Love Letter to Exercise

It was the summer before my senior year of college and I had no idea what to pursue in my professional life, but I knew I did not want to present myself to the world in my current condition. I was obese, self-conscious, and overwhelmed. Rather than sink further into this black hole, I decided to pull myself out of it.

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After work, every afternoon, I put in 15 minutes on the clunky elliptical we had in the basement. I blasted music and endured it. As the days and weeks passed, I started putting on episodes of favorite shows, like Friends and Golden Girls, and worked until the end. It wasn’t long before I realized how much I enjoyed the effort, the slick sweat and short of breath feelings grew addictive.

I could go for an hour, playing with speeds and intensities. I was losing weight and I felt good about myself for the first time ever. I was in complete control, pushing my body to limits I thought I would forever detest. My body craved more. After my elliptical session, I would do sets of jumping jacks and started lifting the light weights we had lounging around. By the end of the summer, I was more determined than I had ever been in my life and I knew I would keep going once I was back in school.

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At my college, there were two gyms- one in the main building of campus and the other in the basement of a dorm. I loved both, they became safe spaces of comfort. Lifting weights awakened my body in new ways. I’d feel sore the next day, but it was a result of achievement rather than a painful deterrent. I had no knowledge about how to lift weights, no idea what exercise worked what muscle group, I just tried what I saw other people in the gym doing, or what I read about online.

In these days, I racked up one-two hours every day at the gym. It’s not what I recommend for everyone, nor something that is doable for busy people, but it was my saving grace. Gone was the anxious girl who ate her emotions. I found my strength.

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February of that year, I decided to tackle the treadmill. Growing up, I loved playing sports, but I hated to run. I started at 30 minutes, walking for 4 minutes and running for 1 minute in 5 minute increments. By Red Sox opening day that year, I took my runs to the outdoor track down the street and was running 3-4 miles at a time. I was a runner- and that is not something I offer lightly. To this day, I am not quick or smooth or a model of running perfection by any means, but I can run for miles and I will never forget what that means to the girl in the summer of 2011.

By graduation, approximately one year later, I was 100 pounds down, exercising six days a week and maintaining much healthier (and happier) eating habits. I was sad to be leaving school, but I was excited to see what the future held. That is not to say that I didn’t struggle after. I’m still confused as to what to do in my professional life in many ways, but that is the product of living.

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But this journey that I continue on, allowed me to be okay with putting myself out into the world, to experience and experiment. I tried several different jobs and trusted my instincts enough to walk away from something that wasn’t right for me. I studied to become a personal trainer and help others who struggle like me or just need a little guidance and push. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams and listened to my heart when I knew it was time to come home to my family.

My life is not perfect. I am not perfect. I eat too much, I have a lazy exercise day or choose to gasp- take two days off from the gym sometimes- but mostly, I’ve maintained these healthy habits. Eating is a large part of losing weight and maintaining a healthy life, but exercise was my gateway. Without it, I would not have the strength to endure, two of my favorite words.

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Exercise is my time. No matter what, I will always have that hour in my day that I take for myself. It doesn’t have to be a full hour, it doesn’t have to be a perfect mixture of cardio and strength training, and it doesn’t always have to be crushing and exhausting.

Embrace the messiness of fitness- the sweat, the confusion, the pain, the results. It does wondrous things for the body, physically and mentally.

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Weekly Workouts

I find that pre-planning my workouts make for more efficient, butt-kicking exercise. I don’t dramatically change everything up every week, but I do switch things around to keep my body guessing. Making something up in advance, helps keep you motivated and present. Exercise is all about routine because once you get to that point, it sticks, and it’s hard to live without it!

Day One started on Sunday with a run. I haven’t gone four miles in awhile, but it felt wonderful. I finished with a cool-down one mile walk.

Day Two is strength training day one, including chest and triceps, biceps and shoulders, and core- ALWAYS core. Three exercises for each muscle group, five sets of eight reps a piece, means I’m lifting heavy!

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Day Three (two for strength training) is all about the legs, back, and core. Same set-up with that first day of strength training, heavy lifting five sets of eight reps. For legs in particular, I like the combination of heavy compound movements with fast-paced plyometrics. Jumping lunges are pretty close to death.

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Day Four is another run, this time with some time and speed intervals tossed within. It keeps my heart rate up without allowing my body to fall into a steady-state rhythm. After I finish, I like to do some Yoga, whether it’s just planking or getting into a full sequence, depending on time.

Day Five is more strength training focused on chest, triceps, biceps, shoulders, and core. This time, I’m lifting lighter weights at three sets of twelve reps, which helps build my endurance.

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Here we go at Day Six! Legs, back, and core get the three sets of twelve reps endurance treatment.

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Though strength training is the focus four out of six days of exercise, I do usually finish up my workouts with at least 15/20 minutes of cardio. Lately, I’ve been completing a super sweaty and crushing ride on a spin bike, which I much prefer to the other types of stationary cycles. I’ll occasionally spend a few minutes on the elliptical or treadmill amping up those intervals. On days where I don’t have a lot of time, it’s all about jump roping and battle roping.

The seventh day is always built for rest! You don’t have to workout six times a week to be healthy, I just happen to need it for my wellbeing. Rest is always important!