My approach to fitness has changed immensely over the last 10 or so years. In late high school and throughout college I was extremely regimented about my workout schedule. Looking back, I realize that approach didn’t work well for me at all. It’s not that I was bad at keeping to a schedule. On the contrary, I was almost militant about going to the gym on my workout days and was very proud of my self-discipline.
And that was the problem.
I was completely inflexible. I would skip out on social engagements that interfered with my plans to go to the gym. Sometimes I would even try to organize my class schedule around my preferred workout times. I was also very regimented in the type of workout I did. Most of the time, and especially in the winter, I plopped myself on the elliptical machine with a magazine (all the better to promote my terrible body image with). I would time myself for 50 minutes and include intervals at set times. I did the exact same thing every single time I went in.
When the sun came out I would occasionally go for runs on my set exercise days. I would usually set out with a certain route in mind, with the “option” to add an extra mile or two. The thing is, I always took that option, even when I was totally run down and my body was screaming at me to take a break. If I gave myself an option to work harder, I felt like I had to take it.
Looking back, my behavior towards fitness was reflective of my overall neuroticism regarding food and “health” (a.k.a., my desire to be as skinny as possible and stay that way). I’m fortunate that factors in my life have led me away from that and toward the approach I have currently, in terms of fitness and other aspects of life.
After about 6 years of a regimented approach to fitness, I stopped running abruptly after an injury forced me to take a break. I started walking a lot and occasionally did some yoga. And I gained about 20 lbs (gasp!). Trust me, this was a good thing. Then I met my now-husband and after a few months we decided to start lifting weights together. I had been intrigued by weight lifting for a while, but wasn’t ready to jump in until I had a buddy.
I immediately fell in love with weightlifting. As a small person, I found it so fun to be stronger than people expected me to be. When we moved in together we bought a bench, barbell, and a set of plates to put in our basement. Having those there has been a lot of fun. I can run down and lift a little bit when I get tired of dissertating, or I can take my time and get a long workout in.
Still, I found myself being a bit more strict with myself than I liked. I would plan workout days and NEED to stick to them no matter what (I know this works great for some people, just not me). Then I would get a bit obsessive about my food and started to pay a lot of attention to my macronutrient intake and timing things extremely strictly. Again, I know this works very well for some, but I don’t need to perfect my body composition or prepare for a competition. And I would like to stay as far away as I can from anything that triggers food neuroticism.
Slowly, I started to take an approach to fitness that was totally new to me. I joined a ‘fitness club’, for lack of a better word, that offered regular yoga classes. I started going and then decided to try out some other classes that were offered. I tried body pump, barre, and even zumba. It turns out that I love variety. And I especially love general movement to keep up my fitness.
There are classes all the time, and I drop in if I feel like it and stay home if I don’t. Some days I just want to take the dog for a walk outside and maybe jump around and try some handstands. Even though I can’t actually do handstands. Or dance around the kitchen while I do the dishes. And when the weather cooperates I ditch all fitness classes and go to the mountains to take a hike.
I LOVE this new approach, more than any exercise routine I’ve had in the past. It’s freeing to be able to do what I feel like when I feel like it. Sometimes that’s going to a body pump class where I can lift some weights with a group of other people and extremely energetic instructors. Or trying out some HIIT classes when I’m feeling particularly ambitious.
Sometimes, like this entire month, that means giving my exhausted body and brain a much-needed break and not doing any ‘exercise’. Instead, I take the dog for walks and do some restorative yoga. And I still dance around the kitchen to loud music, because that’s pretty much the only way to do dishes.
I truly love to move, and keeping myself to a militant workout schedule robbed me of my ability to enjoy movement. I went to the gym because I ‘had to’, and moving became a chore. Something I had to get out of the way so I could get on with the rest of the day. I know it sounds so cheesy, but I have learned that I really need to listen to my body. I do exactly what I want and I love to move again. On rare occasions, I even feel the urge to go for a run. And when I do, I actually truly enjoy myself.
But I never step foot on an elliptical machine. As far as I’m concerned, those things are evil.