I’ve taken a long road to “fit”. Honestly, I was that kid who faked illnesses to get out of gym class and would gladly tell you the only time I ran was if something was chasing me. Now I’m on a regular schedule of working out for at least 45 minutes every day before work, alternating between high intensity interval training (HiiT), yoga and pilates. I hit the rock gym 2-3 times per week and attend yoga classes 2-3 times per week. I’ve fallen in love with kettlebells and weights. I take at least one day off a week for rest and ensure I’m alternating between exercising those fast-twitch muscles with those intense workouts with building slow twitch muscles and flexibility through yoga. Right now this is a good balance for me and I’m excited to see where I go from here. The things is, it was a long road to get here.
My partner has a favorite (non-original) line that he likes to use when I’m being self-defeating. “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” He reminded me of this just this week as I was watching bouldering competitions on YouTube and lamenting that while I’m falling in love with climbing I will never be phenomenal at it. Excuses poured out of my mouth. “I’m too old, these climbing athletes started when they were kids.” “I’m too tall and heavy.” “I’m afraid of heights.” The list goes on and on, but I have to admit that after watching these athletes compete I learned new techniques and the next time I hit the gym I was able to do harder routes and I had more confidence. I don’t expect to be a rock star climber, but the point is that I’m getting better. I’m planting my seed today.
I mentioned my road to being fit was a long one. The first time I was even introduced to a type of fitness I enjoyed was when I was about 15 and my theatre teacher showed us yoga during our warmups. It was slow and gentle and I could get into it. I then found that I enjoyed the jumping parts of track and field (high jump, triple jump, long jump, pole vaulting) which was fun for a while but I quickly became intimidated by the real athletes on my team and I also loathed the warmups. So that didn’t stick.
It wasn’t until after college that I really started caring about fitness. I moved to Boston, found myself walking to work and eating better (honestly, anything other than fast food was better than I had been eating in college) and I started dropping weight without even trying. I decided to check out a local yoga class and quickly fell in love. But, I’d walk through the gym to get to my class and would shake my head at the crowd on treadmills, ellipticals, and the weight benches. In part I was intimidated, and in another part I just felt like I wasn’t in that crowd. I had terribly negative misconceptions that people were there out of pure vanity and that it was just some daytime sex club for post sorority chicks and frat dudes. Years later I would find out how wrong I was, but at that time it was just not my scene.
It wasn’t until I went to school for massage that I started to really get it. The body is an incredibly fascinating thing. On one hand, it’s fascinating because of the amount of abuse it can take and keep on ticking. On the other hand, when you care for it right the body is capable of amazing feats of greatness. What I had yet to learn was that even MY body was capable of those things.
Practicing massage is a lot like dancing. It takes a good amount of coordination and balance. It takes a good understanding of body mechanics and physics to avoid self-injury. Practitioners also benefit from being fit and healthy and having a more developed upper-body. I was blessed to have some classmates that came from the fitness world and they coached me to try getting in better shape and eating healthier.
I started with free weights. Small weights, high reps. The reason this worked for me is that it wasn’t painful to do, and I saw results very quickly. I enjoyed feeling strong and seeing my muscles develop. Naturally, I then wanted to eat foods that helped fuel my body so I also began learning about better nutrition; a subject I continue to explore daily.
I continued with yoga and weights and naturally I had several lapses where I just slowly got out of my routine, only to pick it up again months later. But every time I got back into it I tried to take things further. I explored different types of yoga; some extremely challenging. I walked more and began hiking. I found summer activities, like paddling, running and swimming, that kept my attention and kept me active. It all started building. I was exercising because I wanted to be in shape for massage, and then the type of exercise I was doing demanded different parts of my body to be more fit so I started doing other exercises to support that. For example, when I found I enjoyed paddling it only made sense that I was continue with my free weights to build upper body strength. And in continuing with free weights I would need yoga to help me stretch those muscles for recovery. The combination of strength and flexibility came back into my massage sessions and I had more stamina.
It was about two years ago that I started getting into HiiT by following some videos online. For me, this was a perfect fit because I get bored easily if I’m doing a “routine”. The HiiT workouts I was doing were different every day. Similar to crossfit, I faced a new challenge and often didn’t know in advance what it was going to be. All I knew was that by the end I would be sweating my butt off and I would feel like She Ra. I suppose you can say I became addicted to the adrenaline; I definitely enjoyed the challenge.
I have to give the caveat that in most cases I do not recommend starting a new type of exercise by watching a video. It’s important, especially with intense workouts, to use proper form. By this point I had been working with a personal trainer, had studied anatomy/kinesiology and felt I was body-aware. Even still, I quickly transitioned to going to a kickboxing class that also did circuit training and I found it extremely helpful to have someone there who could call me out if my form was poor.
So I planted that seed back in 2003 that I wanted to be fit and my tree is still growing. I’m not a super-athelete, but I also feel like I could hold my own during the zombie apocalypse. The trick is to stick with it. Find new challenges that keep you interested. Listen to your body and know it’s a-ok to start slow. I started with walking and now I’m climbing three stories in the air and swinging around 25lb kettlebells like they’re kittens.
Also, did I mention the health benefits? Once upon a time I had “bad knees”, was on meds for acid reflux and insomnia, got colds regularly, and I had exercise induced asthma. With the right diet and exercise routine those have become vices of my past. I thought those illnesses were just part of who I was. Now my immune system is bangin’ and I feel stronger than I ever have!
I do have to say from my own fitness progress and from watching the progress of my clients over the years, it is imperative that you start at a level that’s appropriate for you. Diving head-first into a fitness routine that’s too strenuous for you is a great recipe for failure. For one thing, there’s a high chance of injury, which can start a terrible cycle of having to stop working out to heal, only to jump back in, overdo it, and re-injure yourself. So please listen to your body and take it at your own pace. The next issue is that if it hurts or you end up so sore you can barely walk the next day, you’re probably not going to want to keep going. Yes, it’s normal to have some burn, especially when you’re just starting out, but you can get in shape without pain. Seriously, I did it. If I was in constant pain I would not have made it this far. If you’re unsure of your fitness level and where to start I highly recommend working with a personal trainer. But if you can’t afford that it’s not a good excuse to not exercise. 😉 Look for community classes, beginner videos or just start with something really basic like long walks and a little jogging.
Finally, remember there is no finish line. Fitness is ongoing. Plant your tree today and keep growing!
Want some motivation? I just recorded my first virtual yoga class! Please check it out and let me know what you think:
For those of you who enjoy HiiT, I created two new progressions this week. It’s been a while since I’ve posted these but I’m hoping to make it a habit again. If you try them let me know how you did! Remember to warm up first!
- KB Swings (my reps 24/25)
- High knees
- Side-plank leg-lift R (my reps 14/14)
- Side-plank leg-lift L (my reps 14/14)
- High knees
- KB snatch R (my reps 8/7)
- KB snatch L (my reps 7/7)
- High knees
- 10 reverse pull-ups in a pyramid (6-10-6 seconds) (for this, start at the top of the pull-up position and slowly lower down while counting out the seconds; for those who are proficient with pull-ups you can do regular pull-ups at the slow pace; for those who are new to pull-ups, try using a strap and modify as necessary to avoid injury)
- 15 R side crunches
- 15 L side crunches
- 30 bicycle reps
- 30 air squats