Changing My Mind: How I Overcame Childhood Fears Around Exercise and Fitness (Part One)

When you’re first starting out exercising, it can be quite a daunting prospect. As a child/teen, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be a fat guy for the rest of my life. It was quite stressful and a constant source of anxiety.

But something changed in 2002. And I’ve continued to build on that ever since.

Looking back over the last 18 years, I see how much reframing my thoughts around exercise and fitness have helped me overcome barriers and achieve goals. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t find it all enjoyable but experimenting has helped me find what I really enjoy that also pushes me so that I don’t become complacent.

The Background

I always hated PE as a child. Packing my PE kit the night before always filled me with dread! In particular, I hated bleep tests, cross country and Sports Day at secondary school. (An egg and spoon race at primary level was brilliant but actual athletics at secondary school was my worst nightmare).

If I wasn’t always picked on for being a fat kid (both at school and by family), perhaps I would’ve embraced it more. It’s amazing the impact people can have on a child’s self-confidence. Perhaps I’m just a sensitive soul. But the prospect of exercising was a chore. I didn’t really start to understand the importance of it until 2002, when I turned 16 and finished my GCSEs. I was leaving secondary school to go to sixth form – a new start. And that summer, I joined the gym for the first time.


I can’t quite recall what made me do that. I used to play badminton every Wednesday evening with my sister and some cousins at a local leisure centre with other young people from the age of 13 to 16. I really loved that. But in my mind, that wasn’t exercise – it was fun. But that was the only physical activity I would voluntarily do.


I started to do proper cardio work. The gym I joined was a small one near my mum’s work. I’d walk there (1.5 miles) and then do the crosstrainer and the bike for a bit. Mum would finish work, pick me up and then we’d go home together. She even joined herself a few months later!


Starting college, I joined a bigger gym. My focus there was very much the bike. I started to build my legs by utilising the incline function on the bike. I had no idea what I was doing. But my legs were more muscular – so that’s good enough, right? Free weights and weight machines were far too daunting. I wish I’d known more then.


The three years at University that followed, I lost most of my gym mojo. I barely did any exercise. But as I started my Postgrad in 2008, I tried to get back into it. I joined another gym back home (change of scenery) and again, stuck to cardio. I was working up a bit of a sweat. In my mind, that was more than enough. But I’ve learnt since that it’s not!


In 2011, a personal trainer approached me. He wasn’t like the others I’d experienced at that particular gym (i.e. just after my money). He’d noticed the kind of work I was doing and genuinely wanted to help me improve. He was clearly very fit – almost a runner-type fitness level, and so I couldn’t help but think he couldn’t help me – how could he understand my junk-food-consuming, booze-binging, blubbery body?

I was sceptical but decided to give it a trial. Stephen introduced me to the power of my bodyweight – using it to burn fat and tone up. Something I had never really thought much about. I’d read about it but hadn’t had the confidence to do anything about it myself.

I remember in our first session, he introduced me to a lunge clock. I mean, I don’t mind lunges now but back then, that was a real shock to the system. Stephen started my journey in helping to understand the power of my body by helping me to change the way I thought about “weight loss” and fitness. (I have “weight loss” in quotes because I no longer believe in “weight loss” – for me, it’s about burning fat, improving fitness and building muscle).

He then relocated so I started up with a new PT, Sam. We also got on really well, which is critical to keeping you motivated. He’d seen the progress I’d made with Stephen and started to take me to the next step. Before I knew it, I was using free weights. Sam also really got me into spin classes – don’t underestimate the power of spin! Both Stephen and Sam talked to about nutrition but I just didn’t take it seriously (I truly wish I had!)

Towards the end of 2013, Sam also left and I started up with Bridie. Bridie is not only a PT but a passionate runner and our physical fitness levels were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. I was worried about whether we would be a good fit.

I also quite smoking cigarettes while training with Bridie in 2014.

As it turns out, we were a great fit! Bridie, like Sam and Stephen, pushed me. Except she could push me even more because of the progress I’d made. (She also introduced me to burpees. I still hate them now but I know how good they are for you!)

She also took spin classes – bonus! (At this point, I was even able to take part in a three-hour charity spin class, something I’d previously never thought I would have been able to do). Bridie also did her best to encourage me to improve my nutrition but, again, I didn’t listen. I loved my food (and booze) too much.

3-hour charity spin class in Leicester city centre in June 2013 – my legs were like jelly afterwards!

I moved to Bristol for work in May 2016 – the rest of the year was a bit of a write off. I think I went to the gym four times in seven months.

In 2017, I took hold of it all again. I promised I would stop letting myself down. Click here to read Part Two.

Published by njfitnessjourney

A man on a fitness mission!

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