It’s July (no, really - it’s already July,) and this July marks the 4th anniversary of my joining the ranks of a group of which I am still thrilled to be a part: People who Exercise.
I’ve lead a life for four whole years that has not been absent of challenging physical movement on a consistent weekly basis. This whole time, of course, I’ve run Petroglyph and been a mom - and that second one is really what kicked this whole thing off.
There’s nothing quite like looking at what your body has become and deciding that it can not be that way, despite knowing it’ll get worse, and worse if you do what you’re now doing. Knowing that you’re powerless to stop your rapidly declining health without major changes, deciding what those changes will be, and somehow miraculously keeping them up while having none of the habit or foresight, on top of doing this additionally (and less voluntarily,) already with a new baby is harrowing. It hits that “borderline impossible” area.
My rapidly declining health wasn’t just visible in my tummy - I’d had a high-risk pregnancy near the end with steadily increasing blood pressure. I’d been admitted for delivery before going into official labor with preeclampsia caught at week 39. I’d already had cancer (bad health) and then the treatments from that which had blasted other organs (kidneys, liver) in saving my life. I really had no room to lean on any part of my body that had been through so much. It was time to put energy back in. Not for months, or even years, but, like, FOREVER.
If you’re like me, and you’ve decided to become an exerciser, I applaud you and welcome you in. You’ve probably realized that your desk job is not compatible with fitness on its own, but fitness does contribute to your ability to do, withstand, tolerate, and make that job more interesting. You’ve been on-again off-again in exercise but not seen the results you want in your numbers or your appearance. (I still haven’t either, but that’s another thing entirely.) Or maybe you’ve noticed, or you will notice that your health is really the only thing that you truly have. Without it, you’re dead.
That commitment though - for the love of Pete, how the heck does that stick around?
I’ll tell you: I’ve only been alone in exercising for maybe 2 months out of that entire 4 years.
First, my husband, late in his Medical residency, brought me to a tiny, non-descript gym a couple days a week and on Sunday mornings. It was a nice break from the baby, at least. That situation changed and I took up a membership at a nearby 24 hour gym where I met my first trainer. I met her at a critical time in my exercise where I felt like I was nearly going to get injured and didn’t know how to correct it. When I hired her, she straightened out the kinks in my routine and kept me motivated. I maintained 3x a week and saw results in measurements like inches and cholesterol. It also kept me feeling like myself, so an inner strength for which I always had had potential started to solidify and take shape.
At my next gym I met my next trainer. We worked on strength, and every single time I showed up to maintain my strength he would provide a brand-new workout. I had only a few repeats in a year. Over time, these got more difficult to recover from and therefore ate up a lot of day time that I needed for other things. I switched to his small group instruction class 8-9 and have never sweat so much in my entire life. The class is 5 days a week, but I only go 4, giving myself room to grow into the ability to attend class all 5 days.
Every week, I’m getting stronger. Every day, I’m motivated. Here’s what has worked:
1. Don’t self-direct your exercise. You self-direct all day long and you’re good at it. It’s your job. Why not self-direct exercise? It’s a trap, that’s why. It’s a heavy task, mentally, to design your torture and then do it. Stay away from self-directing your own exercise. Even trainers have another coach direct their exercise. If you do self-direct your exercise, It’ll be the easiest and most rewarding thing to drop when you become tired or burnt out. Hire a trainer or schedule a class at your convenience. You’ll make friends who will motivate you to come back and your mind will get to rest.
2. Expect good things. Great things take time. Expect to feel better almost immediately, but also to feel sore, and maybe tired. Making small diet adjustments and getting enough sleep can help mitigate this, but you’re going to have to get used to becoming An Exerciser. Exercisers pay attention to their bodies and celebrate the little things, and don’t look for 1 to 1 data from workout to results. Every great result comes from a long running culmination of work, so the only way to get there is exercise over time.
3. Start where you are. Never lifted a dumbell? Can’t walk a mile? Bum shoulder? These are all great reasons to do supervised exercise (see #1) and have someone vested in your goals who knows how to get there. They can push you to do things you tell yourself you can't do (but you can,) and guide you into moves that you don’t know you should be doing. This is just as valuable in year 4 as it is in year 1. Every day I go exercise, I go into that gym as the slowest, weakest, laziest version of myself and blow through it simply by listening to directions. It’s magical.
4. Be very kind to yourself. Injured? Don’t exercise. Sick? Never exercise. Bad night? Rest. If you don’t let exercise play as part of the kindness you extend to yourself, it will backfire, rightly so, as something you start to hate. You’re exercising for your own health, which will get worse if you exercise over a major stressor. Why chance it? You’re not doing this to get injured or sick - you’re doing this to get strong and healthy. There may be setbacks in perfectly-laid plans, but you’ll be back sooner with motivation by yielding to the the obstacle in your way.
In the 4 years I’ve been practicing gym exercise, it has changed how I relate to the world. It has improved my self-care down to the tiniest mini-regimens. It has shown me the true greatness of my body in its ability to support me, recover, and keep up with the demands of housing a spirit. It has improved my creativity in problem solving. It has added and strengthened a very authentic voice to my intuition, especially with the “you don’t need that $hiz” in situations that are unfriendly to my boundaries, growth, morals, or standards. It’s improved my parenting by adding patience, words, and clarity to my communication with my son. It’s made me a better person in as many ways as I can see.
Exercising also carries the benefit of not feeling guilty about not exercising. That part’s good too.