A gym rat is someone who never misses a workout. Fitness is integral to their life, and you wouldn’t dare tell them that they couldn’t go.
Gym rats come in all shapes and sizes, and while the term is often used derogatorily, I personally have a fondness for gym rats.
I started out working as a janitor in a small gym while I was still in high school. I had no significant past experience with sports aside from tennis.
The trainer/owner of the gym started putting me through workouts and was the one who really pushed me to take on the trade.
One of my first questions was: “How do I learn?”
Her answer: “Become a gym rat!”
Why Become a Gym Rat?
According to the CDC, being physically active has its fair share of advantages. Exercise can improve your weight and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
If that isn’t enough, physical activity has tons of benefits, such as reducing anxiety, improved cognition, memory, and overall brain health. A study from 2020 found that people with moderate to high activity levels had more happiness and life satisfaction than those with low activity levels.
I could go on and on and on about the benefits, but that’s for another time.
Becoming a gym rat doesn’t mean you sign your soul away, it just means that you’re going to be spending more time in the gym. Whether this is part of a lifestyle change, such as a drive to lose weight or gain muscle, or if you just decide to forsake the TV and use your time in a more productive manner, this is how you do it.
10 Steps to Becoming a Gym Rat
Have you ever made a new year’s resolution to start exercising but then return to your old habits after a few days? It happens.
Many underestimate how hard starting a new habit is. Moreover, people tend to focus on the unpleasant experience of strenuous activity. This leads them to stop working out.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The good news is that you can overcome this tendency and start genuinely feeling happy about going to the gym and working out.
Here’s how you can start your journey to becoming a gym rat:
1. Find Out What You Love
Not all workouts are the same. Some workouts train a lot of endurance, others train strength, balance, coordination, agility, etc.
You may suck at some of these or you may be way above average. We are all different. But, wherever you are: PICK A TYPE OF EXERCISE THAT YOU LIKE TO DO.
If you pick a type of exercise that you feel is a struggle, then you are going to struggle in your road to becoming a gym rat. If you pick something you like, then it’ll be easy peasy.
Start with endurance if you’re good at it. While I always tell people to train their weaknesses, the most important thing is to train at all.
I recommend that you learn every exercise you can, then put it to the test. You really aren’t going to know what you like until you try the buffet of exercise options. It takes a dedicated effort to learn new things and only after that can you decide which one you like best.
2. Exercise Based on Mood
Exercise can affect your mood and make you feel happy. However, you should also consider your mood when deciding which exercise to do.
Some days, you might want to go for uplifting activities like swimming or a loud and rowdy spin class. If you’re feeling stressed after work, then boxing could be a great way to relax. If it’s a Saturday morning and you’re just hanging out for the weekend, hit up a yoga class.
Don’t limit yourself to one physical activity. It is factually healthier for you to do a variety of exercises.
Even if you’re just into weightlifting, you can vary it up a bit by calling it a maximum squat day when you really feel like going for it or, if you’re feeling tired that day, train something like abs, forearms and calves. You’re still there, still putting the time in and stimulating muscle growth, but it’s just a bit easier to do.
3. Hold Onto Your Phone
I generally hate phones and the fact that people are so attached to them. BUT, let’s make the best of it, eh?
Here’s some productive ways you can use your phone in the gym:
Your phone is the most convenient way to play music during a workout.
A Japanese study in 2005 found that combining music with exercise increases heart rate and enhances your desire to do physical activities.
The goal is to play something with a tempo that is faster than your heart rate.
Podcasts and Audiobooks
Though podcasts and audiobooks are more relaxed than music, they can be a better option if you want to work out for longer.
Songs stop every few minutes, which could break your concentration. On the other hand, listening to podcasts and audiobooks on your phone can keep your brain occupied for hours.
I listen to audiobooks for about half of my personal workouts. I find that when I have a good audiobook, I’ll start looking forward to finding out what happens next and I can’t wait to get into the gym. It may sound silly, but it works for me and many others.
These are great when you’re doing cardio or other exercises that don’t require a lot of attention, heavy weights, or changes of direction.
4. Go at the Most Convenient Time
Don’t force yourself to go in the morning if you’re not a morning person. Many people prefer to pass by the gym during their commute after work.
Pick a time and workout location that’ll seamlessly fit into your schedule. Make sure to stick to your regimen religiously.
Try to find a gym that is on your way home. Or even better, have multiple exercise options. For example, you could go to the gym, go for a run near the house, or hit the punching bag in your garage.
5. Recognize and Eliminate Barriers
We’ve all been in a situation where a minor inconvenience can stop us from doing what we need to do.
Is it a rainy day? Are you too lazy to pack your bag? (I’ve heard that one hundreds of times)
Don’t let yourself fall into these traps. You should still show up to the gym even when you don’t feel like it.
Set yourself up for success by recognizing the barriers to physical exercise. Once you know what stops you from going to the gym, you should eliminate those problems.
Remember, even a bad day in the gym is better than not going at all. You don’t have to train like a superhero every day. Just train.
6. Get a Trainer You Like
To successfully become a gym rat, your exercise routine should be somewhat enjoyable. What better way to achieve this than by having a trainer that’ll keep you motivated?
According to a study published in the Brain Sciences Journal, a supportive environment can give you a positive experience that increases your likelihood of returning.
A good trainer can improve your drive, become your support, and give you expert advice on how to become a better gym rat. My goal as a trainer has always been to train myself out of the job. By that, I mean that I always try to teach my clients everything I know.
Be open to feedback. If someone is willing to teach you, be a sponge. Absorb every bit of information you can, then apply it to yourself.
Try out a few trainers before you pick one.
7. Track Your Progress
For some people, seeing their progress is motivation to stay on an exercise regime. In this case, fitness tracking apps may help. With an app, you can set a goal and get energized when you meet it.
Personal trainers are great when it comes to assessing fitness. If you don’t want to look at the whole subject yourself, just hire a trainer to put you through a battery of tests. Then retest yourself again in 6 weeks or so.
I’ve had a lot of luck in getting people to put up a calendar and make a big “X” on the days that they worked out. That way you can look back and measure the “number of days worked out” that month.
These are little things, but they are sometimes the things that make it happen.
8. Learn the Muscle Groups
The more you know about what you are doing, the more you will be in control.
People don’t just do random movements in the gym and get healthy. There is a method to all of the sweat and hard work. Learn it.
To learn it, a good place to start would be the muscles or muscle groups. Sometimes we target individual muscles, other times we target muscle groups. Learn some human anatomy and you’ll be well on your way to nerding out as a gym rat.
A keynote of a gym rat is that they are into the science of what they are doing. It all starts with the muscles.
9. Don’t Overwork Your Body
Exercise becomes unproductive if you train the same muscles every day. They won’t have time to repair and regrow. And you run the risk of injuring yourself.
Know your limits and take rest days when you need to. Start slow and gradually increase the intensity over the next few weeks.
You don’t become a gym rat overnight.
10. Have Fun
Finally, the last piece of advice that I can give you is to have fun! There are so many ways for you to enjoy physical activity.
You could invite friends to exercise with you. Constantly try something new to excite yourself. You can even treat yourself to nice workout clothes and footwear.
Ultimately, going to the gym shouldn’t be a punishment, but an activity to look forward to.
To Sum It Up
Exercise can be a tough habit to get started, but once you’re in it, it’s easy.
The key to everything I’ve said above is testing. Test out different gyms, trainers, music, exercise programs, workout buddies, exercise clothes… test everything! Try it out. You’ll find some things that you really, really don’t like.
But you’ll also find some awesome little spots in your city with healthy people who are working to better themselves. And those are typically the people you want to surround yourself with if you’re trying to get in the habit.