I was in the gym today and the sandbag told me, “pick me up, I’m not going to lift myself.” I looked down at the heavy satchel and knew I’d rather be doing something else than picking up the sandbag for the 10th time.
It’s really funny: I didn’t start exercising seriously until I was 29 years old. I never played a sport, never joined a team. In Middle School and High School, I was too self-conscious to join a team. I didn’t think of myself as a great athlete (actually, to be fair, I didn’t think of myself as an athlete at all) and labeled myself as “bookish.” This identity kept me far away from fields and gyms. I loved aerobics, though, and sweated to oldies around the clock, joining women 30 years my senior, in step and pump classes. Throughout college, my friends and I would go to the gym (it was social as much as anything else) and jog around Philadelphia. I went to my first yoga class with a coworker when I moved to LA and didn’t know if I liked it or not. I thought the teacher seemed strict and moody, and she seemed to have favorite students whom she’d adjust. I wasn’t one of the favorites and was left to decipher some of the complex poses. A beginner, I didn’t feel welcome, but just thought that was how yoga was: intimidating, silent, and unless you were flexible, there was no sense in going back regularly. When I went through a break-up, I started running more seriously and joined Nike running clubs. By the time I turned 29, I was ready to try my feet a half-marathon. This proved to be an incredibly powerful experience, as I’d been training with a well-known Los Angeles running club. When I got to the race, I could not find my group. Considering bailing and getting hot chocolate instead, I talked myself back into sticking with the plan and I ran alone. All of my training had actually paid off; I ran faster than predicted and felt like I’d turned a corner in the athletic department.
One of my clients was an early adopter of CrossFit in 2008 and told me about it. She came to sessions looking stronger, feeling empowered, and espousing positive aphorisms. She told me about her exercise program and it sounded like just the type of regime I’d enjoy. I researched and found CrossFit Los Angeles only a mile away. I remember the day I did my baseline workout: I had never even been on a C2 rowing machine before and could not do a pull-up, did push ups from my knees, the sit ups were slow, and my squats were passable. My first day in class was intimidating and I wished to observe the students from the back of the room, but the coach insisted I stand in the front in order to learn and so he could teach me. I felt embarrassed and ill-prepared but followed his guidance.
I learned that it pays off to keep coming back and to listen to my coaches. So, I returned three, then four times a week, adding in fifth and sixth workouts a week, over the next five years. What started as a way to get to a gym without thinking too much turned into an all-encompassing lifestyle. I became dear friends with people at the gym, I opted into the specified diet and way of eating, tracked all of my progress, kept spreadsheets of my lifts and speeds. It became an all-out obsession that I grew to adore.
I once felt like I needed to “get in shape before going to the gym.” And then it occurred to me that getting in shape is the process and staying there is the challenge.
I maintained this lifestyle for five years. Almost a year ago, I stopped going to my beloved CrossFit gym. Friends and acquaintances were shocked to hear this news. There were a few different reasons, and they were due to expense, moving, and mostly because I was ready to try something else. In this last year, I’ve had time and energy to try my hand at TRX suspension training (which I’ve loved), swimming consistently, many different yoga classes, and exercise at a normal gym with treadmills and weight machines. It’s been interesting…
I now have to plan my workouts by myself (though a few of my friends give me pointers for help on specific body parts) and can’t really just show up to the gym and get a great workout. That’s certainly an excellent benefit of doing group training: essentially, you show up with some knowledge of how to do stuff and you leave feeling worked. Now, I actually devote time to planning my workouts in accordance with my goals. On the other hand, I’m not nearly as sore and stiff because I’m working to my level, instead of to the programming of a large group. My philosophy has changed. I used to believe that I must I drip with sweat and hobble to the car in order for a workout to “count.” Now, I take better care in listening to my body and not breaking down muscle groups with overexertion. I used to view yoga as active recovery; now yoga classes are among the highlight of my week and I’ve seen incredible changes since I practice so regularly.
Really, it boils down to something else altogether: no matter what physical/exercise journey I’ve been on, I can see that the effort is mine. I’m proud of my love for movement. I’m pleased I can call myself athletic (and even an athlete, thank you, Shirley!). I’m delighted at the feats my body performs and how I’m not afraid to try new things. I’m also aware that the work I put in is not purely physical, but also mental and emotional.
Regardless of me entering an exercise class or working out alone, I have to lift the weight. And that weight is not just the literal plates or bar bells, but it’s the required work associated with motivation and discipline. It can be challenging to keep coming back even when I’m tired or bored, to drive to a yoga class when I’d rather bake brownies, to stay on track, to get enough rest, to eat well, to mobilize and stretch, to keep my mind active and engaged. Additionally, this is not just about physical appearance and aesthetics. It’s about the long game and choosing my mental and physical well-being for my entire life. I want to continue living healthfully and intentionally, and thus, have a say in how I exercise and to what level.
Mustering the strength to keep moving forward, whether in exercise or in my personal life is really the key. Lifting weight, practicing yoga, running, and swimming remind me that though I receive lots of support and love from family and friends, it’s my ultimate responsibility to take care of myself. It’s the discipline and motivation that keep me moving ahead.
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