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  • Writer's pictureErin

Body talk, pt. II

In last week's post, I went through a personal timeline of sorts relating to my relationship with fitness culture. In short, at age 24, I feel that I've come out on top. Despite the increasingly toxic media, shifting standards of beauty, confusing and misleading advice from internet strangers - you know the deal - I feel content with myself most of the time. If you'd like to read the backstory, I invite you to click here to see where you may be on the journey yourself - if you can relate or want to read about some of the biggest sticking points I had to move through to get here. This part two will focus more on today. Whether you're a gym junkie or have never stepped foot into one, but would like to (without the toxicity that can often get thrown in with it), I hope you will get some good use out of this post! Of course I'm no expert in this field; this is only what has worked for me in the journey. Please feel free to take what resonates with you, and leave the rest. 🤍

#5: Fitness as "me time"

What constitutes as complete alone time for you? A place where you can be in your own world and act exactly how you want - a place for you to be entirely you? For me, it's become my workouts at the local gym. When I get finished with the workday, which is usually chaotic and loud and nonstop from 9 am to 4 pm, I have very little social battery, and very little spark left within. Going to the gym just after work is honestly the best way for me to recharge and keep going into the evening. I stay for 45 minutes to an hour, I talk to no one, I blast my music, and I go hard. Most nights when I finally get home, I'm actually energized rather than depleted. I've regained just enough energy for the rest of the day by "zoning in" and focusing only on one thing: completing the workout. I really don't think at all while I'm there. I don't curse inwardly at how hard the workout is in that moment, and I definitely don't mull over what happened that day. Maybe it's the intense and obnoxious dubstep I listen to while I do squats (I don't even listen to this on a regular basis), or maybe the intensity of the workout - I'm not really sure - but it's almost as if I can't think of anything else. I only feel and watch my own body. I listen to the music or the workout and sync up. That's it.

This has become such a literal sense of "me time:" It's not that I'm even alone with myself - I'm not. It's that I am completely within myself, feeling my abilities and strengths, feeling where I'm tired and weak, and most importantly, feeling how it all changes day-to-today. It is "me time" in the sense that I am 100% focused on me.

There are two hinderances here that I can hear some of you asking: first, what about everyone else at the gym? How do you take your mind away from them? Truthfully, I still feel a small twinge of judgement every once in a while. Sometimes when I fear I'm not using a machine right, or I'm wearing tight leggings and don't want people to stare at me while I do squats, I become more aware of the people around me. But one of the biggest things I've learned to do frame it the same way I look at everyone at the gym; I remind myself that I pay almost no mind to any of them. I don't watch them do their workouts - in fact, I try to avoid all eye contact because I assume we're all more comfortable that way. I remind myself that most of my gym neighbors are doing the same. They want to get in, do the work, and get out just as I do. If I do have a question, I'll ask. Otherwise, I focus on myself as best as I can. The second hinderance, of course, relates to the rest of the day: What if you don't want to go the gym? What if you're too tired, or demotivated? That brings me to my next point...

#4: Listen to your damn body.

It speaks for itself; I don't have much to add on here. But let me quickly air my grievances on the idea that if you are going to be a true gym-goer, a true athlete or caretaker of your body, you should never take a day off. You should work out even when you don't want to. Even when you're tired.

No. No no no.

Unless you are part of a team that requires workouts (and it's a healthy, sustainable program), do not ever convince yourself that you have to work out. We build this idea based on those toxic home workout videos that give you a regimen to follow, even in some HIIT workouts that train you to believe that only a few seconds of rest in-between is more beneficial than making sure you can keep up without getting hurt. It's just not. If you need a day to rest, take it. If work was that exhausting (mine often is), go home and nap if that's what your body needs. You know what you're capable of in each moment. Listen only to that.

For reference, my goal every week is to get to the gym every day Monday through Friday. I genuinely cannot remember the last time that happened. But that brings me to the most important, often overlooked aspect of listening to your body: don't feel bad about it. Just because I don't always reach my goal does not mean that I'm a failure, and it does not mean that I won't keep striving. I don't get down about it anymore because I know that, despite what I want to do, I'm doing what's best for me every single day, every single moment, as best as I can.

#3: Be realistic.

There are many directions I could take in this little piece of advice; I'll try to cover the most important ones. First and foremost, alongside listening to your body, you need to know your capabilities. Even more so, you need to resist all temptation to compare yourself to others at the gym, or in any other physical activities you engage in. That girl can squat twice as much as you? Cool - don't feel bad, and certainly don't hate her for it! Don't obsess over the amount of time its taken you to get to where you are - you are on your OWN journey. Align your goals to start where you are. One of my goals for years has been to be able to squat my body weight, and eventually more. I've still got about 50 pounds to go, and at the rate that I add weight to the rack, that could take months still. I will not let that discourage me. In fact, I don't have a "due date" in mind for that - or for most of my goals, because I would much rather reach it spontaneously and rejoice in knowing I've grown than be disappointed when I don't reach it "on time."

Know what you like, too. If you really want to try lifting, absolutely try! But if it becomes something that is too daunting or scary each time you step up to the bar, or it just doesn't feel good, find something else that does. I fucking hate running, for example. I'll curse it to the wind every day of my life; I hate it, it makes me feel like I'm dying every time I do it, and I never want to do it. So I DON'T! And I don't feel bad about it! Instead, when I feel that I could use a little cardio, I do literally anything else. I'll ride a stationary bike, go skate, or even just turn up the incline on the treadmill and walk. But I hate running with every fiber of my being, so I will not entertain the idea of doing it unless I randomly have the desire for it. Why? Because if I forced myself to do something I hate every time I work out, I would no longer enjoy working out. And it's supposed to be enjoyed.

So there's a question I hear coming up: What if I already don't enjoy working out? Well, my friend, I'm not going to force you to do it, and you shouldn't force yourself. If you really want to try it out, ease your way in. If you grow to hate it with every fiber of your being, spend your time elsewhere. There is no sense in spending your time doing something you hate in the hopes that it will improve you. That's one thing I have the credibility to tell you: it won't.

#2: Consistency and change go together.

There are two sides to the coin, I believe; many will say that we need to constantly change up our routines in order to keep feeling the effects, and I believe that's true to an extent, but I also know I wouldn't be where I am without a few foundational pieces from my early gym-goer years that I still incorporate into my workouts today. This goes right in line with the conversation above in terms of finding what you enjoy most, and getting comfortable in that. Sticking, to a degree, with that. Over the past six or seven years, I've blended Pilates and weight training with occasional yoga and high-resistance cardio to form the workouts that make up my week. I tend to break the week up into sections: abs on Monday, arms, chest and back on Tuesday, legs on Thursday, and glutes on Wednesday and Friday. These systems have stuck and they continue to work, so I'll continue to use them; it's the specific workouts within each day that often change so I can still feel the effects. First, we have to figure out what we like (and I hope it's clear by now that going to the gym doesn't have to be that thing for you). Then, once we're comfortable and consistent in that, we change it up. We figure out what works, what makes us feel that it's working the body, and rotate, so to speak. We do not stay the same, but we also don't have to change everything all the time.

It all goes back to the same idea: Do what feels best. That's it.

#1: Drop everything else.

These were some of my parting words to part one, but I'll say them again: This is not for, or about, anyone else. The fitness journey is about you and the relationship to your body. If it's something you deeply care about, you have to meet your body where it is - don't overstep. If you are not yet comfortable going to the gym or practicing your sport in front of others, for instance, find workouts you can do at home. In the meantime, get in touch with the part of yourself that is afraid. How can you work through that? If you are struggling to reach your goals, can you ease back, make baby steps, or even reframe the way you view making goals? To be honest, this might have been one of the best decisions I made in my fitness journey - ditching the planner and the workout journal and just doing what feels good. It's the hardest damn thing for many of us, but I swear you have to learn to just drop some of it. You have to learn to not care so much. Say it with me, perhaps:

I don't care how long it takes me to squat my weight.

I don't care if I don't make it to the gym every day.

I don't care if I have an off day, or even several off days.

I don't care if I can't do as much today as I did yesterday.

The only thing I care about is feeling good in my body.

Progress with our bodies is best made when we give it space and freedom to grow. It won't do so well under harsh conditions or criticism. It needs to be talked to nicely. If you walk away with only one piece of advice for getting into fitness, let it be this: Be nice to yourself. Meet yourself where you are, check in, say hi, and ask what your body needs from you. Give it that.

I'm gonna leave us here with a few more words of wisdom, not my own, but from a poet named Hollie Holden. I've seen this little piece float around social media for a few months now, but as I ponder on my past and present experiences in the realm of body-and-self relationship, I keep coming back to the last line: Can you just love me like this?

Can you love YOU, just like this?


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