Working Out How To Work Out

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with working out. I was born in ‘89 and came of age when working out was synonymous with VHS tapes of unitard-clad, maniacal-sounding, puffy-haired, thin people jumping around in circles. Later in college, it was all about cardio and pilates for women and the 300 workout and ab-rollers for men.

Three women in unitards posing.
Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

Working out did not have good PR back then. And most of us left our adolescence with the idea that working out was synonymous with being righteous. Out of many garbage notions society filled our brains with during that time, the idea that working out made you a better person was a true disservice.

Years later, we stand at the threshold of our mid and late 30s staring at some hard truths. Whoever said, “Use it or lose it,” wasn’t lying. You know this is true if you’ve gotten on a trampoline recently after abstaining for several years. It’s like your body has lost all concept of gravity and begins to crumble while you’re in the air. You may have also experienced this maxim if your dog got out and you had to chase him several blocks into different neighborhoods before a haven cul-de-sac trapped him and now your knee will never be quite the same.

And let’s face it, healthcare in America is akin to taking a bag of beans to a giant and hoping you come out of it alive. Many of us are starting to see the importance of taking care of our minds and bodies for ourselves and for our loved ones so that we can continue to jump and run and avoid ever having to set foot in an urgent care.

After many trials-and-errors, these are the 3 tips I found really helped me stay consistent.

1. Enjoy Failure

Seriously. Part of the problem with consistency is all our feelings surrounding failure. We are still hung up on this idea that working out and health means you’re a good person so failure is unacceptable. In the past, I’d feel an overwhelming sense of shame if a workout was too hard and I couldn’t finish it or do the moves with the weight or reps the instructor was asking. There were so many runs I was literally crying while still trying to run because I couldn’t complete whatever arbitrary metric I had set for myself. I felt not like I had failed, but like I was a failure.

One of my favorite Peloton instructors, Alex Toussaint, has a motto about failing. In one of his classes he says, 

“I set the bar high for you because I want you to fail high. If you fail, you tried, if you tried, you believed.” 

When I started to think of failure this way, it stopped getting in my way and I could be more consistent with my workouts. Now when a class is hard or I’m having trouble finishing a workout, I think, “Wow I’m really working hard here. I’m growing. I’m getting stronger and soon I’ll be able to do this.”

2. Start Small

No smaller. Really.

In high school, I was starting forward for the soccer team. It still haunts me how for granted I took the ability to run miles and miles. I’ve always enjoyed running. The most I’ve ever gone is 9 miles while training for a half-marathon. So naturally I, like many others, set lofty goals for myself when I was trying to establish a consistent workout routine. I thought a mile a day for 5 days was reasonable and it quickly turned into the aforementioned sob fest. Why wasn’t this working? 1 mile isn’t a lot and I was only trying to do it during “standard business hours!”

I’m finally at a point in my life where I probably could run a mile every day for 5 days. And I got there by starting small. Instead of trying to do 30 minute or 60 minute workouts, I shot for some form of exercise a couple of times a week. I literally did 10 minute workouts once a week when I was first starting. When you do a grueling workout, your brain remembers and is incredibly resistant to trying again. Starting with 10 minutes tricked my brain by circumventing the cues that usually indicate I’m doing work like pain and resistance. I was also able to feel some benefits from starting to move my body more which created a positive association. I wasn’t super sore or exhausted from my workouts and I was seeing the benefits of better sleep, endorphins, and better digestion. I would find myself up for doing workouts more often because they weren’t a huge pain and there were proven benefits from having done them.

3. Changing Goals

Setting goals is complicated. On the one hand you want to be realistic and on the other hand you genuinely want to feel like you’re accomplishing something so they can’t be too easy. I started like most by measuring the tangibles. How many pounds could I lift, how many miles could I run, how fast was my mile, how much weight did I lose, etc. But these things would never be enough. I would be running farther and faster and in the midst of the pain and the bodily fluids I would ask myself, why am I doing this again? Without missing a beat my brain would offer, “For no reason, this is dumb, who cares, we should quit.”

When you’re trying to do something challenging, you need more motivation than numbers. You deserve more than that. We aren’t made up of numbers. We’re humans with depth and emotion and much more to offer than a quick sprint or a small belt. Working out can give us those numbers, but it can also give us a lot more. The benefits of workout are vast from better sleep, better focus, better mood, better skin, the list goes on and on. I made feeling better my main goal.

I started by analyzing how well I was sleeping. I noticed when I worked out too hard or too often without a break, I felt exhausted the next morning even after a full night’s sleep. Then I started checking in with myself before a workout and tried to pinpoint how I felt about it. If there was a day I wasn’t excited about my workout or even felt the opposite about it, I used that feeling to change what I was doing. My body would tell me I needed to rest or I needed something different like yoga instead of a run and I would listen. Listening to how I felt and adjusting my workouts to keep my body and mind feeling good made consistency so much easier. I was happy to move my body more often because I wasn’t forcing myself to do it in a way that I didn’t want.

Working out can already feel so mechanical and like a chore. If we can start to look at it as a way to take care of ourselves and make ourselves feel better, we might find it isn’t so hard to keep doing. So start learning to love failing, begin small, and make goals that actually improve your quality of life. You deserve it.

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