February 19, 2020

When you're trying to find an exercise you enjoy

Madison, Wis. — Are you someone who struggles to find an exercise you enjoy? Does the thought of going to the gym leave you wanting to pull the covers over your head?

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, it can be hard to find the motivation to break a sweat – especially if you dread the thought of getting up early, or attending that spin class even though your friend keeps raving about it. Other priorities easily fill in the time you might otherwise go. But if you can try – and maybe try again – the rewards can be great.

“As an exercise specialist at the UW Health Fitness Center, I get a chance to see people coming and improving fitness and movement patterns. Often, they begin to realize they can do more than their non-exercising peers – like take long walks, or even enjoy a sport,” comments Lisa Milbrandt. And it’s rewarding for her, too, she adds, “I enjoy seeing people surprise themselves by feeling healthier, stronger and more mobile.”

Milbrandt acknowledges that finding an exercise program and getting it to stick can take many attempts. And it’s important to remember there’s no one-size-fits-all.

“Often I hear people want to start right away with a boot camp type class. While for some it might be motivating to go to class and work hard, it is important to evaluate what your body is ready for, and what will be help you commit to a lifestyle change,” she says.

Taking stock of what you like to do and even your temperament can make a difference between finding something you look forward to doing, and something you find excuses not to do. Do you find social interaction draining, especially at the start of your day? Maybe a solitary routine is more for you – like going out for run or walk. Struggle to stay consistent in getting to the gym? A workout buddy or class may provide the accountability you need to keep going.

To get started, Milbrandt suggests thinking about some basics - Do you want to start with water exercise or a land-based class? Does a core strengthening class like pilates interest you, or something with an aerobic component like Zumba or cycling? Are you looking to develop strength or flexibility like yoga? Is there a gym conveniently located by your home or work?

If you go the class route, she also advises asking the instructor or program coordinator a few questions to help determine if the class is right for you. A few questions she recommends asking include:

  • Does the class require getting on the floor, do participants get up/down multiple times, or to be able to transition quickly?

  • Does the class require quick footwork or changes in direction?

  • Is there impact loading (running, jumping, leaping)?

  • Is there a lot of weight bearing on hands (push ups, planks)?

  • Would this be considered a gentle/adaptive class, beginning, intermediate or high intensity class?

  • If you have an injury or sensitive body part, is the class still appropriate for you? Within the context of the class, is the instructor able to offer adaptations?

  • For water classes, do you need to know how to swim?

Milbrandt also cautions not to give up. “If you can’t find the exercise that’s right for you, you may discover what you need is something that offers you a variety of activities. But you won’t know until you try.”