I love fitness. I like to think of myself as a fitness guru, if you will. I never did sports in high school (I was a cheerleader, but it’s not quite the same) or college. I actually discovered fitness while working for Costco. I had to sprint to the back of the store, lift really heavy boxes and cases of soda and push stinking heavy carts for eight hours at a time. I lost about thirty pounds working there and felt inspired to see what else my pudgy, slow body was capable of. I joined 24 Hour Fitness seven years ago and haven’t stopped moving since.
I have tried it all from P90X to Crossfit. I have lifted weights, taken spin classes and run myself into the ground. I pushed my body to its limits to see just how far I could go and boy did I find out. After doing CrossFit for nearly two years, I had to walk away because of a lower back injury (surprise, surprise). I was so miserable that I tried recreating my own WODS and continued to burn out. I still heard that nagging voice in the back of my head that said “you have to work out.” I am a personal trainer for goodness sakes! “I can’t not work out”, I thought desperately. But, I finally made the decision to stop working out after nearly seven years of pushing as hard as I could.
It was hard at first. I felt so many emotions pop up inside me ranging from sadness to complete angst. I felt guilty and ashamed and grieved the loss of a motivation and will to keep going no matter what. I had to work through each one, speaking truth into the lies of the gym culture. Lies like “if you don’t work out, you’ll get fat” and “if you don’t work out, you’re lazy and not good enough.” Ouch. I spent about a month not working out at all except for occasional walks and the mandatory workouts during trainer meetings (which I did begrudgingly). As I “let myself go” I began to realize that I used exercise to define me. I used my accomplishments in the gym to motivate me and when those were gone, what was left? A person who hated their body and felt mad that the best days were behind them.
Three weeks ago, I ended my strike on exercise by joining a yoga studio. I intended for it to be a means to reduce and manage stress in my life, but it has been so much more. As I spent time in the stillness and quiet, stretching my overworked and underappreciated muscles, I realized that I didn’t hate my body. I was proud of it. I wanted to take care of it and honor it, not beat it and break it. Taking the time to breathe deeply allowed me the space to process the emotions behind why I exercised and to find a new mantra for myself. To find new purpose for using my muscles and redefining what strong looked like to me. I was able to let go of others expectations, my own beliefs and the pressure of society and to embrace my own desires for fitness and what I want it to look like.
Today, I had the best workout I have ever had. I lifted weights with the intention of feeling my muscles lengthen and strengthen. I challenged myself with a heavy overhead press just to feel the power I had inside of me. I ran because I wanted to feel the wind in my hair and to embrace the rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement. I listened to motivating music and took my time with my movements. It was beautiful. I am still smiling! Taking time off from working out was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It helped me to refocus and redefine my fitness and to make it my own and no one else’s.
Maybe it’s time for you to do the same? Maybe it’s a day off or a week or a month or even longer. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate why you work out and to consider the health and longevity of your body and to seek out exercises that make you feel strong, powerful and beautiful. What does that look like for you?