I Traded Jillian Michaels For The Gym—And I’ve Never Been More Motivated

Have you ever known a person who could get away with doing the bare minimum—every time—no matter what? Someone who would half-heartedly do almost anything?

That annoying person was me, in pretty much every aspect of my life, especially when it came to fitness. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was a fear of failure or an intense laziness, but I do know it wasn’t good.

Plus, I was never very athletic growing up. I developed a condition in the cartilage beneath my kneecaps (called Chondromalacia Patella) when I was about 10, so physiotherapy happened more frequently than sports practice ever did.

Because of this, I learned early not to push myself for fear of pain, and that made me avoid exercise altogether throughout my teens. Thankfully, I came to my senses during my time in university and decided I wanted (really, I needed) to get in shape. I wasn’t physically fit, and it was bothering me.

By that time, I was lucky that a lot my knee pain was behind me. All of the physiotherapy I’d gone through in my teens had strengthened my supporting muscles, so I felt like it was time for me to do something—without fear, without doing the bare minimum.

Home workout videos were my first choice. I couldn’t understand why anyone would waste the extra 15-30 minutes going to and from a gym for something you could do right at home. It was cheaper than the gym, and it was more efficient, right? Wrong.

While watching my Billy Blanks kickboxing video, I avoided working out too hard. I would only do the first 35 minutes of a 60-minute workout video before I got bored of the floor work and gave up.

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Years later, I used the same approach with my Jillian Michaels and Tracy Anderson DVDs (don’t judge, I am obviously persuaded by a good infomercial). I’d skip the tough parts, or hit stop when the sweat started to flow too freely. I didn’t really have to push myself. I also didn’t have to put myself out there for everyone to judge me. I felt like if I went to a gym, all people would do is look at me and critique my form.

In my mind, I’d go to the weight room, and have no idea which machines to use. I’d go to the dance aerobics class and feel like an uncoordinated hippo. I’d go to spin class and quietly cry in the corner, wondering why anyone would want to do that to their bodies. It felt far safer (and easier) to stay home and work out without the overwhelming fear of being judged.

So, I continued to work out with my home videos, even after having my first baby—and later, while I was pregnant with my second. I thought to myself, “Yes! Who has time for the gym when you have babies?” as I patted myself on the back.

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Then, I had my second child and found myself lacking motivation to even pull out my workout videos I knew I needed a change, but I didn’t know where to begin.

After months of looking for local workout options, I found a gym that seemed promising. I watched their videos. I read their blog posts, I saw their before and after photos, and I was completely obsessed with their brand before even starting. They seemed friendly, transparent, welcoming—and not intimidating at all. It was the right fit for me.

And, sure enough, I was hooked after my first class. It was an interval training class—for one hour, complete with sprints on the treadmill and bodyweight and weight training intervals. It made my workout challenging physically, but it wasn’t terrifying.

The class—and the gym—offered a perfect combination of independence and support. Someone showed me exactly how to do each exercise before a new interval set. Then, I was able to lose myself in simple movements like squats and mountain climbers.

On top of that, it was a revelation to be around people again. Maybe it was because my main company had been small children, but the feeling of being “in this thing together” during our workouts was real to me.

Sharing an eye-roll with the person next to me during a particularly long and painful sprint or hearing an epic song during a row—only to catch someone else mouthing the words with you: All of this makes the pain of exercising just a little bit easier.

Part of what has motivated me to keep going has been little things, like knowing I would get charged for a missed class.

Related: How Working Out Through Weight Gain Puts Me At Peace With My Body

But it’s also been the big things, like never feeling intimidated by those I’m working out next to, because there truly are all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels in every class.

The ridiculously fit 20-something is doing her thing next to the older man who is trying to get fit. Both of them are killing it, and it’s inspiring. I know there will always be a place for me on the spectrum of participants, because I see the entire spectrum of bodies and humans, not just a tiny slice of it, in each class.

That, in particular, has been important to me as I struggle to lose the 45 pounds of extra weight I’ve gained since having my second child. Only now, I also have more compassion toward my body instead of seeing it as a failure for not being the size four it once was.

For six months, I have looked forward to every single class I’ve attended. I now wake up at 6 a.m. once a weekend to work out, and that’s because I love the trainers, who push me to work just a little bit harder. I love the ever-changing groups of people I work out with, and I love the regulars that now joke and laugh with me.

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And, more than anything, I love working toward a goal with a bunch of other people. I never really realized or assumed that this was part of the appeal of being in a group fitness class. Now I get it. It wasn’t about being looked at or judged; it was about us all trying, together.

Every time I see someone pushing themselves harder—pushing beyond their comfort zone—it inspires me to do the same. Because if they can do it, so can I.

Nowadays, while I may still settle for my house being “barely clean,” at least I’ll continue going the full mile—literally—when I hit the gym.