My husband and I decided to take up personal training last spring in typical fashion: we were getting married that summer and we wanted to look svelte and toned in our expensive duds. We also had the sneaking suspicion that we weren’t really accomplishing much in the tiny, outdated gym in our apartment building. Perfectly content to lift a couple of weights, run a mile or two, and then hightail it out of there, we hadn’t experienced a sore muscle in ages. We’d obviously hit a fitness wall and we were not prepared to climb over it without someone shouting at us all the way. One year later, I’m amazed that we’ve stuck with it, twice a week, every week, and that we actually look forward to our sessions (you know, in a slightly masochistic way).

Here are 5 Things I’ve Learned From Personal Training:

1. You’ll never do it, unless you just do it.
It’s so, so easy to make excuses. And it’s so, so hard to do uncomfortable, demanding things. Especially when it comes to our lazy bodies; we’d rather just sit at home and eat Ben and Jerry’s while watching American Idol. I mean, that’s easy. It requires little of us. We will always default to the easy unless we make a repeated, conscious effort to do the hard. This comic from Formal Sweatpants says it all:

2. Even if you think you can’t do it, chances are you probably can.
There have been dozens of times over the past year when I’ve wanted to physically harm my trainer for suggesting that I do things like roll monster truck tires and slam a kettle ball into my own chest (“Is there any reason you can’t have bruises on your body this week?” she asked me). I’ve done squat jumps until I almost vomited and stared at a bench I was supposed to do 120 box jumps on until I almost cried. But I always did it. Somehow, over and over again, I accomplished difficult things that I thought were impossible. Which leads me to number three…
3. Physical strength creates mental strength.
Doing lots of tough things that I didn’t want to do, that someone else told me to do, and doing them when I was tired or in a bad mood or asthmatic from allergies has changed the way I view myself. I am strong, physically and mentally. I now tackle things in my everyday life that I used to think were too difficult and I stick with them. Training has taught me that I can do it, even when all I want to do is run to the nearest donut shop, screaming.
4. Success has more to do with perseverance than strength or talent.
Every single time I go to the gym, it’s hard. It doesn’t get easier just because I get better. Instead, I work harder. Last week, we were given a circuit where we were instructed to do as many reps as we could in one minute sets of seven different exercises. We were then supposed to beat our own score during a second round of the same exercises. Why does it make any logical sense that you can do more squats after your thighs are already burning like the devil? Because you want to, that’s why. The same goes for just about anything in life. If you want it, you go and get it. Most of what we don’t achieve has little to do with a lack of skill or talent or knowledge and everything to do with a lack of motivation and follow-through. I beat my score by several reps on all of those exercises, except for the dreaded plank burpees at the end. By that point, I didn’t want it so badly. I just wanted a drink and a good cry.
5. When your butt looks good, you feel good.
I am convinced that half of the world’s problems would disappear if we all felt better about our butts. Think about that.

Okay, I’m going to be that guy for a second, the one who says the groan-inducing thing that nobody wants to hear. I’m fully aware that I sound like a public service announcement, but here goes: everyone should exercise. The frequency, intensity and method are irrelevant. Free classes at the Y, push-ups at home, it doesn’t matter. I have too many loved ones who don’t take this to heart and keep putting it off for another day. Everything from depression to heart disease to IBS has been proven to show significant improvement with an increase in physical activity.
The statistics are shocking. The only state in the U.S. with an obesity rate below 20% is Colorado (18.5%). In my husband’s home country of South Africa, 56% of women are obese. I am lucky to live in one of the healthiest cities in North America (Vancouver ties with Boulder for the #1 spot, with a 12% obesity rate) and I’m inspired every single time I step outside: people cycle in the rain, my seventy-year-old neighbor runs every day, guys with no legs race around the seawall on converted bikes powered by their arms. As a global community, we are getting fatter and fatter. What does that say about our mental state? I don’t know. But I do know this: there truly are no more excuses. Get up, get to it. Just do it.