There’s a difference between “I ‘should’ workout” and “I ‘want’ to workout”. This crucial difference can be the reason for both your successes and failures. This is something I learned the hard way since I’m a foodie who doesn’t always like working out. It feels as though everywhere I look I am being told to ‘get ready for summer’ and how to achieve a ‘summer body’; that I am not good enough. This is not true for me or anyone else, but sometimes it’s hard to ignore the looming pressure.
I started working out five or six times a week at school, the same way many people get regular exercise. I played hockey, rounders, tennis, swimming; you name it, I’ve done it. I even somehow ended up on the girls’ cricket team without having ever seen a game. But my mainstay was cross country running.
In Year 8, the whole year was made to participate in the bleep test, a test in which you run between two markers before the beep, with the gap between beeps shortening each time. It’s a fitness test, essentially. So most people would try for a while and then drop out when their friends did. That was the agreement I had with my friends, too. But things didn’t turn out that way. I remember going up to the marker to start and then the next thing I know, I’m the last person running. The PE coach is running alongside me yelling, everyone is cheering and I’m confused as hell. This event led me to be part of the cross country team.
Rain, snow, sun; none of those things mattered. I had to compete regardless. I was on a team with girls who represented the county and still placed between 8th and 5th regularly. There was talk of training me, getting me good enough to join the other girls. Maybe my talent could take me higher. My coach pushed hard, but not as hard as my parents did. My dad had represented the county when he was my age, so he really wanted me to train. We would go for runs together regularly whenever I came home for the holidays. However, there was a wrench in the works: I didn’t enjoy running all that much. Sure, I was good at it and still am. I could show up to a 5 or 10k tomorrow on no training and do reasonably well. That isn’t a humble-brag, it’s just a fact. But I hated being made to do it. I preferred running on my own terms. After a year and a half, I quit the team to focus on hockey, a sport I enjoyed infinitely more. My parents never quite forgave me for that one.
I played hockey for my entire secondary school career. I was on the third team, which meant not many matches since we weren’t that good. I was an average player in terms of skill, but when I was on the pitch, I was like a puppy after a tennis ball: fast, determined and able to run after it forever. The issue with hockey was I would get too into it and get competitive to the point of anger. I am not an angry person, so feeling so furious with myself when I missed shots eventually wore me down, so I was relieved when my final season was over.
Then university came around. The summer before my first year, I worked out constantly. Squats, push-ups, runs; I wanted to be as fit as possible in the name of self-reinvention. I continued this during my first few months (in between hangovers and studying) but I didn’t take it so seriously as I had in the past. I had new friends and new classes to keep up with. In late November of 2014, I was out for a run when I fell. I caught myself with my right arm, but it twinged a bit. I shrugged it off and made sure to stretch extra carefully over the next few days. But this weird pain in my shoulder kept growing. In just a week it went from a small ache under my shoulder blade to agony running along my entire arm and right side. December consisted of going to unhelpful doctors, being prescribed increasingly strong painkillers and throwing up in agony. Needless to say, it was awful. No-one could tell me what it was, but knew that I shouldn’t workout until it healed. Months later, the pain subsided on its own and I was allowed to start doing gentle exercises such as yoga.
At this point, I had gone from being at the top of my game fitness wise to the most unfit I had been in years. I hated this fact but was intrigued by yoga. I had never done it before but knew people who did. So I signed up for classes at my uni. I went alone, a personal challenge for me as someone who is shy and socially anxious. The first class, I struggled. I naturally take small breaths (my breaths when falling asleep are exactly half the size of my partner’s) so the deep breathing exercises took all of my focus. Then my terrible balance meant that I fell often. But most of all, I didn’t like the yogi coming over to adjust my posture. I know that this is meant to be helpful and improve your practice, but I hate people touching me unexpectedly. On discussing these issues with a friend, she recommended I try looking up a Youtube channel called Yoga With Adriene.
I love Yoga With Adriene. It’s a channel that promotes kindness and self-love, that you don’t need to be flexible or a pro to do yoga. All you need is yourself, a mat, some water and a pillow. Adriene’s yoga sessions are probably my favourite ways to workout; I’ve completed two of her monthly challenges and follow her videos at least twice a week. She has videos catering to almost every topic – anxiety, depression, weak wrists etc. I have recommended her to so many people and now I recommend her to you. She’s a total sweetheart and is great for yoga noobs and experts alike.
So my second year was the yoga year, but what about my final year? Well, third-year brought me to the gym. I lived less than five minutes away from the uni gym and let a couple of friends drag me along out of curiosity. I was always someone who exercised outside with a team or completely alone in my room. To be inside exercising alone in a room full of grunting sweaty strangers using torture machines intimidated the hell out of me. Luckily, my friends were veteran gym goers and showed me the ropes. From there, I went to the gym regularly with them, getting better and stronger each time. I particularly enjoyed squatting with the bar and doing bench presses. It was during one of these sessions that another friend recommended I try Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide.
The BBG is a 12-week fitness programme that can be done at home or at the gym. It is fairly intensive so is not recommended for those who have just started working out. I enjoyed the BBG, but man did it kick my ass. It is intense at times and while sometimes I felt as though I couldn’t do it, I consistently proved that I could. However, I got really sick in the middle (I always get sick when I start new workout regimes – ugh) and the programme was really hard on my knees. Because of my cross country background and genes, my knees are pretty messed up and the BBG wasn’t always kind to my knees. Also, my shoulder sometimes plays up, so I either have to be super careful or not workout at all. I have completed the BBG just under two times and I enjoyed it, but soon just enjoyed messing around in the gym. Also, my dissertation and studies meant I wasn’t sleeping or eating well, so I had to stop to focus on my studies and taking care of myself.
Once I moved out of student accommodation and into Southampton, I joined a new gym. I followed the BBG again and tried out some new classes just to find my workout inspiration again. I made friends who taught me new moves and routines which was super fun. However, this past year has been rough financially, so I had to stop going to the gym in favour of saving money. This, along with my dropping mental health, didn’t help with my fitness or feeling good about myself. I wanted to keep working out, but I didn’t feel safe running through the city and I was working really long hours and commuting to and from work. This meant a long period of not working out (winter seems to be a rough time fitness wise for me). This is when I found Body Boss.
Body Boss is a 12-week workout programme similar to the BBG, with a free four-week pre-workout programme for couch potatoes like me. I am currently in week 9, and am eager to complete the programme. I am enjoying it despite its intensity. We will see if I decide to start it all again soon.
Don’t worry if you fall off the wagon. We all lose our fire once in a while. I’ve had weeks or months of eating crappy food and not getting off the couch. My sweet tooth is something I struggle with every day. But every time I struggle or lose sight of my desire, I remember why I’m working out in the first place. At the beginning of the year, I promised myself that I would take better care of myself. This meant my physical health, sure, but also my mental and emotional health. My goal is to be healthier and to be able to eat some doughnuts or a burger without hating myself.
TL:DR As you can see, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I’ve gone from zero to hero and back again. I’ve had injuries, illnesses and blocks just like anyone else (we haven’t even talked about my varying diet and self-sabotage – curse you, my love of sweets and dairy products!) Life is about balance and loving who you are. Working out and eating well while eating that slice of cake is part of that for me. I’m trying to find my balance; I hope you find yours too.