I’m the first to advise others in my life to drop the disclaimers and just let it all out. Nonetheless, in honor of the widely agreed upon fact that I have trouble taking my own advice, I’ll go ahead and start with a disclaimer:
I wholly and truly commend anyone who has goals for their body and I deeply respect that those individuals put the work in day in and day out to achieve those goals. I am the first to gawk at photos of my fellow Fit Pros on Instagram and other social media outlets and leave comments to the tune of “Look at those abs!” You are every bit as fierce as you look and you are to be celebrated.
However, I want to take a deeper look into fitness and how it actually plays into our lives.
I am about to approach a new phase of my life (the big 30!) and like many of us, I have started to take a look at my life and decide what changes, if any, I want to make in terms of where I put my energy moving forward. Regardless of whether or not I can do it forever, fitness was a clear YES on the list of things to keep. As I look deeper into my choice to continue my career in fitness, I discovered something really important. Not only is fitness a part of who I a right now, but it’s also hugely responsible for much of the growth I’ve experienced on a personal level.
As a fitness trainer with 6 years of experience, I’ve learned first hand as well as from observation that a physical routine has something much larger to offer us than the visual results it yields. Of course it feels great to be comfortable and confident in our own skin, but there’s an awful lot more fitness gives us that has much more to do with our personal growth than we might think. For instance, exercise gives us an opportunity to experience our bodies and ourselves in a positive way each and every time we do it. It offers us a challenge in a safe environment that we get to overcome every time we finish a workout. It offers us opportunity to arm ourselves with a foundation of inner strength from which we can approach obstacles in our lives. It offers us a way in, a way out and a way to be something more than ourselves. In my life, it’s an introspective tool like no other, and here are a few reasons why:
1. Exercise has taught me how I deal with hardship. Something I've learned is that our mentality throughout the course of a workout is often a mirror to how we deal with obstacles in life. A beloved friend and colleague of mine once said, “10 minutes into the first session, I can tell how someone approaches every challenge in their life.” After 6 years as a fitness professional, I realize how profoundly true that is. For instance, I've learned that when I am under stress in a workout, I push harder because I am afraid of showing vulnerability and weakness. I don’t want anyone to know that I am struggling because it makes me feel unworthy. In life, guess what? I do the same thing. I learned this in my time at the gym. Side note: let the records show I am both a Capricorn and a perfectionist in recovery. I am working on embracing my fears both in and out of the gym!
2. I know now beyond a doubt that I’m stronger than I think. When I first started lifting weights, I (like many women) couldn’t dream of doing more than 2 proper pushups at a time. Yet within 2 weeks of intentional training, focus, and the conscious decision to believe that I would be able to do them, I did a set of 10. It was one of the hardest 30 seconds of my life but I did it. I remember staring down at the ground, my entire upper body shaking and I told myself, “I am still here and I know I can do this. It’s not going to be easy, but one at a time, I will get there.” Lo and behold, I got there! Similarly, a few years ago, I experienced a dramatic change of life circumstances and the world around me seemed to collapse. After my long-term relationship ended, I needed to create a new life for myself and I didn’t know where to start. Yet I can still remember the dialogue from those push-ups in my head as I stood there on the steps of my new apartment, limbs shaking, fear rising in my throat. “You are still standing and you can do this. It’s not going to be easy, but one step at a time, and you'll get there." Guess what? I got there!
3. I’ve learned to work with what I have on a given day. Whether we want to accept it or not, there will be some days where we just don’t have it. Perhaps we’re dealing with work-related stress, sickness or what have you, but there are limitations to what our bodies can do when we are not at our best and we improve faster when we accept them. When we are committed to our physical routines and the way they make us feel mentally, we show up anyway. It’s not our job to be perfect. It’s our job to bring what we have into the gym with us that day and do the best we can. We take pride in the unique challenges our bodies overcome on a given day and when it’s over, we enjoy the fact that we weren’t feeling great and we did it anyway. I wish I could say the same for my personal life, but I am working on it! Truthfully, I am starting to learn It’s not my job to be perfect. I need to accept the limitations I have on a given day and work with them. Most of all, I need to show up for myself anyway.
4. If I’m not challenged, I won’t grow. This is pretty simple at first glance. Exercise is interesting in that the better we get at it, the more challenge it presents us. There is always a way to progress an exercise, and make it harder. And in order to continue on a path toward a higher level of fitness, we need to continually progress to new levels. Sound familiar?! If your emotional growth is anything like mine, once you master a certain challenge, you’re dealt another one pretty quickly! What fitness has helped me learn is new challenges present themselves once I've fully mastered the previous level of challenge. Furthermore, if I want to continue on a path of personal growth I need to accept that challenges are there to help me get closer to where I want to be. I know now that I will never be given anything I can't handle.
5. I am a constant work in progress. And (finally) I’m happy with that. Something I see a lot in the gym is people flying through exercises with improper form and attention to what they’re doing. I'm not sure if this is an effort to put one's level of fitness on display or just to pass the time of a workout so we can check the box. Coincidentally, I used to be one of those people. I felt like after a certain amount of time, I had “figured it out” so to speak, and I was just interested in “maintaining.” But the problem with that mentality (aside from the fact that it got really boring) was that I wasn't making progress anymore. Eventually, I remembered that for me, going to the gym isn’t just about how my body looks. It’s a place where I can spend time with myself and nurture growth and improvement, and that journey doesn’t stop...ever. In any aspect of life there is always a way to grow. I’m proud that fitness has taught me to hover in those places of discomfort and vulnerability, to take a few steps backward in order to move forward, and that it’s okay to have a hard time. In fact, being challenged is the point. As I mentioned before, I am a recovering perfectionist and what lesson could be more valuable than that? Hover in discomfort. Where you are is okay and as long as you’re still present, you’re on the right path.
Let’s make an agreement with ourselves here and now that our wellness is worth more than flat abs and an awesome selfie…That we are worthy of feeling good in our bodies, however they might appear. Let’s be bold and rebel against society telling us that fitness is about us looking good enough to wear a bathing suit. Let’s know in our hearts that it’s worth more than that. Let’s be brave enough to spend time in discomfort. Let’s choose to believe that we are stronger than we think and see where that takes us. Let’s live courageously and teach ourselves that we are capable. Let’s have an impact on our lives and know that at the end of the day, if all else fails, we will leave the gym better than when we came in. And we deserve that no matter what.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!