Tag Archives: fitness

The gym virgin becomes the gym slut

(Some headlines just write themselves.) In an earlier post, I mentioned being a late-comer to the fitness scene. I always had trouble with the idea of paying money to sweat and I was blessed with a good metabolism, not much of a sweet tooth and a little ADD. So I managed to stay reasonably fit without trying too hard. Eventually, however, Father Time and Mother Gravity caught up with me. And watching my parents deal with joint replacements and various aches and pains made me realize that it was time to get serious about protecting my own health. So, I joined LA Fitness and signed up for a personal trainer. Surprisingly, I actually thought my weight-lifting workouts were somewhat fun. But a few months into my new routine, my trainer announced she was leaving LA Fitness due to some disagreements with management. I changed to another trainer—a cute boy who was the same age as my college-age daughter—but although he was an okay replacement in terms of making me work, I didn’t enjoy my sessions as much. After a short-time, he moved on to another gym as well, and I was once again stuck without a trainer.

Join at your own risk.

Join at your own risk.

Based on the staff turnover and my lack of enthusiasm for working out on my own, I decided LA Fitness wasn’t a good fit for me. Trying to end my membership was a hellacious experience—it was 2014 and they required that we send a snail-mail letter to their headquarters and allow a month to process the cancellation—seriously?!? Then, despite sending the cancellation notice via registered mail (I know a scam when I see one), they claimed not to have received it and kept debiting our bank account for months after we cancelled. After multiple phone calls yielded no results, we actually had to cancel our debit card altogether before the auto-deductions ceased.

I then began a season of sluggishness that didn’t sit well with me. I had grown accustomed to working out, was feeling stronger than I had in a long time…and actually sort-of enjoyed it. I didn’t want to go back to my sedentary former self. I spent a few months trying to find a perfect substitute, but I was hesitant to commit to another membership (I was very gun-shy after my LA Fitness nightmare). So, I decided to try a couple of different options using a “punch card” and found the “pay-as-you-go” approach much more practical. Best of all, I didn’t have to sign any gym contracts or commit to just one routine. After a few months of this, I decided that when it comes to working out, promiscuity is a good thing. And it’s an approach that works for my lifestyle. Here’s what my “slutty” fitness routine looks like: i-do-yoga-to-alleviate-stress-just-kidding-i-drink-wine-in-yoga-pants--1407e Yoga at three different places – I go to a studio near my home, a studio where we have our weekend place, and thanks to a recommendation from KitKat, yoga comes to me once a week at my workplace. Small group circuit training – Because I wanted to continue to build muscle, but find gyms boring, I joined a small gym that does circuit training in small groups. This is a good fit because the trainer holds me accountable and the other participants keep me motivated (when I get tired, I just think, “if they can do it, so can I”). Pole and silks classes – This I do for the great workout and the sheer joy of it. I attended my first class (an introductory freebie) as a lark and had so much fun I was hooked. It’s a small, friendly, women-only studio that attracts members of all shapes, sizes and ages. I’ve taken my daughters, too, and laughed along with them while videotaping their spins and moves. This takes core strength to a whole new level.

One of my favorite running spots, the nature center near my home (with nobody to laugh at my pace except the ducks and the deer).

One of my favorite running spots, the nature center near my home (with nobody to laugh at my pace except the ducks and the deer).

I supplement these “paid” workouts with a number of other activities done on my own—an exercise bike and free weights in the winter and when the weather is nice, walking, running (although not very far), biking, paddleboarding and roller-blading. The variety keeps me going and if I’m not in the mood to do one activity, I can always substitute another.

One hand, grilled medium well.

One palm, grilled medium well.

I knew I had turned a corner on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. It was unseasonably warm for January in Minnesota and I was taking advantage of the mild weather to grill some carnitas. In a very stupid move, I accidentally grabbed an electric charcoal starter that was molten hot. Although I immediately plunged my singed hand into the snow at my feet, I nonetheless suffered second degree burns on my palm and fingers. I had been planning to go to my small group training that evening, but knew I couldn’t work on the machines if I couldn’t use my right hand. Then it dawned on me that I couldn’t do ANY of my normal workouts (except my exercise bike) with my blistered hand. And rather than rejoice in having a legitimate excuse not to exercise, I was actually disappointed. However, I was determined to do my best to keep to my routine. And although I missed my session that evening, I maneuvered my way through my downward dogs at work yoga the next day. I also attended my small group circuit training class on Wednesday. On Sunday, I took advantage of the nice weather by going ice skating at a nearby park with my sister (skating is something I LOVED to do as a kid, but don’t do very often as an adult). When I realized I had managed to get three workouts in despite a pretty serious injury, it dawned on me that…gasp!…exercise had actually become a priority for me. That would have been unthinkable three years ago. I’ve discovered that when it comes to exercise, the best routine for me isn’t a routine at all and “fitness infidelity” is the way to go. Hey, you can still teach an old Stormy new tricks.

Fit-shaming or fat-shaming… How about neither?

It’s no secret that a large part of the US population has a dysfunctional relationship with both food and exercise. Last year, the US was dethroned as the “Fattest Country in the World” (that title now goes to Mexico), but the need to lose weight is still deeply engrained in our collective psyche. We have an incredible variety of food available to us, but convenience and cost often skew people’s choices toward cheap, overprocessed food. Many people also outsource physical labor and then turn around and pay a gym or Pilates studio to help them burn calories.

"Of course that damn Nellie is getting more attention from Almanzo... She can afford a personal trainer and a private chef!

“Of course that damn Nellie Oleson is getting more attention from Almanzo… She can afford a personal trainer and private chef!”

I sometimes imagine what it would be like to give an 1860s farm family a glimpse of our modern lifestyle. I’m sure they would shake their head in amazement at our excess and foolishness.

The older I get, the more I realize the need for conscious exercise. And yes, I’m occasionally guilty of avoiding a free workout (shoveling snow, for example) in lieu of paying someone to make me sweat.

In my personal quest for better fitness, I’ve also purchased some gadgets that have a mechanism for monitoring weight loss and goals—namely a Wii Fit and a FitBit Flex wristband. As I was setting up both devices, they each required me to set a “weight goal.”

In a country obsessed with weight loss, this is an unpopular admission to make—but I don’t really need to lose weight. My weight bobs up and down within a 5 lb. range at any given point, but it’s all within a healthy BMI. Since I consider my optimal target weight to be on the lower end of that 5 lb. fluctuation, that’s the number I entered into each device. Living in a perpetually frozen state makes exercise inconvenient, so like many Minnesotans I put on a couple of pounds over the holidays and had been hovering at the upper end of my range for a few weeks. I wanted to drop a few pounds and return to my comfort zone.

The new year has been crazy-busy so far, so I had my youngest set up the Wii Fit in her vacated bedroom so it would be more convenient for me to work out. I also started wearing my Flex again to remind me that I needed to be conscious about making time for exercise. While I haven’t been terribly successful at that, the one benefit of my hectic schedule is the ability to cut calories without too much effort (because I’m much more likely to overeat when I’m bored than when I’m stressed).

Consequently, I recently stepped on my Wii Fit and elicited cheers from the little balance board guy: “You’ve reached your goal!” His excitement was short-lived, however, as he immediately ordered me to set a new goal. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I don’t need a new goal…I’ve reached my target.” I wasn’t sure what to do next. I know there will be days that I creep above my optimal weight again—so I just wanted to leave my goal where it was so I could be reminded of where I needed to be. Unfortunately, this concept seemed completely foreign to my little avatar friend.

Likewise, I was logging my weight on my FitBit dashboard and the same thing happened. It congratulated me and immediately demanded I set a new goal.

FitBit tile

That neither of these devices seems to allow for simply maintaining one’s weight disturbs me because it discourages the concept of accepting one’s body as it is. There’s also a lot of debate in this country about what type of shape is acceptable for a woman. Those who advocate fitness are sometimes accused of “fat-shaming” and the backlash from some in the overweight camp is to demand that the media acknowledge what “real women” look like. I find the latter personally offensive—as if I’m somehow “fake” because I’m at a healthy weight?

Having two daughters with different genetic make-ups has underscored for me the need for a broader definition of “real.” One daughter is tall and willowy, the other is short and strong. The willowy one has bordered on anorexia before, has a pretty appalling diet and doesn’t place a high priority on exercise. When she comes home to visit, I check her weight to make sure she’s getting enough calories and eating something besides burgers and pizza. My other daughter has a very healthy diet, loves sports and is in great physical condition, so I don’t worry about her from a health standpoint at all. But in our house, the focus has always been on health and strength—not what size jeans one wears (in fact, I think they may wear the same size jeans, despite the fact that they have completely different builds). And you know what? They’re both gorgeous in their own unique way and they are both very real. Dove got this right in its Campaign for Real Beauty.

There are many factors that influence obesity: Large portions, unhealthy food, sedentary lifestyles… and there are other factors that can lead to obesity—some that a person can control (usually diet and exercise), but also some that a person can’t control (genetics, physical impairments that affect the ability to exercise, life situations that minimize free time for exercise—e.g., a sick child, demanding work schedule).

Knowing this, I don’t spend time judging others on the root cause of their current weight. As I’ve shown here, I’ve got my hands full trying to work on my own issues even if weight loss isn’t one of them. At the same time, there’s a fine line to walk between contentment and complacency. While self-acceptance is important, it’s not inherently bad to want to improve oneself—whether physically, intellectually or emotionally. That’s why I’m happy to live and let live…while encouraging others to achieve their personal goals, whatever they may be. After all, real women know we’re all in this together and consequently, we should try to lift each other up.