Why I Don’t Exercise (Enough)

I went to my workplace’s kettlebell class today. Well, the word kettlebell got me through the door, but to my surprise, the instructor informed me that it had morphed into “more than that,” which I quickly learned involved using impossible-to-stretch resistance bands and dumbbell balance exercises. There were eight of us in the room, seven by the class end (one woman was having a bad day and left early).

I used to be a major gym rat during college and graduate school, particularly in the context of martial arts. Yet starting a busy full time job made those habits fall by the wayside as I quickly found it harder to put on my gym clothes and easier to drag my feet home to pull on a pair of pajamas. While I tried to engage in exercise, there was an invisible and infuriating gravitational force that always drove me to go straight home, and an equally invisible and infuriating inertia that drove me to stay put.

I’ve been doing a little better with my exercise routine lately, so I wanted to share some factors on why I wasn’t exercising (enough) and my responses to that.

Lack of community. Even though I am an introvert, there is something exciting about sweating it out and suffering with a group of people. It’s easy to call it quits and skip weightlifting after my 20-minute jaunt on the treadmill; it’s less easy for me to skip out early if I’m in the second row of the exercise studio. I don’t quite feel as alone if there are others who are also groaning under the literal weight of exhaustion. Lastly, in workout classes, the instructor is hopefully motivational in the right ways to push me through when I feel like slacking off.

The wrong mindset. One of my jiu jitsu friends posted this on her Instagram and it contributed to the way I approached exercise:

Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do.

The rest of the quote going on to say that exercise is not a punishment for what you ate, but the first part is more helpful and affirmative. Even though I did experience a period of disordered eating in graduate school (yes! let’s talk about that to #stopthestigma), the main unhealthy focus on exercise for me was always to compensate on something where I felt lacking. I would exercise as a way of trying to make up for an unproductive work day, or as a way of competing against my husband for who was the most fit. It made exercise a stressful ordeal as opposed to something that could be enjoyed. Exercise can be a form of play if you let it. It is fine to feel physically taxed during a workout, but there is a line to be drawn when your workout becomes a way of mentally brutalizing yourself. Of course, it were as simple as reading an Instagram quote, then no one would be out there with the wrong mindset. My point is that the solution isn’t simple, but this is a mental target that you can try to hit. For me, practicing mindfulness during a workout (to see the thoughts that come into your head but not excessively focusing on them) is a strategy that has helped me keep this mantra in mind.

Overcomplicating things. After a recent round of decluttering through the Marie Kondo method (yes, I know she can be controversial), I’ve noticed two interesting effects. The first is that it’s easier to find the workout shirts that I have and actually want to wear (any black t-shirt). The second is that I’m no longer concerned with finding the perfect outfit to wear because everything simply works as is. I worked out in my pink converse sneakers today and my grappling spats because who cares? Who cares what you look like? My attitude now is to bring clothes I am comfortable moving around in, no matter what the heck they look like or how weird they are.

Trying to stick to one thing. I don’t have a gym membership to a martial arts school anymore, or any membership for that matter. For me, while I loved training martial arts, I often suffered from burn out from obsessively thinking about one style. While there are some people who can make it through the whole series of of P90X by themselves or are happy to go on a treadmill, my body and mind craves variety. I might go on a home workout kick for a few days, and then switch to working intensely on cardio for a few weeks on treadmills, and focus the next few days on flexibility and mobility. By not sticking to a plan and listening to what my body wants, I am able to both exercise creativity in how I can get a good workout and also experience different ways of getting fit. I believe that it helps me be a more well-rounded individual and to avoid boredom.

Not having enough mobility. I used to spend a lot of time sitting at my desk. I tried work timers to get me to take the proper breaks but the rigidity of it made me crazy, and I also didn’t know what to do with myself on those breaks anyways. Then I would go to the gym in the evening and try to force my body to do things that it didn’t want to do.

My friend Samantha Faulhaber (a black belt in jiu jitsu) changed all that. She is crazy about these things called Controlled Articular Rotations, or CARs. Sam in no way is paying me to endorse her work; she won’t know about this shoutout either until I go visit her for a retreat this Friday. 😉

I thought she was crazy until I started trying them out for myself. Here is the video I used to get a sense of what a daily CARs routine looks like. (If Sam were here she would be shouting DO YOUR CARs repeatedly). And lucky for you and for me, that is just an idea of what CARs can look like — the beauty of it is that there are tons of people out there doing CARs and different exercises so you can piece together movements that work for you. Or you can do any movement you want as long as it doesn’t cause pain.

CARs has changed the way that I think about my body; I don’t think of it as forcing itself to move in ways that it doesn’t want to, but focusing on moving it in the ways in which I can and working towards small improvements over time. It has improved my mobility immensely and has made exercising much more pleasant because I understand the limits of what my body can and cannot do, but also can take comfort in the fact that it will get better at it over time. I don’t need to force instant results overnight.

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