I’m not one for new year’s resolutions and I believe wholeheartedly in making a change whenever it strikes you, regardless of the calendar date. However, I can also relate to feeling the need for a physical reset after the indulgences of the holidays. Whatever the case may be, if you are working on any sort of fitness goals and needing some support or encouragement, I thought sharing my perspective and some tips that have worked for me might be helpful for some of you.
Though I was fairly active throughout most of my childhood and adolescence, it took me upwards of 30 years as well as finding some sort of stability post early motherhood and my years of medical training before I reached what finally feels like a healthy balance and true enjoyment in exercise. While some people are naturally athletic and grow up in families that promote this sort of thing, that’s not me and this stuff just isn’t easy. Particularly as a result of social media, it often feels like you are the only person who isn’t killing workouts, running competitive races, and smashing fitness goals. For all the rest of us average humans, I thought I would share some of what has helped me find and maintain a consistent and joyful fitness routine.
If anyone had told me ten years ago that I would really love and look forward to exercising, I would have thought they were nuts. Now, it’s accurate!
Why I love it:
I hear people say “It’s cheaper than therapy!” all the time as a partial justification for their hobbies. While this definitely rings true for most of my hobbies (though I’m not sure sewing is cheaper), it resonates most for me in regards to exercise. If I have an off week and don’t get my workouts in, I feel the effects in a major way, more mentally and emotionally than anything else. Conversely, if I start my week out with a great workout on Monday morning, it starts the week off on a good note and has positive effects for days.
Given the fact that for the majority of my life, I would never have felt the words strong, fit, or athletic applied to me, it has been unbelievably empowering to discover that that mentality was bullshit, and my body is actually capable of a lot of awesome things. Much of what feels routine to me now was a victory at various steps along the way, and emphasizes the importance of consistency and just showing up. (More on that below.) This mentality also spills over from one area of fitness to another, as well as into other areas of my life. Simply knowing you are strong is a powerful thing.
I don’t care how they choose to do it, but I dearly hope that seeing me maintain an active lifestyle will inspire my kids to find ways to be active that bring them joy. My dad did model this for me with several different forms of exercise he enjoyed and it left an impression.
This is a skill I credit almost entirely to my yoga practice, but has thankfully spread into many areas of my life. Being mindful of what my body and mind need is an invaluable tool that I didn’t know was missing until I began practicing yoga eight years ago. When I need rest, I take it. If something doesn’t feel right and I’m concerned about injury, I back off.
I fully understand because I have lived it myself that finding a fitness regimen that works for you is not easy! Again, it took me 30+ years to figure out something that was both fun and effective for me. One thing that helped me most was to stop paying attention to what other people are doing, try new things, and then just keep doing the things I liked.
What helps me stay on track:
Of all the advice I might have to offer, this may be the most crucial item. It is way too easy to get discouraged if you are hoping for a sudden six pack, six minute mile, or similar, and that doesn’t happen out the gate (spoiler alert: it won’t.) Instead, celebrate the small victories, like the first time you do upward facing dog and your yoga teacher doesn’t have to pull your shoulders away from your ears manually, or the first time you don’t laugh when a spin instructor calls out the gear and RPM. If you just keep showing up, you’ll also keep getting better, and eventually you’ll be doing crazy shit like the arm balance in the top image. Truly, never would have believed myself capable of such things but showing up got me there.
Life is busy and it’s way too easy to let other obligations become an excuse for not working out. To counteract this, each weekend I take a look and my schedule for the coming week (kids’ things, work meetings, social plans) and try to plan for a minimum of three classes I can attend that fit into my schedule. When I consider them a priority such as a meeting, I do a better job of fitting the rest of my life around my workouts.
I take the added step of actually signing up for the classes I want during that weekend planning session. I do this both so that my spot is reserved and also so that if my motivation is waning close to go time, I’ll still get there because I don’t want to waste the money for a late cancel.
I’m very grateful to be a morning person. I know not everyone is, but I also know that adulting isn’t easy in general and sometimes we just need to make things work. Getting my workouts in in the morning is incredibly helpful from a logistical standpoint because then I’m able to move on with my day having it already accomplished. I don’t have it hanging over my head and it isn’t competing with the millions of other things that happen in a standard evening with kids. Plus, it just feels so great to have it done and have that energy burst get me through my day.
Morning workouts are great IF you make sure you get plenty of sleep. For my particular schedule, I have to wake up at 4:45 am to get to my class at the gym on time and this means I simply must get to bed at a reasonable hour. I try to be in bed by 9 pm and asleep around 10 pm on nights before morning workouts. If I fail and stay up past 11 pm, I usually cancel my planned class because I know my body will benefit more from rest than a workout on little sleep.
This is unfortunately more of a hypothetical for me because I can’t find anyone who wants to go to the gym with me at 5:30 am, but thankfully there is a great group of regulars in my classes. Having a friend to workout with can be very helpful with accountability though, and I encourage you to use this strategy if it’s available to you.
It’s pretty simple – I do way better with my workouts when someone else is kicking my booty than when I’m trying to kick my own. This may not be true for everyone, but for me there is nothing better than group fitness classes. Spin, strength, yoga, heated pilates – whatever the exercise may be, it helps so much to have the instructor telling me exactly what to do. Since I don’t have to worry about any of the planning or accountability, the guesswork is out of the equation. All I have to do is show up and follow directions.
I suppose this might not apply to everyone, but for me it helps to just focus on enjoying each workout and feeling good in my body overall. I don’t measure pounds, inches, or anything else. I figure I’ve spent enough of my mental energy worrying about meeting unrealistic standards imposed by society and ain’t nobody got time for that. The whole process is so much more enjoyable when you can let that go.
Everyone has bad days and bad workouts, and that’s okay. Do not let it get you down. It’s all too easy to mentally beat yourself up for a less than stellar performance, but there is nothing positive to be gained from this endeavor. Just show up and try again next time.
Similar to the above, but this is another really important point. While consistency and showing up is important, so it listening to your body when it is telling you to back off or take a break. We all go through periods of fatigue for whatever reason, be it hormonal or due to other factors in our lives. Being gentle with yourself and allowing yourself the rest you require will help you come back refreshed and ready to work when the time is right.
Fitness routines that become too routine can feel like a mental rut and also aren’t challenging your body. Finding a range of activities that I enjoy has made such a difference, as has mixing it up from time to time. I currently do a mixture of spinning, weighted strength exercise, heated fast paced pilates, and yoga. Whether it’s trying the next level up in a class, trying heated instead of non-heated, taking a class at a new gym or with a different instructor, or trying a completely new to you workout that a friend loves, putting your body outside your comfort zone is helpful. It challenges you in new ways and more than likely will help you see how the strength you have developed with your existing routine carries over to other areas of fitness.
I hope these strategies are useful to you in your own fitness journey. If there is something more specific you would like me to cover regarding fitness, let me know! I’d love your thoughts.