I recently left my gym after around four and a half years of living and training there, and have been struggling with how to write about it for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s been a huge transition for me and the process of that has had a lot more ups and downs than I’d expected it to. At times, I’ve wanted to separate myself from all of it and just not think about it for a while. Also, after singing my gym’s praises for so long, I figured I’d look like a bit foolish by coming out now and completely contradicting myself. Having been so deeply involved with the gym for so long also means that there are some very personal issues involved and I wouldn’t want to air my dirty laundry in public. Having said all of this, since starting this blog I’ve always made it paramount to be completely honest about my experiences, no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassing they are, and this includes this one.
I’ll be clear. This post isn’t going to involve me completely trash talking the gym or giving details of my personal problems with it. I don’t think it would be fair or appropriate to give the ins and outs of such issues, not least because of how complex they are. This is about sharing how the process of leaving has affected me and helping others who may be in similar situations with their gyms.
The best way I can describe leaving my gym is by comparing it to breaking out of a toxic relationship. Having had a fair amount of shitty boyfriends in my time, the similarities are very clear, and this is a situation that most of us can relate to. You know how it is. It used to be really good, otherwise you wouldn’t have got together in the first place, but somewhere along the line, things started to go downhill. You become acutely aware that the relationship isn’t good for you, but you stay because it’s comfortable, because you want to stay loyal and because you keep thinking that things will go back to how they used to be, but they don’t. Instead, they get worse, but by that time, you’re in too deep. Sometimes, you’re completely adamant that you’ve had enough and that it’s time to leave, but then something good happens and you’re reeled back in, but it’s only temporary. Sound familiar?
Staying at my gym simply because it was comfortable went against everything that I thought I’d been doing for the last five years. Travelling alone, moving to another country, starting a career in something that I had zero experience in, taking up Muay Thai and becoming a fighter were all parts of that, and it wasn’t accidental. These were all things I forced myself to do because I knew that they’d help me grow. However, I’ve come to realise that after pushing myself out of my comfort zone for so long, I somehow ended up getting stuck in another one. I’d dropped the ball. Recognizing that was the first step for me.
I needed to get out. It got to the point where I would wake up in the morning and just not want to go to the gym. I forced myself, but was becoming increasingly bored. At times, questioned if I even loved Muay Thai anymore, although in the back of my mind, I knew that it was just my training environment making me feel that way. I mentioned in a previous post that for my last fight, no trainers even turned up to corner me. That was just one of many times that I hadn’t been taken care of properly, and I already knew that I needed to leave before that happened, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I almost felt foolish for staying long enough to need such a horrible experience to push me to leave, but even after that, it wasn’t easy for me to cut the cord.
Another thing about bad relationships is that even after you’ve already made the painful decision to leave, you’re sometimes drawn to go back to them just for one more night. This either solidifies things in your mind and makes you realise why you left in the first place, or brings back a swirl of emotions and throws things up in the air again. Either way, it’s usually a bad idea because it slows the entire process and stops you from moving on. I ended up doing this and going back for one more training session, but was left feeling foolish for doing so and vowed never to do so again after that. So, that was it. I walked out at the end of that session and never looked back.
After finally leaving, I felt a mix of emotions. I was relieved to have removed a source of negative energy from my life, but sad that it had come to that, and suddenly a bit lost without a place to train, which had been an anchor for me for so long. At first, I struggled without my usual routine and not being able to train as normal. I’d tried a few other gyms, but hadn’t found a place that I liked, and simply couldn’t afford what some of them were asking. Having that outlet taken away from me put me on edge and I became very frustrated. I’m a creature of habit and hate being out of my routine. It was difficult, but after a while, I learned to relax in the discomfort of it all, and accepted that a forced break could be a good thing. I’d find another way to train and another home, but in the meantime I had to stop stressing, so I embraced the positive side of it. For a change, I didn’t have to constantly worry about my weight, so I started eating more of what I enjoyed. I began to remember what it was like to enjoy being able to spend more time with friends and not to put Muay Thai as a priority all the time. I went out to a hip hop club and danced all night for the first time in years. It was great, for a while. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. As time went on, it started to bring me down. Without training or fighting, I felt as if I was without direction or purpose, and I was anxious about not making any progress. There was a lot of negative self talk, and I stopped taking care of myself in more ways than one. It was hard for me to keep seeing myself as a fighter, and the uncertainty of how I would keep doing it, or if I was even good at it, weighed heavily on me. While I was keeping active, not being able to train like I used to meant that I gained a lot of weight, which resulted in even more negative self-talk. Body image issues that once ruled my life back when I was battling an eating disorder started to creep back in, and at times I genuinely hated my body. After a period of denial, during which I kept telling myself that I was doing whatever the fuck I wanted and that it was okay, I realised that I was very unhappy and that my mindset had become unhealthy. That was the push I needed to get back out there. After that, I started looking for a new gym.
I’m now training again and enjoying it. While I still haven’t found a permanent gym, I’m glad to be back in and enjoying trying out new places. Things aren’t going to be perfect right away, so I’m making it work until I get things to fall into place. It’s funny how after you’ve finally got out of a bad relationship, when you find someone (or somewhere) that treats you better, even if it’s just for one day, it makes you wonder why you’d stayed for so long in the first place. That’s what visiting some of these new places has been like for me.
As with all relationships, even if they ended in an unpleasant way, you can always take something positive from them, and it’s best to do that and move on rather than to dwell on all of the bad parts, which will just fuel resentment and stunt further growth. I’ve seen fighters become bitter and spiteful after leaving their gyms and even if it would be justified, I wouldn’t want to do the same. It was important for me to be able to part on the most respectful terms possible while still doing what I needed to do. I’ve had some wonderful experiences with my gym and learned a lot during my time there and I’ll keep those things with me. I needed to be there for a while in order to become who I am now, but I’m now ready to move on to new things and reinvent myself as a fighter.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, the aim here is to help others become more aware of similar problems in their own gyms, so I’ll end it with this:
How do you know if your gym or trainer is bad for you? The signs can be hard to spot when you’re in the midst of it all, and often it’s only once you’ve removed yourself from the situation that you can actually see them. Here are a few ones that are definite red flags. Some of them I’ve experienced myself, and some of them have been discussed by others on the Muay Thai Roundtable Forum:
You’re continuously making excuses for or attempting to justify poor treatment you receive.
Your trainer is narcissistic and prioritizes his or her ego over the treatment of others in the gym.
Things are stagnant and you’re not making any progress.
You feel that there’s a lack of support, communication or reliability.
There’s constant drama and negativity.
You keep being promised things that never materialize.
You don’t feel valued or respected.
Even when these signs become apparent, it can be very difficult to pull the trigger and leave. These are some of the some of the ways you might justify staying, and why you don’t have to.
You feel like you’ve invested too much time and emotion into the gym to just leave now.
Having to let go of a person or place that has been very close to you for a long time is incredibly difficult, but sometimes the best thing to do. It’s important to be able to recognise when a gym is just going through ups and downs and when it’s just not the right place for you anymore.
You don’t know where you’ll go if you leave.
Finding a new place is always going to be uncomfortable, but it’s worth taking the risk. Perhaps your current gym is the most convenient in terms of price, location or comfort, but if you’re not being treated properly there, staying may do more harm than good in the long run. Besides, if you don’t get out there and look, you have no idea what you could be missing out on.
You feel guilty and don’t want to upset anyone.
This is a big one. You don’t have to feel bad about doing what’s best for you, and certainly not for leaving a person or place that treats you poorly. Loyalty is an important part of any relationship, but if it’s only going one way, it doesn’t count for much. Besides, if you’re being bullied or guilt-tripped into staying, there’s something wrong. Leaving a gym doesn’t have to mean being disrespectful, either. If it’s possible to have any kind of open conversation about it, it’s a good idea to do so.
For those of you who’ve read my old post on Gym Loyalty, this may all sound rather hypocritical, so I want to clarify that that post and this one refer to two very different gym scenarios. This one is about toxic relationships where fighters are being mistreated, and that one is about supportive partnerships between a fighter and their gym. I experienced both sides of the coin at the same gym after staying there for a very long time, and it is entirely possible for that to happen elsewhere. Having such an overwhelmingly positive experience and loving my gym for so long made it very difficult for me to come to terms with the eventual decline, but I’m at peace with it now. It used to be great for me, and then it wasn’t, and that’s fine. Now, I’m ready for what’s next.