Getting fit by osmosis: how to benefit from a workout environment

Match your workout environment to your mindset first

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Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

I have been on a bit of a fitness kick recently. I’ve made progress with a number of fitness metrics (like weight, muscle, etc.), but that’s not important.

What’s important is that I’m having fun with my workouts. I’m looking forward to the time when I can hang out at the gym.

What’s the secret?

I switched gyms. Instead of the community gym that I normally went to, I’m going to a rock climbing gym.

I’m doing some rock climbing, sure, but I’m mostly sticking to the fitness routine I did before. So why am I making progress towards my fitness goals?

I’ve talked about the power of context before, but I’ll talk about about it again here.

I’m an introvert at the gym: I don’t converse with other people when trying to work out, and I don’t want other people to converse with me. That often seem counter-productive given a lot of the literature which suggests other people often play a role in workout motivation.

Except I can still reap some of the benefits of context. You see, rock climbing is a very physically demanding workout. As a result, there are a lot of very fit, sometimes shirtless, muscular people walking around.

I’ve found that when I’m surrounded by people of herculean proportions, suddenly I don’t find doing another set of reps that hard. And I’m not alone. I remember when I first went there, there was a shirtless, chubby older guy that was doing a lot of the group exercises.

He seemed a little out of place, surrounded by people much younger than him, but the context worked for him: when I saw him later, he looked a lot younger and fitter.

If you’re at the gym surrounded by people read-walking on treadmills and standing around and chatting, how motivated are you to push for the extra mile?

At my old gym, I used to find that I didn’t need to do much to feel pretty good about myself. A twenty minute workout, with half of it spent running, was usually enough. Now? I find myself spending at least an hour if not more. But it’s not just because of the other people around me.

Rock climbing is an activity which taxes the whole body. As a result, I have seen a lot of different workouts that people do in the fitness center, some which I have tried for myself.

I’ve learned to jump rope because someone was dancing to music and jumping rope. I’ve learned to use push-up bars because people were doing handstands off of them.

Most importantly, I’ve begun to learn to do gymnastic ring exercises because people seem to be having so much fun doing them. I even bought a pair for myself.

These are exercises I had no knowledge of until now: All I was used to was machines and treadmills. By moving to this gym, I learned about all the creative exercises you can do to become fit.

When people think about working out, often it’s in the context of pain. “No pain, no gain”, shirts read as people grunt while lifting weights or sweat while running on the treadmill.

But having fun can actually lead to greater motivation for physical fitness.

Rock climbing, at it’s core, is a fun activity that also has the side benefit of getting you fit. More importantly, it matched the mentality that I have about working out.

For me, the struggle was always avoiding machines as much as possible. I hated the feeling of sitting in a machine, as it made me feel robotic.

So coming to a place that was about weird or interesting exercises that you could do with your body was the key to getting me motivated.

Regardless of what your fitness goals are, think about the context of where you’re working out. Is what you’re trying to do matching up with where you’re trying to do it? If so, you may be surprised at how excited you get to work out.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning:

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