One of the stupidest things I think I’ve ever tried to do is take up early-morning running as an exercise routine.
Why do I consider it stupid for me? Because I’m a) not a morning person, AT ALL, and b) I hate pointless walking and running. And yet, I attempted it, for a few days at least, because I had been coached by every fitness guide and every social more that running was a “real” exercise, regimented, routine, and perfect. Even though I hated every minute–no, wait, every SECOND–I kept trying, because I thought this was the only way to start getting “really” fit, to be considered “working out.”
You can imagine how long it took before I gave up on that particular exercise routine, and with good reason. It simply didn’t fit my life, my personality, my schedule–it just didn’t work for me. I believe that many people are making this same mistake when they choose their exercise routines.
Why Would We Force Ourselves to Do Un-fun Exercise?
There are many reasons for this, I believe. Maybe we’re all hearkening back to gym classes of yore, doing the exercises we were taught were “good” for us. Maybe we’re merely mimicking what friends and relatives do, or what society’s social guidelines tell us is “real” exercise. Heck, maybe we’re just doing what our buddies are doing because we don’t want to be alone while we exercise.
But when we do not put real thought into matching our exercise to our lifestyle, our personalities, even our likes and values…well, we end up giving up on it after a while, don’t we?
Choosing a Fun Exercise Does NOT Mean You’re Weak!
Exercise is not punishment. I’m going to repeat that–EXERCISE IS NOT PUNISHMENT. And yet, this is how many of us view it, because pain and humiliation is all we have experienced in association with exercise.
For instance, the sharp pain of shoulder bones, spine, and hip bones grinding against the glossed gym floor beneath you as you try to do crunches. Or the incredible pressure in your wrists, hands, and toes as you try to lift yourself up off the ground into a push-up; grunting and sweating as you try and try (and fail and fail) to lift your own body weight, feeling the silent judgments of everyone else in the room as you do so. (I recount merely my own experience with such grinding, tedious exercises, and yet I’m sure I’m not the only one with such a tale to tell.)
When this kind of exercise routine is touted as “real” exercise, with no “fun” alternatives for the layperson, is it any wonder most of us who need exercise the most have given up on it entirely? When exercise is associated with severe discomfort/pain, plus the feeling of “never being able to get it right,” who in their right minds would WANT to inflict this on themselves?
I’ll admit, exercise, especially for the person who is out of shape (like me), will involve SOME pain and some extra effort–but it should not leave you absolutely bedridden the next day. Maybe “real” athletes and fit people will think I lack willpower and am just whining, but I speak as one who is not training for the Olympics or trying to win a marathon. I just want to be able to walk down the stairs without pain in my joints, and walk up the stairs without being out of breath.
I think most ordinary people would agree with me on this score. It is not that we are weak or unworthy folk–it is that we are not as far along on the “fitness” continuum as others may be. And that is not a crime, to have to start at the beginning when it comes to fitness.
Choose an Exercise That You Can Enjoy and Actually Do
When I say “start at the beginning,” I mean both physically and mentally. We must start with exercise that trains the muscles gently at first, getting us used to exercising again; we must also start with exercise that we enjoy, that fits into our schedules and brings out the best in our personalities instead of the worst.
For instance, I never succeeded with a workout routine for very long until I joined the Zumba class, as I have mentioned in this blog before, back in April of this year and June of last year. Being as musical as I am, and enjoying Latin dance music and R&B music as I do, Zumba appealed to me from a mental and emotional standpoint. Not only that, I love to dance and like to learn about different dance moves; I usually pair simple physical moves with the music I’m listening to anyway.
So it was natural and logical that I should enjoy the Zumba class, because it appealed to a natural strength in me (music) as well as an interest (dancing). Though it was difficult at first, especially when I tried to do absolutely EVERYTHING that the very fit instructor was doing, I still had a little fun attempting the moves. That little bit of fun, plus the unexpected camaraderie I found with my Zumba classmates, brought me back the next week. And the next. And even the next.
I don’t think I’m unusual in continuing with an exercise that I enjoy, versus trying and failing to keep to an unnatural routine. But everyone is different: there are people who will enjoy a 5 a.m. run much more than they would enjoy a Zumba dance class, for instance. I may not understand why they would choose to get up so horribly early, or why they would choose to run pointlessly, but I can’t put my judgment on their choice of exercise; it’s what works for them, just as Zumba works for me.
Selecting Your Perfect Exercise Style
Think about your body’s natural state.
Are you a night owl or an early bird? Do you find yourself energized by exercise, or soothed towards sleep? Asking these kinds of questions about how your body normally is will help you figure outwhat time of day you should exercise.
For instance, I’m a severe night owl (if I’m up at 6 a.m., it’s probably because I haven’t been to bed yet), and exercise makes me all warm and sleepy. Thus, an early-morning exercise routine would not work for my body’s natural state (I’d be a very cranky zombie all day), but my Thursday evening Zumba class fits me just fine–I can wake up later in the day if I need to, and after Zumba I can come home, shower, and actually get to bed before midnight. 😛
Think about your favorite hobbies, especially anything involving physical movement.
What do you like to do with your free time? What are your interests? These can point the way to a general style of exercise you’ll enjoy best. A love of basketball or affinity for watching basketball games may just translate itself into a daily half-hour practice at the local basketball court with a few friends, for instance.
For me, my love of music and dance translated itself perfectly into Zumba; I get to hear about an hour of good dancey music, and I get to learn new moves, all while dancing in the same room with other people. It’s almost like rehearsing for a dance performance, the way I did when I was a little girl–there’s the same kind of social group formed by the class, and the same kind of rush when you finally learn how to do that stinkin’ turn just right. 😛
Think about what you realistically have time for.
What does your daily schedule look like? How about weekly, or monthly? Being realistic about what time you can carve out for exercise is important to fitting it in and making it part of your life. If you’re always running around doing errands from morning to evening all week and barely have any time to breathe from Monday morning to Friday evening, then trying to fit in exercise during the week is probably not going to work for you. But doing some exercise on Saturday and Sunday might be just the ticket, instead.
I wasn’t sure that the Thursday night Zumba class would work for me in the beginning; however, it fit into an “empty” night that would have otherwise been a night for me to lay around being bored at home. Though I’m involved in other church and community activities on other weeknights, Thursdays have stayed my Zumba days (thankfully!). This has kept me coming back to class, when perhaps otherwise I might have let it go after a month or two.
Think about your exercise personality.
Do you enjoy the serenity of a solid, unchanging routine, or do you get easily bored without something different to do every time you exercise? Do you prefer to focus on perfect form and pinpoint muscle toning, or do you prefer to do exercises that feel more like useful, everyday activities? Answering these questions will help you figure out what specific kind of exercise you’d enjoy doing.
For me, I hate doing pointless, repetitive exercises that seem to have no bearing on real life (I have the same problem with math, LOL). Zumba is neither repetitive nor pointless–I get to learn new moves every time I go, which keeps it fresh, and the dance moves can be translated to my free time (and music-listening time) very easily. 😀
Exercise must be fun if it’s going to be done. It may sound trite, and the rhyme may sound dumb, but it’s the first truth about any physical activity–it must be enjoyable. It also must fit into your life, blending with everything else you do and everything you value. After all, if your exercise routine isn’t fun, doesn’t mesh with your life, and feels pointless, it’s probably not going to be “your routine” for long!