If your New Year’s resolution involves spending more time in the gym and you aren’t already burning up the treadmill, you’ve got some catching up to do. In the last few years, Birmingham residents haven’t been waiting for Jan. 1 to make a life change–many have been hitting the fitness center as early as mid-November to get a head start taking off those holiday pounds and getting in shape.
“Traditionally people would wait until January, but now they’re being more proactive,” says Forrest Walden, Founder and CEO of Iron Tribe Fitness, a personal training facility with six locations in Birmingham and 56 franchise locations nationwide.
“I’ve been in the fitness industry since 1996, and there just isn’t the big New Year’s surge like there used to be,” Walden says. “We see a measured influx of clients throughout the year, and in the last few years, November and December have been really good months.”
It comes down to a growing understanding that people must work off the calories they put in, Walden explains. It’s no secret that November and December are “high calorie months,” and people are no longer afraid to admit they need help navigating the holidays to ensure they don’t come out the other side having completely blown their fitness regimen.
For people who know they need to make a life change, it just doesn’t make sense anymore to wait until Jan. 1, says Neal Davis, a 24-year-old Birmingham resident who works out at climbing facility First Avenue Rocks.
“If you’ve tried five or ten times in your life to get in shape, then you know how hard it is, and at a certain point it makes no sense to say, ‘I’m going to sit around and drink this egg nog, but then Jan. 1 I’m going to change my life!’ There is no slacking. The only thing you can do is just get up and get started,” Davis says.
One thing that may be helping draw more people to the gym is that most fitness facilities in Birmingham “aren’t just for the super fit anymore,” Davis says. In the last few years, he’s seen “all kinds of body types” doing yoga, running, weightlifting, etc.
“There has been a mindset change. Birmingham is waking up to the fact that if you are active, you can lead a happier, healthier life,” he says. “If you looked at this city 10 or 20 years ago, you would see a lot more unhealthy people who never set foot in a gym.”
For some Birmingham gyms, the shift in business has been interesting. Jack Robertson, vice president of operations at 24e Fitness, says that over the last four years, the New Year’s rush has simply “spread itself out” over the course of the year.
“It used to be that the first quarter would be when health clubs would earn half their income for the year,” Robertson says. “But that’s not the case anymore. Gyms are starting to spend more marketing dollars in the fourth quarter and not just go crazy in the first quarter.”
At 24e Fitness, which has three locations in Hoover, Trussville and Gardendale, Robertson says membership was up this year in November and December. This may be due in part to a growing awareness of holiday eating habits.
“Holiday celebrations often spur an internal battle for people,” he says. “Should I, or shouldn’t I? It’s a lot easier to get rid of the guilt when you know you’re going to get a good workout in by the end of the day.”
The shift away from the January “race to the finish line” may be the best thing that ever happened to people looking to actually reach their goals in 2014, says Kelly Creel, owner of Inspire Fitness in Highland Park.
“It’s absolutely unsustainable to go all-out working out in January and then do nothing the rest of the year,” Creel says. “Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t stick with a New Year’s resolution for more than three or four weeks, and those are the weeks that are the most painful and stressful.”
After more than a month or two of working out, exercisers start to feel an endorphin release and working out seems “infinitely more pleasant,” Creel explains. That’s why consistent workouts year-round are most effective–even 30 minutes here and there is enough to keep your stamina up and your endorphins high.
“Very few people can set a New Year’s resolution and stick with it for 365 days a year,” she says. “I hope this trend means that people will be more measured in their approach, and not just fighting an uphill battle every January.”
Of course just because New Year’s resolutions aren’t as popular as they used to be doesn’t mean they’re all bad, explains Walden.
“I teach my members to leverage January–leverage that mix of guilt from the holidays and the freshness of the New Year–to set goals and increase your momentum,” he says. “Whatever drives you to be at your best, you’ve got to take it and embrace it.”
Just keep in mind that if you’re waiting for inspiration to get fit, what you’re really waiting for may be yourself–not Jan. 1, says Rachel Heath, manager at First Avenue Rocks.
“You are in control of when you resolve to change your life–not the New Year,” says Heath. “If you want to be fit and stay fit, then you’ve just got to go for it. From what I’ve seen of the Birmingham fitness community, no one else is waiting. Why should you?”