Israetel’s discussion about ‘losing fat while building muscle’ seems coherent to me.


[3] Concept2’s SkiErg technique demonstration

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