Fall Into a New Workout
Autumn is a good time to change, or start, your exercise routine.
To me, fall feels like the start of a new year. I guess it's a holdover from my childhood when fall meant a new teacher, a new classroom, new friends, new clothes and always new shoes for the first day of school.
Resolutions may be more in vogue in January, but the new school year is a good time for new beginnings, too. For many people, especially parents who have kids in school (finally!), it's a great time to start an exercise program or try something different. But how to get motivated?
Well, standard advice would be to operate on the buddy system, just like the kindergarteners do. Find a friend and make an exercise plan with him or her. You're more likely to stick to your routine if you know you have a friend waiting for you to show up. Or, do what I do: pick a race and publicly declare your intention to run it. Nothing like the fear of humiliation to get yourself moving.
But for some of us, exercising can be intimidating. A friend of mine once declared that she was too fat to go to the gym, and as ludicrous as that sounded, I understood what she was saying. I frequently deem myself not flexible enough to go to yoga.
Even world-class marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson was intimidated and self-conscious when she was a beginner. Apparently, when Benoit Samuelson first started running, she was so embarrassed that she would stop to walk when cars passed her. She said she'd pretend she was just looking at the flowers.
Fortunately, Benoit Samuelson got over her embarrassment and went on to set a world record [for women] at the  Boston Marathon. A year later, she won the inaugural women's marathon at the Olympics.
So how can you be like Joan and overcome the intimidation?
Well, the most obvious solution is to simply leave the self-consciousness behind; just get out there and show the world the new you. However, if you feel like you need baby steps instead, here are a few ways to take up that new activity while keeping the self-consciousness to a minimum.
If you're going to a gym or other sports facility (tennis court, golf course), go at off-peak times. When I started swimming, a sport that I'm supremely bad at, I found that three o'clock was the least crowded hour at the pool: after the lunchtime rush was over but before the post-work crowd arrived. I frequently had the place all to myself, which was a relief, since I didn't have to worry about splashing anybody with my drowning cat imitation. True, I still swam badly, but at least I was able to swim without embarrassment.
Running outside? Early morning is a great time to run incognito. Eight o'clock on a Saturday morning will find every trail and scenic road packed with weekend warriors, but go at 5 a.m. on a Sunday and you'll have the road to yourself. Few cars, even fewer pedestrians and cyclists.
Of course, it comes with caveats: be cautious running if it's dark, stay on the sidewalk, and wear reflective clothing. And skip the headphones; just take a moment to enjoy the peacefulness that envelopes your neighborhood when everyone is, for the most part, still asleep.
Want to try a group exercise class? Again, look for off-peak times. Better yet, ask if the studio offers a class specifically for beginners. You won't feel self-conscious if you know all the other participants are new, too.
And remember, everyone, even marathon-winner Joan Benoit Samuelson, was a beginner at some point. Just resolve to stick with it, and you'll be a pro in no time.