Claire's College Fitness Journey
The word “college” generates a lot of emotions: excitement, freedom, intimidation, and diving into the unknown. For many of us, particularly females it means the dreaded Freshman 15! Some may be wondering how they will be able to stay in shape with no real kitchen in the dorm rooms, late-night snacking, and maintaining a reasonable weight with questionable dining hall food. Or, if you’re like me, you worry about how you’ll be able to begin or retain a fitness journey in such circumstances. Today I am going to share my experience of how I stayed fit throughout college.
My goal is to keep my story real while shedding light on my struggles and to share my experiences for achieving fitness objectives. I hope my story can inspire and provide you with usable ideas for achieving the best version of yourself!
My Story Begins as a Competitive Gymnast
To give a brief background, I was a competitive gymnast for 12 years. Winning state three times in a row made me no stranger to pushing my body past its limits and constantly striving for more. Nearing the end of those 12 years, I began to lose my passion for gymnastics--- five-hour practices, six days a week left me no time to enjoy all of the fun and memorable times my peers were enjoying. So, I decided to hang up the leotards and begin a new chapter in my life.
Why My Passion For Gymnastics Waned
It is no secret that coaching has a massive impact on an athlete’s performance and love for a sport. Unfortunately, a bad coach can make or break an individual’s athletic career. Beginning around the age of twelve, I developed a fear of a few skills that were once second nature to me. My main coach at the time was unwilling to work and guide me through my fears. He would rip up weekly plans other coaches had made to help me work through my fears saying, “she’s my best gymnast, she doesn’t need this.” Now, as a twelve-year-old girl, you’re very vulnerable and unfortunately, my fears/mental blocks began trickling into other skills and events leading to the cessation of my gymnastics career. Had my upper-level coach been willing to work me through this, my gymnastics career may have continued, but I do believe everything happens for a reason and maybe it was time for me to walk away.
Freshman year of high school. I tried out for my high school’s cheer team. I figured I could utilize my talent and skills obtained from my years as a gymnast while still being a part of my school and venturing into something different. I enjoyed every minute of cheering at football and basketball games, competitions, and making new friends. I cheered throughout my four years of high school, which helped me stay in peak athletic condition.
College and Fitness
After high school, I attended Indiana University in Bloomington. I was torn between whether to continue cheering in college or focus on my schoolwork and making new friends Ultimately, my social life won out and I decided that I was not going to continue cheering. This seemed like the right choice until I started to feel like I had lost a best friend. I was so used to gymnastics or cheer being the pastime activity that kept me in shape, moving, and healthy, I felt lost.
I knew I needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but I wasn’t sure how to start. I had always been in great physical shape and had a healthy body weight. At this time I bought into the myth that lifting would get me “bulky” and the focus of my workouts should be cardio. I didn’t know what to do and without any direction or coaching, I improvised my fitness regimen.
As you can imagine, I lost muscle tone and fitness focus.
Getting Back on Track
In the second semester of my freshman year of college, I was making more friends and socializing at a higher level. One new friend, in particular, was very familiar with the gym and fitness area, watching Alphalete sponsored athletes and other fitness influencers on YouTube. I caught onto this and was introduced to Nikki Blackketter’s YouTube. I began to realize that there was a whole side of fitness and specifically lifting that I did not know about. I realized there were so many different ways to utilize equipment and structure my workouts. This was a game-changer for me! Indiana University had a really great gym complete with a lot of equipment, weights, and cardio--I felt like my eyes were opened to something I truly loved. Having access to such a fabulous facility was good news. The bad news was that I was totally intimidated.
So many students in one facility so new to me caused my insecurities to arise. My self-conscious thinking was saying “what if I mess up?” “what if my form is bad?” “what if I embarrass myself?” As I have come to learn, all of these thoughts are normal at this stage, particularly when visiting a new gym.
I had all of these thoughts and anxieties and had to overcome these struggles. Here is my first suggestion: it gets easier with time and as your love for the gym takes over! I have never had the luxury of training with a personal trainer to coach me on the right approaches to diet and exercise. Instead what I did was look up a Nikki B workout video on YouTube and follow along throughout each exercise! I started out with light weights, gradually moving my way up in order to prevent injury along with ensuring my form was perfect. Additionally, I discovered the great world of pre-workout (yes, my first pre-workout was C-4) and I loved it. The more I went to the gym, the more at home I felt. It became my passion. The best part of using internet-based workouts is that most are free! The key is to choose those online workouts, which sync with your style and fitness objectives.
When people of all ages and fitness levels ask me, “How do I get started?” or “What can I do to improve my fitness level?” I tell them to go to the Internet. There are so many internet-based programs to choose from whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned veteran who wants to up their game.
Up until this point, my story may sound inspirational, but I had a backslide in my Sophomore year. This year wasn’t so easy for me and was a turning point in my health and fitness objectives. I still loved going to the gym, however, I began dieting. I have since learned that many people, particularly young women, fall into this trap.
Here is how this ensnared me. Since I was so new to the fitness world, I watched bikini competitors on YouTube. Again, I was new to this world and they seemed like the role models I should be emulating. What I ultimately learned is that while they look amazing, their prep diet is not something the average gym-goer should be using as a model. Although all of the YouTubers I watched had warned of this conundrum, I got so wrapped up in how amazing they looked and their progress that I thought that was the pinnacle of weight loss. As you can imagine, I headed down a bad path.
My dieting obsession began when I downloaded “My Fitness Pal” onto my iPhone; I started tracking macros, calories, etc. and became obsessive. I thought that even if I was only 50 calories over, I would gain weight. Although the scale was going down, my overall happiness and love for the gym were as well. After a while of this, my body couldn’t take it anymore and I began binge eating. This overwhelming feeling caused me to sneak food up to my apartment and eat until I physically couldn’t anymore. This was my private secret, and my personal hell, which put me in a depressed state from which I thought I would never escape.
As you can imagine. my weight increased as a result and my relationship with food and everyone around me decreased rapidly. I don’t want to scare anyone from what I went through. It was a part of my journey that I am here to share with you; the ups, downs, good and bad. If I had gone about it the proper way, I could have avoided it but since I can’t go back in time, I am hoping that my story can help someone who is having similar struggles or is new to the fitness world. Specifically because, as I have shared my personal journey, I have encountered many people who have had similar stories.
Turning the Corner into Positive Health
The next stop on my journey was my Junior year in college and that’s when my transformation began! For a variety of reasons, I made the decision to transfer to North Central College. North Central was a close enough drive from my home that I made the decision to commute, which allowed me to work out at LA Fitness. I had worked out at this gym during college holiday breaks, but the Indiana campus gym was my main go-to due to my attending college the majority of the year.
This was when things started to look up for my fitness journey. I began experimenting with powerlifting. I wanted a form of lifting that made me feel strong and decided to not focus on how my body looked. That was so difficult, but I loved it. My numbers started increasing, eventually reaching a personal best deadlift weight of 315! I never thought I would be able to say I could deadlift this much weight and felt so empowered to do so.
I decided that my health journey also needed to include a healthy diet. So, I began the process of repairing my relationship with food, a relationship I had badly damaged the year prior. I knew that starting a major overhaul would be defeated so I started with small steps.
Healthy Eating Ideas
Here’s what I did:
- I began carrying healthy snacks in my backpack, so I was never starving.
- I also would meal prep food if I knew I was going to be out of the house studying or attending class for the majority of the day. This way I was fueling my body with nutritious food that still tasted good.
- I did not deprive myself or starve myself.
"If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you won’t adhere to it long-term."
Now that you have a background on my story, below is my advice for anyone looking to stay fit or begin their fitness journey during college:
- I try to work out 5-6 days a week because I have made fitness my passion and lifestyle. I get that many college students work while attending school so that might not be realistic. However, even 10 minutes of walking, stretching, or using weights are better than nothing.
- Value rest days and never force yourself to hit the gym when you’re not feeling it.
- Find someone who inspires you!
- Take it day by day. Set, focus on and crush small goals. These are crucial for attaining your end goal!
- Be patient and enjoy the process, perfection doesn’t happen overnight!
- Enjoy what you DO in the gym. This can be dancing, classes, running, weight lifting. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you won’t adhere to it long-term.
- Keep healthy snacks you enjoy with you so you won’t be tempted to grab fast food or high caloric foods
- Don’t be restrictive- live balance!
- Make it a lifestyle
- Find your passion!
Written by Claire Pluth
Fitness & Lifestyle Blogger
Connect with Claire 👇