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The gym can be a scary place. Red-faced men grunting in one corner and personal trainers screaming at their clients in another. You walk in sheepishly, wearing your brand new gym kit that you got for Christmas and try not to make eye contact with anyone. You head straight to a treadmill and start running because that’s what seems to be the right thing to do (and you have no clue how to work any of the other machines). You put in your earphones to drown out the inappropriate noises coming from the weights area and soon get into your zone. After a few miles of running and a lot of sweaty hair later, you step off and dart to the exit. Repeat ad nauseam or until you get bored and lose your membership card. Sound familiar? It’s probably unsurprising to learn that the number of people who don’t use their gym membership outweighs the number of those who do.

When I was at university I piled on the pounds, which isn’t all that uncommon among new uni students. I also settled into a comfortable, happy relationship which is another easy way to gain weight without realising. I moved to London, fresh-faced and doe-eyed, and couldn’t believe all the amazing food outlets that were suddenly available to me. Before I knew it, I was eating two lunches a day without thinking anything of it and enjoying daily treats from the bakery next to my accommodation. By the end of my second year I had gained 40lbs. I didn’t know the meaning of exercise and going to the gym just wasn’t on my radar. That all changed when my relationship came to a very bitter end.

I moved back home and started running to try to clear my head. I was inconsolable and completely lost my appetite, both for food and for life. I was sleeping all day and going running when I did finally drag myself out of bed. Running was the only thing that made me feel better. I didn’t track my runs and I didn’t care how far I went, it was just about making myself feel a little more human. However, due to not knowing a single thing about health or fitness, I didn’t nourish myself properly and would go to bed on an empty stomach after a long run, which eventually made me pretty ill. I lost all the weight I had gained and more, and people started commenting on my appearance. They asked what my secret was and told me how ‘well’ I was looking. Little did they know, I wasn’t well at all.

That’s the thing about weight loss. We put so much pressure on ourselves to get slim and tone up that we don’t care how it’s done. I awkwardly told people that I was just eating right and exercising, but in reality I couldn’t stomach a thing due to the constant anxiety knots filling my stomach. After months of anguish, I finally started feeling better. I joined a gym and got talking to one of the personal trainers. Her life seemed SO fun! She knew everyone in the gym and was always talking and laughing with the members. I watched her silently in awe as she moved around the gym and envied how amazing her job looked. It was in that moment I knew I wanted to become a personal trainer.

Skip forward a few years and I’m now in the best shape of my life. I still adore running but I also learnt a lot about how to make the most of the gym and not being scared to use it to its full potential. Everyone there is in the same boat and they’re all busy getting on with their workouts just like you. There’s really no need to feel self-conscious and I can tell you from a professional perspective that most of the people in there have no idea what they’re doing and what they are doing is completely wrong. If you want to try a new machine or a new exercise, strike up a conversation with a personal trainer or fitness instructor who will be more than happy to talk you through it. They’ll be thrilled to share their knowledge with you and help you on your journey.

Also don’t be afraid to try new sports. When I first got into triathlon, I had no idea how out of my depth I was due to it being such a complex sport. I’d never learnt how to do front crawl and couldn’t even ride a road bike! But I didn’t let either of these barriers stand in my way. The secret is to enjoy the process and make the journey count, otherwise you won’t be able to stick to it. I’m still a pretty mediocre triathlete, but it’s something that makes me happy and motivates me in my daily life, and that’s the most important thing. Try something new, enjoy yourself, and you might be surprised at what happens.

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