When we stop drinking and using, it can be overwhelming trying to find ways to fill those holes in our schedules and social lives at first. It’s important when we find a replacement for hours spent at bars or in isolation that we find one that is healthy for us. A common place to turn is to the gym, and like all other outlets we need to make sure the gym is healthy and safe for us – both physically and emotionally.
There are sober gyms popping up all over the United States and I realized when I visited Phoenix Multi-sport (a sober active community based out of Denver) that there are some very important things to look for when choosing a gym in sobriety. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a sober active community near you yet, here are five questions to ask when deciding which gym to join.
Is the culture accepting or divisive?
Do you see ego-driven behavior or are people friendly and accepting? Is this a place you will look forward to coming and is the vibe one where you feel comfortable? Find a gym that is a positive replacement for old habits, not another “to do” you have to check a box next to because you are “supposed to.” There is a lot going on in recovery and the gym should be a safe haven and an outlet that you enjoy, not uncomfortable.
Is there a sense of community?
There is nothing wrong with punching the workout clock and training in a big gym on your own, but if you can find a group of people who have a friendship centered around something healthy instead of around a table at a bar it makes sobriety much less lonely. I love to attend my 12 step meetings, but personally have no desire to center my sobriety around spending hours each day at a clubhouse (and there is nothing wrong if that’s your jam, but I would rather venture out a little.)
Finding a gym where the members are friends outside the weight room is a definite bonus for making new friends with a common interest.
Does the sense of community revolve around alcohol?
What kind of outside activities do these gym friends participate in?
In recovery, we fall on a spectrum as to what is ok for us and must decide our boundaries ahead of time. Sometimes we need to avoid places that serve alcohol altogether as to not jeopardize our sobriety.
In that case, look for a gym where the community outings revolve around a competition or a sport the members participate in. Sometimes we decide we are fine to go as long as alcohol isn’t the main focus. For example, the gym outings might include miniature golf or trivia at a bar where you could order a non-alcoholic beverage and still participate in the activity versus an alcohol centered event such as a brew tour.
Decide what your limits are and look for a gym that has outside activities where you would be comfortable.
Are the trainers qualified and teach proper form?
In sobriety, we have to make extra sure we find a gym that has trainers qualified to properly teach the exercises.
Getting hurt is not an option for us (and it really shouldn’t be an option for anyone, but don’t get me on my soapbox.) People in recovery should take extra care to avoid injury because pain medicine – let alone surgery – is not an option. A gym’s staff should make technique the number one priority.
Is the methodology “Go Hard! Go Hard?”
Or is there a more intellectual approach?
We recovering addicts sure can be intense but sometimes in the gym that translates to overtraining. This is another point that applies to all populations and not only addicts: Even elite athletes don’t train at 100% all the time. Not even close.
The best athletes train at about 70% most days and occasionally max out. That’s the way to true gains. Not to mention that athletes have seasons. Ask a boxer how he trains 12 weeks out versus 6 weeks out versus 2 weeks out. I guarantee he won’t say the same answer for all three much less 100% for all three.
If going 100% all the time is too much for the pros, it’s definitely going to cause fatigue and burnout if it doesn’t cause an injury for you and me. Make sure that the goal of each workout is to make you move better and get stronger, not to simply have you “smoked” and puking in a bucket. When someone gets overly fatigued and burned out their bodies force them to take a break. If we take a break we lose one of our outlets and that can jeopardize sobriety. Train for longevity and find a gym that is on board with that philosophy.
Exercise Can Be A Huge Help In Recovery
Finding a gym where you feel comfortable and where your safety is at the top of the trainers’ list can be an invaluable tool in recovery. Using these 5 questions when deciding where to join will help you find a place where you feel safe both physically and emotionally.
As addicts and alcoholics, it is fair to say that many of us have the obsessive personality trait. It is important (at least for me) to have an outlet in which I can expel all that energy that once led me to use. I recommended an exercise program for anyone, but especially for those who are in recovery.
It could give you the regimen and the “high” that you still crave. Only this time you will get a six pack and muscles instead of a hangover and withdrawals.
What are some of your favorite exercises? How has the gym and fitness help you in your recovery? 🙂