One of the biggest ironies of my life is that I was a Division I athlete. I actually have a varsity letter in a men’s sport no less. My dad always said that if he had to put his life-savings on the line, he would have said my sister (formally known as Sporty Sis if you’ve been reading the blog since the beginning) would have been a college athlete.
Of course, I was a coxswain, so it wasn’t like I was a bench-pressing, protein packing athlete. I was more the brain than the brawn in the boat. Competitive? Yes. Atheltic? Not at all.
I’ve tried every sport under the sun from synchronized swimming to softball, and nothing stuck until crew. I was too tiny to be a competitive rower, and when a spot opened up to cox the men’s team for my high school, I jumped at the chance and never looked back. I will say, I did almost 100% land training, aka running, during my short-lived career as an actual rower and that was probably the last time I was in shape. But I hated every single minute of it. I ran for hours in the Florida sun and never got used to it or enjoyed it whatsoever.
I’m going to keep this post as honest as possible, and I hope no one is offended or turned off. I don’t want to censor this for fear of judgment because it really is my journey. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m sure if everyone looked inwardly and was honest with themselves they might, too, realize their own insecurities and truths.
So…. despite the fact that I was a student-athlete, I have never really prioritized working out. Because it wasn’t something I enjoyed and because I was naturally small (my size is genetics), going to the gym never quite made my high priorities list. Other than one year in college where I gained ten pounds from a medication I was on, I’ve been the same weight since graduating high school.
Last October, I went to New Orleans and had such a great time basically doing a food tour of the city. I came back feeling horrible though. My everyday diet is pretty bland and standard, so I think the constant stream of rich food just put me over the edge. Back in Connecticut, I experienced a mixture of wanting to sit in a sauna and to run a marathon to sweat it all out.
Instead, I joined a gym. Someone had mentioned to me how insane Chelsea Piers was inside, so I originally signed up for a tour just to take a peek. My apartment has a great gym that I technically pay for in my rent, so I wasn’t entirely keen on spending money on a gym. I had been paying for yoga classes and realized, during the Chelsea Piers tour, that the cost of the monthly gym was the same as unlimited yoga classes at the studio I was going to at the time. With Chelsea Piers though, I could sign up for ALL kinds of classes, including yoga. I drank the Kool-Aid on the spot and signed up.
I think it’s also worth noting that I was trying to find ways to break up my day since working from home can get lonely and monotonous. My yoga classes were all scheduled for the post-work crowd, which wasn’t the most convenient for me. I wanted something with more flexible hours, including the middle of the day since I have that luxury.
In addition to all of that, I was going through a rough patch personally and was kind of grasping at straws in terms of pulling myself out of it. I had already increased my number of therapy sessions and done everything else that normally works, so I figured working out could be worth a shot. As cliché as it sounds, it worked. As Elle Woods said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
Because the gym felt so new! and so exciting!, I wanted to try as many classes as possible. I shopped around and landed on one class that I absolutely LOVED. It is called “Intro to Strength Training,” and it’s the one class I’ve been doing consistently since I discovered it. I instantly fell in love with it too. Once I took one class, I started going every day it was on the schedule (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). A few of us have been doing it this whole time, and we’re friends now!
For the first five months, it was taught by an amazing trainer. She truly made it fun and manageable, and I could find myself growing stronger every week. Then she left to get her doctorate in Texas and, as happy I was for her, I was devastated to lose her as a trainer. I’ve discovered trainers are like hair stylists, once you find one that you like and trust you better hold onto them for dear life!!! A new trainer was slated into the schedule and, all of us girls agreed, he had big shoes to fill. (I believe I, jokingly, mentioned to him that he had one week to prove himself. HA!) Well, he is amazing!!!! The class difficulty increased dramatically, and I continued to grow even stronger more quickly.
It’s still an “intro” class although a few of us in the group are doing heavier weights and some modifications to make it more challenging. I’ve learned a lot from the gym, the class, my trainer, and even my own practice.
ONE // Just Do It
When I asked you guys on Instagram what you were most interested in hearing about my journey, the question that popped up the most was, “How do you stay motivated?” Here’s the thing, I wish there were a secret or a magic pill that would miraculously endow you with discipline and motivation. That doesn’t exist, and that’s why training is such a challenge. At the end of the day, you just have to do it.
There are things you can do to find motivation, but I think the main thing is that you have to ask yourself how badly you want it and why you want it. I’ve never had a huge problem with discipline when push comes to shove. (I do have days where I clear my schedule and do nothing, but I run a business, put up posts every single day for years, and when I put my mind to something, I don’t like to give up.)
I have friends that pay for a gym membership and never go. Maybe if the membership were free, I wouldn’t do it… but if I’m paying, I’m going.
If you’re struggling to find the motivation, ask yourself why. Is it that you don’t enjoy the classes? You need to be held personally/financially responsible? You feel like you don’t have time? Shop classes until you find one that really gets you excited. Join a gym with a friend (who is also motivated… friends can also be de-motivating if they’re the type to skip classes frequently!) or pay for a membership somewhere. Look at your schedule to see where you’re spending time that can be cut out, like deleting your Netflix account.
I love working out with my class so much that I have done my best to schedule my entire week around them. (I realize this is a luxury, but this could also be the same for a 7 pm post work class or 6 am class on your way to the office.)
If you want to work out, find a way to work out and set yourself up for success. It’s my opinion that if you really want to, you’ll find a way.
TWO // Diet
Whenever I post a dessert on social media, I almost always get a message from someone asking how I can eat that and still be thin. As I mentioned earlier, my size is genetics. My mom has always been a twig, and my dad wrestled in, like, the 100-pound class in high school. But I also only share desserts now and then, they’re not my whole diet. I am also a believer in the “everything in moderation” mindset. And I’ll only eat until I’m full or satisfied. I’ve never been someone who will eat the entire thing of ice cream just because it’s in front of me. I can do two bites and feel satisfied.
I tend to eat a lot of the same things over and over again. I do a lot of oatmeal, grilled chicken, salad mixes, eggs, salmon, and greens. Here’s what I ate in a week earlier this year. I find that when I work out, I crave healthier food, especially extra protein. My biggest weakness is potato chips because I want salt pretty much all day every day. (I’ve mentioned before but I need salt not to get dizzy whenever I stand up. When I work out, I drink more water than usual which means I need even more salt.)
THREE // Clothes
I also had a lot of questions about what I like to wear. In the beginning, I definitely found workout clothes a big motivating factor. I would look for cute things, and that would make me want to go to the gym. While I still like cute workout clothes, my workout drawer has gone from one to two over the past year because I wear them so often. It’s not so much “cute” workout things that I’m reaching for; I’m shopping for the things I like to wear to the gym. For pants, I really like these New Balance x J. Crew pants and these long tights. For tops, I like these tanks and a tight long-sleeved top from Athleta. (I can’t find the exact one online, but it’s a tighter version of this.) For shoes, I switch between these and my trusty Asics (which are the only shoes I run in). I definitely recommend getting professionally fitted for shoes if you’re going to be doing serious training– every foot is different, and your feet are really the foundation for everything.
FOUR // The Basics
The class I do is “Intro to Strength Training” and that can kind of cover a lot. I thought it would be only weight lifting, but it’s actually a mix. Every day is different. I’d describe it as a metabolic circuit training class. Sometimes the exercises seem so simple in the beginning but then by the fourth round of it, I’m basically crawling out the door. Some days we’re doing a ton of cardio, others balance. We might be lifting free weights or using kettlebells. I love the mix of everything because it keeps me on my toes and keeps it interesting. I never get bored.
One thing that was the biggest eyeopener for me was that the most basic moves are the ones that have the biggest impact. Right now there are so many classes selling trends. The basics are where it’s at though! Pushups, lunges, squats, bicep curls, pull-ups, etc. For the longest time, I thought that doing weight lifting would make me bulky and manly. I thought I had to do “toning” classes that strengthed and lengthened to maintain a feminine shape. Nope. Every body is different, but I’m not going to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger from a few pushups.
I have done a few Barre classes, but I’m generally doing this strength training class filled with exercises that, a year ago, would have freaked me out for fear of turning into a manly body. I have actually strengthened, lengthened, and toned without having to take a class marketed towards only women. Try not to buy into that. Of course, those gyms and classes are great for finding a community, but you don’t have to be afraid of doing a little heavy lifting.
FOUR // The Changes I’ve Noticed
What have I noticed the most in myself?
Very simply, I feel stronger: physically and mentally.
NEVER in a million years would I have imagined that I would enjoy working out, but I genuinely do. I look forward to working out now and don’t feel good about myself or the day when I skip one.
I am still the same weight and the same size, but my body feels different. It took about six months before I started to feel and see the difference. I can feel the muscles in my stomach, and my arms, and my legs. I see glimpses of changes in photos. I think the biggest physical change has been my legs. I’ve always been a little self-conscious about my legs because there were just skinny and not very toned. I could NOT believe my eyes when I saw this photo because I saw a muscle in my leg I never thought was possible!
Even though the scale hasn’t changed and my pant size hasn’t changed, I went from 18% body fat in October of 2016 to 16% in September (the last time I used the machine). A pretty significant difference that shows a lot more than how I look on the outside.
Mentally, I know I’m a lot stronger than I ever imagined I could be. Now that I have a little bit of strength under my belt, I have been able to channel my competitiveness to push myself a little harder, lift a little heavier, run a little farther.
At the beginning of the year, I set some goals for 2017, including fitness. I wanted to do three classes a week and run a 5k. I’ve done at least three classes a week, and I ran TWO 5ks. (The tennis is a long story, but my instructor got a little creepy with me, and I had to stop lessons completely… I need to get back into it.) I think next year will hold more races and more fitness classes. I have a pretty great foundation right now, and I think I’m ready to take it to the next level, while still having fun with it of course! I try to stay pretty level-headed about it all.
Everyone starts somewhere
I know this was a long-winded post but I wanted to wrap up with one single message. ANYONE can start their fitness journey. It’s going to look different for everyone, but if I can do it, anyone can do it. I seriously hated working out and would avoid anything that would induce sweating. And look at me!
Everyone starts somewhere, and it’s easy to get discouraged if you jump into a class and feel intimidated by people who have been doing it for years. When I started, I was using the lightest weights for everything. I could hardly do a pushup. Many of the exercises were modified. Focus on your journey and growth.
The women in the class I take are all on different paths, and we have fun together while focusing on our individual goals.
PS I’d also be careful about following fitness accounts on social media. I’m sure there are some genuinely, authentically great ones, but I often find accounts that aren’t necessarily promoting a healthy lifestyle. Especially if you’re just starting out, it’s so much more important to focus on YOU than trying to look like some ideal fitness model. (Which, oftentimes they are just models and not professional trainers!) I’ve definitely found myself scrolling through accounts thinking I needed to start doing two-a-days and find a spray-tanner. Your fitness journey is so much more than that!