5 Fitness Lessons That Translate Outside of the Gym
The gym can be the ultimate training ground. I went from cardio to CrossFit to bodybuilding—here’s what I learned along the way.
In 2013, I was a self-proclaimed gym rat. I took the 7 train from Queens to midtown Manhattan, attended four cardio classes, and traveled the hour home. Most mornings, I’d hop out of bed, lace up my sneakers, grab my iPod, and go. I thought I was in peak condition. That was, until I moved to Boise, Idaho, to work as editor for a fitness company.
1. Step Outside Of Your Comfort Zone
Moving from to a rural town was a major change. Going from living on the 15th floor of an apartment building to a city where the tallest office spanned no more than six stories forced me outside of my comfort zone. Fitness pushed me even further.
Knowing no one, I signed up for CrossFit. Having new people see me at my weakest was humbling. Every lesson was a push. Getting help loading bumper plates on and off the bar, push. Being coached on squatting below parallel, push. Practicing wall-assisted handstands despite my fear of upside-down movements, final push. What it all taught me: Outside your comfort zone is where you learn. That became reflected in my work.
The shift from writing general fitness tips to covering bodybuilding—where slight variances had to be noted—forced me to learn, fast. All of a sudden, I was the primary reporter at a major show and had to write about quad sweeps, v-tapers, and hamstring tie-ins. And I did it with no visible safety net.
I quickly learned that, when pushed outside your limits, you can achieve more than you thought possible.
2. Bench Your Ego
Group fitness came easy to me. When I made the jump from setting my own schedule as a freelancer to moving 2,500 miles for a full-time position, I had to leave a lot behind—including any trace of ego.
While I was “Manhattan fit,” I was “Boise scrawny.” I’ll never forget my team’s first workout where strength stations put me to shame. I grinned through what felt like infinite reps of biceps curls, and could barely deadlift—let alone press—a bar overhead.
I would be lying if I said my ego wasn’t hurt but, in fitness, it’s important to sometimes take a step back and reframe the situation. My coworkers might have been stronger than me, but that was OK. In fact, it put me in a position to learn.
As I moved from freelancer to content editor to senior editor, there were times when I had to listen more than I spoke. By doing that, I was able to learn new skills. Days on set with the video team taught me about the filming process, and discussions with my editors trained me on how to get to the point, and, in the process, improve my writing.
3. Set Measurable Goals
Having to face a leaderboard as you enter the gym might provoke anxiety, but it also forced me to see the areas I needed to work on. It’s hard to ignore your weaknesses when they’re written on a whiteboard. Coming in last on a conditioning WOD might have meant I needed to hit the treadmill more. Struggling to break a PR on a clean could have pointed towards work needed on explosive power.
One day, while chalking up and waiting for class to start, I wondered why I didn’t always have such structured goals at work. Don’t get me wrong—I had big-picture tasks, and smaller items to check off—but I didn’t have those written down.
Now, I start every day by prioritizing due dates. Each quarter, I compile a list of my strengths and areas for improvement. I try to be as specific as possible, just as I did with fitness. Do I need to allot more time to generating content for a specific audience? Even things as small as working on punctuation are important.
From the business angle, having a record of everything I needed to work on holds me accountable—allowing me to sharpen my skill set while strengthening our team as a whole.
4. Work Smarter, Not Harder
In New York, the 7 train had become the public transit equivalent of my second home, and I was undoubtedly spending more time “getting in my fitness.” The problem? Half of it was wasted sitting during a two-hour commute.
When I left for the northwest, my perspective shifted. CrossFit introduced me to WODs—20–30 minute long workouts of the day. The roster of squats, double unders, and deadlifts not only challenged me more than group fitness, but also did so in half the time. When I turned my focus to bodybuilding, high-intensity interval training and supersets helped me sweat while shaving minutes off the clock.
The changes I made in the gym also made me aware of unnecessary noise at the office. Just as the subway had unknowingly been a time suck, being constantly plugged in at work had come at a price, too. Trying to write and edit between notifications and pop-ups added unnecessary chaos to my day. One trick I implemented: Checking email at designated times throughout the day (in my case, one hourly) to help me stay on task and aid in my overall focus.
5. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
It took me forever to get a pull-up on my own. Along the way, I had to ask for help. In fact, it became integral to my progress.
Asking for help as you struggle to get your chin over the bar was intimidating at first, but it became easier with time. As I moved on to bodybuilding, I became more comfortable asking co-workers to film a few reps of chest press to make sure I had proper form. Now I have a coach—the ultimate way to ask for assistance.
The threshold for asking for help at work got lower, too. If I wasn’t sure how to handle an issue with a writer, I turned to my editor for guidance. If I had too many assignments on my plate, I felt more comfortable sharing the load.