Tuesday, April 08, 2008

E is for Exercise

This is an unusual E, especially for me. This post in honor of my being able to go to the gym this weekend for the first time in a month. I have trouble expressing how wonderful it was to be able to move again. My back is healing, but I'm being very cautious. I never thought I would actually *miss* exercise, but there you go.

This is my exercise story.

I was your usual active little kid. I played soccer, basketball, softball; I swam during the summers at the neighborhood pool and biked around. I was even on the track team in Jr. High, and swam with a swim team.

But, I wasn't ever any good at it. I'm not all that coordinated and I don't have a lot of natural upper body strength. I wasn't able to do a pullup or a handstand or climb the rope in P.E. Having mostly typical physical education teachers, I pretty much learned:
a) the rudiments of American popular sports, and
b) to despise my body for being slow and weak.

I wasn't ever a pudgy kid, but I've never been skinny. When puberty arrived, the hormones hit my metabolism hard, and I've been overweight to obese ever since then. This made me even less likely to want to get into gym shorts and t-shirt. By high school I had pretty much stopped exercising altogether.

It was all just a huge source of embarrassment -- I was big, I was bad at sports, and I couldn't even run all the way around the stupid track. I associated physical activity with shame, and wished I could just make my body go away. I had to take PE classes in college, so I took badminton. At one point near the end of college I tried out the exercise thing again by taking an aerobics class. I couldn't do as much as the other people but I did lose a bunch of weight in that 2 months. I still got a C in the class, since they graded on attendance (A+!) plus how many pushups and situps you could do (F) (never mind that the aerobics class didn't actually DO any pushups, situps, or weight exercises at all. Still grumpy about that).

About 8 years ago, in my twenties, I saw a picture of myself and something inside snapped. I put myself on a diet: low fat, low sugar, low calories. I don't eat excessively, but I do have a sweet tooth. I dieted all the way through Fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and beyond. Yeah, no Christmas cookies, rolls, gravy, or candy canes that year. I dropped some weight, but then I hit a plateau. For months.

After weeks and weeks of no change, I finally sucked it up and walked into a gym.

I don't really know how to describe how much of a leap that was for me. I DESPISED exercise.
I specifically chose a gym that was immediately across the street from where I worked, so that I would have no excuses about it being too far away.

I had NO IDEA what I was doing. The nice man who was quite happy to sell me the gym membership recommended I work with a trainer. It was really the best thing I could have done. Maybe I just got lucky. She was great, fantastic; helpful without being accusatory. I told her I wanted to be healthy and weigh less, and I'd do whatever she instructed to get that way.

She showed me how to exercise. It sounds absurd but I just didn't know how to use my body. Instead of getting on a treadmill and running hard until I fell over (in about 2 minutes), she showed me how to start out jogging slowly, then walking after that got to be to much, then jogging again, all the time working to increase the running times. She showed me how to use the weight equipment and pay attention to what my muscles were doing. She designed all different kinds of exercise programs for me so I wouldn't get bored (well, too much. I have a short attention span).

And over the next 6 months, I actually got fit. I had muscles. The little flabby bits under my upper arms went away. I got so I could actually jog for 40 minutes WITHOUT STOPPING. I felt great. I was exercising 50 minutes a day, 6-7 times a week, and lifting weights 2-3 times a week. Oh my, was it a timesuck. I got down a size 12, the smallest I've been since before puberty. I learned how to enjoy my body and using it effectively.

Then the whole knee thing happened and physical therapy and blah blah blah. It involved some ripped up cartilage and some unfortunate genetic revelations. Since then I haven't been able to do all that I used to do. The weight has slowly crept back up again, since I've slacked off the weights. I sure do miss the running (although biking is almost as fun).

But the exercise, it is a good thing, truly. I really do feel better when I'm doing it regularly, as much as it often bores me. I never, ever, thought I would actually enjoy exercise. But now, it really just feels good to move. Just to walk the mile to work without pain is little miracle. Even during my careful, reduced-impact gym sessions, it felt like all my muscles were singing. It's wonderful to feel so much more at home in my own body. Not that we don't have our little differences, but we're kind of stuck with each other.

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