I’ve been neglecting to care for my body these last few months of the pandemic. Last year I was progressing well with exercising on the elliptical, however I had to pause my challenge when my son was born. I didn’t have a good contingency plan in place, and so the whole running challenge fell by the wayside. Other than walks with the dog, I haven’t been intentionally setting out to move my body in some time.
One thing I’ve learned about myself and exercising is that injecting novelty into the process can be enough to spur on some change in my behaviours, such as the time I shopped my way to the gym. As a similar approach, I purchased an exercise program from the creators of a YouTube channel I follow – Buff Dudes. Brothers Brandon and Hudson put out great content and the idea of doing exercises at home with minimal equipment like exercise bands seemed like an interesting way to attempt exercise (without facing the humiliation of not being able to do proper pushups). I purchased some inexpensive bands online and ordered a copy of the workout plan.
I tried the first workout Thursday of last week, and attempted to stay humble by going through the routine with the lightest resistance band in the package. Somehow even the lightest band proved too much for my sedentary body and I suffered from D.O.M.S all weekend. I cursed my inactivity and reflected fondly on my days of regularly going to the gym and lifting waaaaay more weight without the same soreness nagging me days later.
Having recovered, I’ll be trying day 2 tomorrow, and hoping to suffer a little less in my recovery.
Last week, I hit a new milestone in my ongoing fitness journey. Since the start of the year, I’ve been following an exercise regiment that is having me progressively adding distance to weekly targets that I run on our elliptical at home. I plan to post a more in-depth explanation of how and why I set the system up in the future, but the main gist is that for each week of the new year, I add one mile on the distance I have to cover for the week. As of writing, I’m in week 22 of the year, which means I will be running 22 miles this week.
On Friday, I still had just over 10 miles that I needed to cover to hit my target for the week. I had initially planned on running half on Friday and half on Saturday. As I started my run, I felt that I was in a good groove, and decided to run more than half the distance for the session. Five miles turned to six, then seven. Around the eighth mile, I figured I could easily go the full ten to close off the week.
Then I had another thought. When we first purchased the elliptical, I thought it might be a good goal to try and run a half-marathon. The furthest I ran on the machine was 10 miles, so it wouldn’t be much to go the extra three. With me being so close to the target, why not?
The hardest mile was probably going from mile ten to mile eleven. The display on the machine only shows three digits, so 9.99 miles became 10.0, meaning it took longer to see progress getting counted.
A mantra started to form at the top of each mile – “just one more mile; you can do it.” This was something I learned from my army cadet days. During a particularly hard summer, I felt extremely dispirited with having to last six-weeks on a challenging leadership course. I learned to focus less on the whole six-weeks and instead focus on just getting through to the next day. It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me and try to apply anytime I’m faced with a seemingly insurmountable task.
Instead of running 13.1 miles, I focused myself to just completing the next mile. And when I finished that mile, I focused on the next; then the next.
Ten miles gave way to eleven, then twelve, and finally thirteen.
Running a half-marathon on an elliptical isn’t the greatest of achievements. However, it was an excellent application of focus and drive that affirmed to me that a.) I’ve come a long way since January; and b.) progress is made by focusing on the next goal, not the end goal.
Last week, I discussed how important exercise has become in helping to regulate my mood while I stay safe at home. I wanted to share a quick second observation I’ve noticed for exercising. When I first started my challenge for the year, I told myself that I just had to make small commitments to keep the progress going. I started the challenge very light – just 1 mile in the first week. It was easy to manage and commit to. Each week adds a mile, which is a doable amount: 2 miles in week 2, 3 miles in week 3, etc.
I am in week 17 now, and it’s forcing me to run consecutive days. While I’m not running distances that really necessitate me to need recovery days, there are inevitably days where I wake up and my body feels stiff and my joints feel like I’m full of sand. It’s a lot harder to tell myself that if I just commit to one mile, I can easily do the rest. That trick no longer works on me.
But I’ve realized something different that really helps me. I’ve noticed that no matter how I feel physically (assuming I’m not ill), if I can stick it out until the end of the second mile, I know I can do the run. There is something that happens between the first and second mile where the stiffness goes away. It’s likely the official warm-up period, but by mile-two I hit my stride, my breath falls into cadence, and I’m able to easily keep my target pace.
Understanding the magic of the second mile doesn’t make it psychologically easier to get on with the run (my mind still loves to procrastinate when I know I’m about to spend 45-minutes sweating), but it does let me know that physically I’m up to the task. The resolution sets in and I get to work.
Participating in physical distancing has given me some time to reflect. From the relative stillness of being home everyday, I have had a chance to think about my daily experiences without the distractions that comes from what used to be my normal routine. I’d like to share some of these reflections as they clarify in my mind under the banner of Quarentine Reflections.
First, I’ve had a personal realization recently concerning exercise. I have attempted to cultivate the habit of exercising for some time, going back severalyearsonthisblogalone. While I haven’t written about it yet for 2020, I started an exercise routine in January that I can happily report that I’ve maintained til the present. I’ll write about the routine in the future, but for now I’m sticking to the schedule and putting in my time.
Normally when I exercise, it’s something I try to fit into my busy days. Often it takes the form of a run in the morning before work: I try to squeeze in a run on our elliptical at home, then rush to shower and get to work without being too late. While at work, I remain somewhat distracted from paying attention to my body’s cues, so I don’t think too much about how I feel the rest of the day aside from the feeling of accomplishment that comes from knocking off a run early in your day.
But with physical distancing in effect, things are quieter. I am still working, but from at home. There is no context switching that happens in my mind that shifts gears from home to work. There are no coworkers to socialize with when I don’t feel like being productive. The lack of shift in my brain has create a scenario where I am able to sit with my thoughts for longer periods of time.
In these stretches of time, I’ve noticed that regular exercising noticably boosts my mood for the rest of the day. This isn’t a unique experience; it’s often touted as a benefit of exercising (once you get over the newbie hump of bodily pain). But while working in the office, I rarely noticed the affective change that exercise gave me. Usually, it was a cognitive change that came from mentally congratulating myself for exercising (or the social benefits that came from being that guy in the office who tells people that he got in a workout that morning – sadly, I am also that kind of person…).
I didn’t notice this benefit at first. When we first started working from home, I kept up my regular runs during the week as a way of imposing some sort of routine on my now drifting life. But last week I noticed a few days early in the week where I felt really crummy. I have a few forms of reflection that I engage with at the moment – I rate my mood in my notebook out of 10, I vlog a personal diary during the week, and I’ve taken up a form of morning pages to capture my internal monologue. In all three areas, I had noticed that I was feeling down and unmotivated. The day after I first logged the down mood, I exercised, and later that afternoon I did my check-in and noticed that my mood was a lot higher compared to the previous day. Nothing had materially changed about my day – I didn’t sleep more, my diet was consistent, and I hadn’t been any more productive in my tasks at work. The only big change over the previous day is that I had gotten a few miles in on the elliptical.
In looking back over the last month, I think I have spotted a trend. For days where I had the lowest mood, I did not exercise in the morning. On days where I exercised, I had higher mood levels. This isn’t to say that exercise is the only thing that correlates with an increase in my mood – there are plenty of days (e.g. weekends) where I feel fine but don’t exercise. However, it would seem reasonable to assert that there is a close connection with exercising and an overall improvement in my mood.
I plan to continue to follow my exercise routine, and I hope to set aside time in the near future to document it here or in a vlog format. But for now, it appears that I’ve found a more intrinsic reason to continue to exercise beyond vanity. Not only does exercise help me look better, but I feel better when I commit to the schedule.
This week, I want to pause to celebrate some of my friends who I find really inspiring. I don’t get a chance to see these folks much in person anymore as we’ve all moved on with our lives. They came into my life through various avenues – a childhood friend (C), high school (Sh), community work (K), and two I met through working at the bar (Sa and Y) – and yet thanks to technology and one of the few positive benefits of social media, I get to be a passive viewer as they live out their lives.
The concept of fitness is fraught with some terrible associations about what it means to be or look healthy. I don’t look to these friends because they embody some ideal of fitness, but for a more important reason. I admire them because they are consistent and dedicated, which is something I struggle with from time to time. Every day that I scroll through my feed, one or more of my friends are sharing the fitness part of their lives by showing up and putting in their time towards their goals.
“C”, for instance, is killer with her cardio and puts my runs to shame. “Sh” is in the gym almost every morning before I am conscious enough to roll out of bed. “K” has logged so many days of running on the trail, riding on her bike, and hours on the mat that she could stop all activity and I doubt I’d still catch up in my lifetime. “Y” is an absolute beast of a man and can deadlift two of me, but is one of the nicest guys I’ve had the privilege of working with. And “Sa,” who I’ve been fortunate to train with, is there, everyday, training his students in athletics and the martial arts.
These aren’t perfect people. Each of them has had their ups and downs, and has struggled in battle with their own personal demons. It’s not the “fitness” that makes me proud of their work, it’s because they inspire me to show up and not get discouraged.
To my friends – I see you. I see all of your hard work. I appreciate how honest you are. And I applaud that you all seem to do what you do for good, noble reasons. You aren’t vain and aren’t doing it for the attention. You are doing it for you, to live your best lives. To challenge yourself and to focus your energies.
Last week, a group of friends and I attended a hot yoga session. We, as a group, meet once per month to do an activity, and the October leader chose to have us join him for hot yoga. I had some prior experience attending yoga classes, but this was my first time in a “hot yoga” session. By the end of the hour, I looked like I had jumped in a lake. My Fitbit tracked my heart rate and it had looked like I was running sprints.
It was challenging, uncomfortable, and brutal. In other words, it was awesome!
I’m not saying that I’m going to sign-up with my local studio or start buying into the lifestyle; I’m still paying for a gym membership that I don’t use, so I don’t need another cost to my monthly budget. However, I found the experience interesting and invigorating, and I’d gladly go again in the future.
Cultural appropriation concerns aside, I’m fully on-board with the physical practice of yoga for health and fitness. Western yoga tends to have a lot of stereotypes and negative perceptions attached to it, but the act itself can be a legitimately hard, physical activity that raises your heart rate, requires a lot of strength for the body-weight movements, and provides the same calming effect you get when you focus on process movements.
I’ve attended a handful of classes and tried routines at home a few times, so I’m not qualified to offer any opinions on yoga. However, I’ll offer a few observations and thoughts on my experiences as a beginner:
While I’ve never had a bad instructor, I was incredibly thankful that the two people I’ve had leading classes were super friendly, approachable, and accessible. You feel incredibly awkward walking into your first class, and you assume that everyone is silently judging how bad you are at it. Having a good instructor in front of you really helps you get into things, and their ability to break down the poses and movements with verbal cues really aids in immersing yourself in the experience.
At the recommendation of a friend, I’ve attempted doing yoga at home by following along with an instructor’s video on YouTube (my go-to channel is Sarah Beth Yoga). While doing yoga at home is more convenient, cheaper, and less awkward, I still find value in doing yoga in a group setting. It feels more rewarding in the end to share the experience with others, and having a dedicated time to show up makes you more accountable.
If you are going to buy anything, I recommend buying your own mat. I’ve used it for yoga as well as doing tabatas at home. I also recommend buying a thicker mat (the standard mat is really thin) because being a heavy guy, it helps cushion my wrists and knees in the various poses. Bring a towel because the thicker mat doesn’t appear to have the same grip when you’re sweaty.
BRING WATER! STAY HYDRATED! This applies to non-hot yoga as well.
I found the act of yoga to help clear my mind. Again, cultural appropriation questions aside, going through the motions intentionally and being mindful of what your body is doing or “saying” to you helps with the mind-body connection. There is something about focusing on your breathing and your movements that creates a singular focus that pushes extraneous thoughts out of your mind. The added layer of music and sanskrit words pulls your attention away from the past or future considerations and instead into the present.
Speaking of sanskrit, I don’t get too bogged down in the culture. When in the yoga studio space, I try to be mindful of others and the practice, but because I don’t know too much about the history or origins of yoga, I remain agnostic but open towards the cultural or spiritual side. It’s not my place to judge, and smarter people than I can weigh-in on the validity of different kinds of yoga practices. I find value in the physical movement and the slower pace of the activity.
Having said that, I know that as a white dude participating in an appropriated practice from Hinduism, India, and the Desi people, it is loaded with problems (see the link above). My participation adds to the watering down of a rich culture from which the original practitioners were forced to suppress their ways at the hands of their colonial occupiers. I can’t square that circle and have to acknowledge it for what it is.
I set up this blog as a way to force myself to write. With a few minor exceptions, I’ve managed to put out a post every Monday morning for the last few years. While the tone and theme of the blog shifts around a bit, it’s been a pretty consistent thing.
One thing that is surprising to me is the top blog post on the site. There is one post that consistently gets more traffic than any of the others (almost daily, in fact). If I didn’t have access to the metrics, I would have never guessed which one it is.
It’s far and away the most popular post. It’s more popular than my landing page, which means that people often find my blog through a Google search before clicking through to the rest of the site. Below is my top 15 pages according to views.
I suppose there are a few good takeaways I could make use of if I were looking to optimize this blog for hits or monetization. First, writing reviews of popular apps gets a lot of clicks. As does talking about health and fitness (or, more specifically, failing at health and fitness). And finally, people like reading about life/career developments – and posting your content to Facebook for your friends and family to read will get you a good number of hits each time.
I suppose now I have a goal to write something that will drive more traffic than Zombie, Run! Good luck to me.
Yesterday I went to a climbing gym with my co-workers for our summer staff party. It’s been at least five years since the last time I tried rock climbing, and over a decade since the last time I actually climbed a rockface.
The experience was interesting. On the one hand, the venue is great, and the staff were awesome. My co-workers were all super supportive, and in no way did I feel like I didn’t belong because of other people. I did, however, felt like I didn’t belong because I’m a 325lbs mass of meat that doesn’t have the greatest cardiovascular system and a nervous suspicion of gravity.
I made two attempts to climb a fairly easy 5.5 wall. The first attempt, I chickened out about a quarter of the way up. A little while later, I made a second attempt and got around 80% of the way up before I stopped, thought about things, and promptly started climbing back down. In other words, I psyched myself out before I reached the top.
I was really bummed out about it afterward, because I knew that if I pushed through the mental barrier and went up the last 5-10 feet, I could have made it. Instead, I saw that I still had a bit to go and felt that I didn’t trust the auto-belay device to support my weight, and the hand-holds near the top would have been tricky to climb back down on. So, instead I decided to turn back and climb down until I was a safe height up from the ground where I could let go and still not injure myself if the auto-belay device didn’t arrest me.
It’s really stupid to let myself succumb to this kind of thinking. I know that the equipment is safe, and I know that I won’t injure myself if I slip. Nevertheless, I let my fear get the best of me, and I turned back before the end.
We can’t win them all. I’ll try to do better next time.
While I have recently joined a new gym in our new city after the move, I have used it once as of writing. I have yet to work out a schedule that allows me to easily pick up the habit of exercising. This is, of course, a terrible excuse to not exercise.
Exercising at the gym will either be something I do before work, or something done after work. Each of these options have complications that provide just enough friction that implementing them is stopped by my slothful lizard brain.
In order to exercise at the gym before work, I’d have to wake up earlier. This is hard for me for a few reasons:
Because I work at the bar a few nights per week, my sleep schedule is variable, so keeping a consistent bed and wake-up time is challenging.
I’m a heavy sleeper, so finding a way to wake me up without disturbing my partner is difficult.
I’ve developed a habit of snoozing when my alarm goes off.
Being late to work is bad, so if I’m late to get to the gym, it throws things off for me.
In order to exercise at the gym after work, I have a few barriers that I’d need to overcome. Ideally, I’d go straight from work, but:
On days when the dog is at daycare, I’m usually the only one who can pick him up before they close since my work is closer.
On days when the dog is at home, I need to go home first to take him out to relieve himself.
Because I’m the first one home, it makes more sense for me to start dinner.
I have the habit that once my “pants come off,” or if I sit on the couch, it’s hard for me to get up and go again.
Exercising after work is challenging if I’m tired from work.
I wouldn’t be able to workout on days after work when I also work at the bar or have board meetings (mornings are more likely to be clear of other scheduled activities).
I value spending time with my significant other over going to the gym.
These are all excuses. They are in no way real impediments to going to the gym. Instead, they provide just enough friction to stop me from making a change.
Another option would be for me to workout at home. Until recently, we’ve been limited in what we could unpack while the renovations were ongoing. However, now that the renos are done, we are in a position to reclaim more space in the basement. The disassembled elliptical was buried behind boxes of stuff, and there was little extra floor space that could be used to set up the machine.
Last week, I decided that I wanted to finally set up the elliptical so that I had no excuses for skipping some form of exercise. I wanted to take back some locus of control for my fitness. Everything listed above is coded in language that suggests I have no control over my situation. There’s always a reason outside of myself that prevents me from committing to exercise – “if only things were different, I’d exercise.”
But this is wrong.
In truth, there is nothing stopping me from exercising. I’m making excuses on why I’m not modifying my behaviour. Instead of whining and whinging about why I can’t exercise, I need to address the nagging feeling that I am drifting about in my day to day life. I don’t feel in control of things, but this is false. I tend to react, without intention. I act as if I don’t have an active agency in how I spend my time. By not making decisions about how to fix my behaviour, I’m still making a decision – only now I’m pretending to be a victim of circumstance and pushing off ownership of that decision to do nothing.
And so, last week I decided to take back some locus of control and re-assemble the elliptical and go for a run. This is not a behaviour change, but merely a first step. (Or several steps according to my FitBit…)