Why I Don’t Care About Numbers at the Gym

For a lot of people, when they work out, it’s about a number: a weight they want to get down to, a weight they want to get up to, a weight they want to lift, a record they want to beat. Me? I have no number. I go to the gym for one reason and one reason only: to keep my body fit and healthy. I’m not looking to impress anybody, and I’m not going for aesthetic reasons.

My body has a history of injury, so I’m really just happy when it’s capable of doing exercise. I have to be aware of what my body’s limits are and just how far it’s safe to push it.

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I started going to the gym regularly two years ago, when I first arrived at university. Through a stroke of luck, that autumn was the time when the tennis elbow I’d been struggling with for the previous five to six years finally eased off. But, in consequence, that had left me with incredibly underdeveloped muscles in that arm (and the surrounding shoulder/chest area) because I couldn’t use it properly for so long. I was pretty weak on the muscle front in total, really.

But for whatever reason, when I moved to university, my body finally started co-operating. I was very tentative when I started going to the gym – when it came to running, I only did short bursts, afraid I would reignite that old injury. When it came to cross-trainers, I could only do short bursts because I didn’t have the strength for it: two minutes on a low setting would tire me out. When it came to weight machines, the absolute lightest setting was difficult for me.

Building up muscle over the last two years has been a slow journey, and I’m in no hurry to rush it. I have definitely seen remarkable improvements – simple as it may seem to some, I could barely lift heavy shopping bags two years ago. Now I do it without blinking an eye. The shape of my arms has changed incredibly; I used to have absolutely no shoulder definition, and very skinny arms. I still have skinny arms, but now the muscle definition is visible. I can go on a cross trainer for a good fifteen minutes on a medium level and continue my workout elsewhere afterwards. I’ve done 5km runs on the treadmill and felt good afterwards, rather than like my foot was splitting open – which used to be my reality.

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About nine months after joining the gym

To other people, who don’t live with my body and who don’t know its history, the numbers surrounding my workouts seem unimpressive. 20kg weights aren’t seen as much. Taking 45 minutes to run 5km is seen as slow. Only being on level two of the cross trainer seems mediocre. But for somebody who would be unable to walk for a day after running 400m, completing a 5km is amazing! For somebody who had to quit playing piano because the strain on their arm was just too painful, to be able to actually lift heavy boxes when moving house is triumphant. I kid you not when I say that even something as simple as plaiting my own hair was a challenge only a few years ago, because I lacked the strength to hold my own arm up for that long.

Even during the last two years I’ve dealt with other injuries – back in February this year, my thumb on my writing hand became so strained I actually lost the ability to handwrite for a while. Thankfully, I’ve mostly regained the ability since then – though I doubt if I’ll ever get back up to my old speed. I’ve also had knee issues, which meant I stopped using the cross trainer for a while so they could recover. But these injuries have been easier to deal with, and I suspect it’s due to that base line of fitness I’ve managed to build.

And that’s why I don’t care about the numbers. Of course I like seeing how fast or far I’ve managed to run, but I’m only looking to build muscle and fitness in the way that’s best for my body.

What about you – do you go to the gym? Do you have a numbers goal? Maybe you’ve got a condition/injury that you’re trying to work through? Let me know.