What's Up With Working Out?
As I had mentioned last week, an astute reader recently asked me to do a post about my health and fitness routines. I covered my reasons for following a plant-based diet here. As promised, this week I am bringing you the fitness companion piece.
As with all things nutritional, the world of fitness is fraught with all sorts of strong opinions, fads, and fallacies. The difference is, with something like exercise, even if you half-ass it, it's a whole lot better than doing absolutely nothing. Personally, I consider myself to be a life long worker-outer, with only small bouts of non-exercising in my angsty teen years when I fell for the myth that you had to choose which tribe you belonged to; if you were a jock, you couldn't also be a band geek or a theater nerd. The fact was, I was all of those things, and still am.
I love all types of exercise, from team sports to workout videos, and I have tried them all. Right now, I am heavily into a very heavy-duty home-based HIIT (high intensity interval training) sports-centric training program. I decided to challenge myself with it because I wanted to increase my speed and agility on the tennis court and beyond. I love it. It reminds me of 5am basketball practice in Jr. High, right down to the gymnasium setting and the being screamed at part. Let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart...it is hard. And I mean haaaaard. Like, laughing and crying-out and shaking and dripping sweat everywhere and blowing your nose into your gym towel (yes, really) while your pets stare at you in horror hard. But hold on. I'm getting ahead of myself.
I want this post to be more about the philosophy of working out than just a list of workouts I've tried and liked and which ones make your butt look smaller in skinny jeans. Because that is not, in my opinion, what exercise is meant to be. So I've compiled a list of things, philosophical things, that I think are essential for effective exercise, whether you're looking to drop some poundage or just increase your overall fitness level. Here goes.
1. Yes, you can. Now get off your butt and get out there and do it.
If you have ever heard yourself utter the phrase (either out loud or to yourself) "I can't do that because my ___ (knees, weight, back, neck…whatever), you are selling yourself short. Yes, at face value this sounds like a harsh stance, but the reality is the human body is one of the most amazingly adaptable machines out there, and there will be something that you can do, no matter your weight, physical abilities, or resources. If you have an issue (and who doesn't?), you may just have to work a little harder or search a little longer to find the thing that works for you (or enlist some good help in finding your thing), but it is out there. Use the internet as your resource, and do not discount anything. Talk to people who know what they're talking about. And if you still are having doubts…well, there's this guy. Many of you will have seen this before, but I could watch this video a million times and never tire of it. This is what true grit looks like. The look in his eye at the end? That's what you're aiming for.
2. Do not defeat yourself inside your own mind before you've even taken your first "kick at the ball."
Self belief is the most important ingredient in getting better at anything, and the mental aspect of becoming an "exercise person" is most of the battle. Think of this journey as a long, cross-continental road trip with friends. If you were trapped inside a car with one of those incurious people who at every turn told you that she didn't want to be there, that she didn't want to visit any of the amazing places you had planned to see because she found them different and/or scary, and she was constantly undermining the trajectory of the journey - when you got to say, The Grand Canyon, everyone would probably pile into the car while her back was turned and squeal out of the car park, leaving her there to be eaten by buzzards. Don't be that person. Open your mind, and get in the car.
3. Focus on what you can do, not on what you look like or what you think you should be doing.
As I get older, I find that this is really important. Sure, everyone likes the idea of looking awesome in a bathing suit or maybe dropping a dress size, but those are goals that miss the bigger picture, and are more likely to leave you disappointed if you have a plateau or gain a little muscle that makes the scale not budge, or go up instead of down. To get better at this, you will need to push yourself, plain and simple. Maybe the soul-ripping, agony-infused HIIT workouts that I enjoy aren't your jam, but that doesn't mean that you still shouldn't strive to be a little better every time. Yesterday you walked up that hill and had to rest halfway up? Tomorrow, try and make it 3/4 of the way before you take a rest. You have to constantly push the finish line back if you want to not only improve, but stay challenged and engaged. Before you know it, you will be hooked.
4. Some days, you're going to suck. Get over it.
That's just how it is. Most of the time, you can do your best to eat right (you simply cannot out-train a bad diet) and exercise, but maybe you should have stopped at one glass of wine the night before. Maybe the kids kept you up late and you're tired. Maybe you're stressed-out at work. That is all the more reason to get out there and do something positive for yourself. I've had many a day where I was maybe a little bit tired or (more likely) completely mentally frazzled from 13+ hours of mayhem at the hospital, but I dug deep laced up the shoes anyway. Not once have I ever said to myself "wow, I shouldn't have done that" after I finished exercising. Not once. Don't be that person who has one bad workout, a bad eating day, and just gives up on herself. You sucked that day. It happens. Get over it, then get back in the car. The road trip is ongoing.