August 13, 2014 1 Comment
One thing I haven’t talked about much on Yes to Yummy is exercise. And that’s for a good reason: I’ve never been one for team sports, I hate(d) gym class, and my idea of a good time is curled up with a book in bed, not running around outside. I’m not a complete couch potato, but I’m definitely closer to that end of the spectrum.
For periods in my life, I did nothing in terms of physical activity, and looking back now, I realize how much exercise could have helped me, especially when I was really limiting my calories. I would have looked (and probably) felt a lot better with some muscle on my body.
But, over the course of my adolescent years, I have discovered a happy balance with exercise, and today, I’m here to show you that to be healthy, you don’t have to be a powerlifter, runner, or yoga guru. You can just be a person with a little motivation and a few hours a week to get lots of the benefits.
My journey began the summer before first grade, when I did Tae Kwon Do–a Korean martial art–at my day camp. I really liked the teacher and instantly fell in love with kicking and punching, so in the fall, my mom signed me up for classes at a local school. I began to go two or three times a week to learn how to do forms and later spar, break boards, and grapple.
I moved quickly through my different belts and always worked hard in class. When I was in fourth grade, I even earned the “Most Passionate” award at my school’s annual banquet!
As I went through elementary school, I was proud to tell everyone I knew that I could beat people up and was one of the youngest students at my school.
It was also really fun to go up against boys. There was a particularly annoying one in my class who was two years older, and when I had the chance to spar him, I’d fight hard. Below, you can see the one on the right (me) is having a blast kicking that pesky boy.
I was so proud when I got my first black belt. I was only nine years old–the youngest person (girl or boy) in my school to earn the coveted rank!
I earned my second black belt about nine months later, when I was ten.
But after that, things started to get a little weird. With a few other kids–who were all a couple years older than I was–I was switched into the adult class, where everyone towered over me both in height, age, and ability. How was a fifth grader supposed to learn beside a 30 year-old?
As I entered middle school, my schedule became busier and Tae Kwon Do lost its appeal. Sadly, I left my school in the fall of sixth grade, but in the end, I think it was the right choice.
The problem was…I wasn’t doing anything anymore for physical activity! Sure, I had gym every other day, but gym in my middle school was mostly hiding in the bleachers and gossiping with my friends, not bouncing basketballs or running laps. In fact, when we’d play floor hockey, I’d purposely run away from the puck or hang in the back so I wouldn’t have to do anything. (I did, however, love the rock climbing unit.)
Combined with parties laden with junk food and a summer spent mostly inside at a teen camp, I put on a lot of weight. We went to see a nutritionist and she suggested I try some form of exercise. Begrudgingly, I let one of my friends talk me into playing rec soccer.
I was never one for team sports, but surprisingly, I really liked soccer!
Every season, I had lots of friends on my team, so practice was really a big social gathering embedded with two hours of exercise. Our coaches were all British (and kinda cute), and games were a blast, so soccer wound up being a great opportunity for me. I became halfway decent at playing defense and midfield, and because it was a recreational league, it wasn’t hardcore or competitive at all. I played all through seventh and eighth grade, and I’m really glad I did.
When it wasn’t soccer season, I went to see a personal trainer once a twice or week just to get some exercise. It was expensive, but it was immensely helpful to have another person showing me what to do and pushing me to keep going. I learned proper form for squats and how to use exercise machines, which would later greatly benefit me when I joined a gym.
The summer before freshman year, I took up biking before I went with my parents on a cycling trip in the Loire Valley, which was a great experience but VERY exhausting.
I still love to bike, but where I live, it’s very hilly and there’s barely any shoulder…so most of the time, it isn’t really an option.
Once I started high school (and started severely restricting my calories), playing rec soccer wasn’t much of an option anymore. I was in marching band, stressed about my honors classes, and exhausted from the food I wasn’t eating. Soccer, even rec, was a big commitment: multiple practices during the week and games on weekends that I just couldn’t make it to. So, I stopped exercising for about six months, and I felt like crap–a combination of hating school, not eating very much, and not getting any physical activity.
I look all right here, but I really disliked marching band. Ironically, I got the “Most Improved” award for my uncanny ability to trail everyone else on the football field and think my left foot was actually my right. Ugh. Never again. Anyway.
Gym class was the equivalent of hell my freshman year. My first stumbling block was a fitness test called the PACER, where students basically run back and forth between two lines for as long as possible, with the time allotted to make it to the line getting increasingly shorter.
To pass the first round without having to go through the ordeal again, a 14 year-old girl had to do 52 sprints. I somehow managed to do them all, although I felt awful for the rest of the day and nearly passed out. When it came to push-ups, I think I did three and spent the rest of the time barely bending my arms so no one would notice I wasn’t doing anything.
I spent the rest of the semester trying not to be noticed, and feeling absolutely mortified when my weak arms and legs couldn’t hold me up during fitness day activities.
Once I decided to start eating more and get healthy again, I went back to see my personal trainer, who encouraged me to find a form of exercise I actually liked. This time, I really listened to him, and at the start of my sophomore year, I convinced my parents to let me join a gym. My mom said I had to go at least twice a week to keep my membership, and I made a promise to myself to do just that.
A few weeks after I started, I decided to try a zumba class on Sunday morning. When I first walked in, I was terrified. I was probably the only person under the age of 25. I was uncoordinated and in an old t-shirt and shorts. Everyone else looked so serious. But still, I forced myself to follow through and finish the class.
I have been doing zumba almost every Sunday since then, and I’ve actually gotten pretty good. It’s always fun and upbeat–nothing like slaving away on the treadmill, counting down the minutes until I finished. I can do the different steps and keep up with the class, and I don’t feel like a dumb novice anymore. Best of all, I can dance around to some good music without feeling embarrassed, because everyone else is doing the same thing. My teacher, Linda, is so positive and motivating–any class I’ve done with her has been so much fun.
My best friend Natalie (pictured right) encouraged me to start lifting weights to feel better and get some muscle tone. I was hesitant at first–when I wasn’t doing Zumba, I consistently did 45 minutes of pure cardio and not much else–but over time, I slowly built up my confidence.
I started with little medicine balls and 5 lb dumbbells, sticking close to the tricep and bicep machines. Slowly, I made my way up to the 16 lb medicine ball and 10, 12.5, and then 15 lb dumbbells. Soon, the free weights in the training session were too light, and I needed to head to the weight room for something heavier.
I was shocked when I realized I could squat with a barbell, or do a deadlift, or lunge across the room carrying 40 pounds. I was so proud when I could do 20 pushups in a row–not good pushups, but still keeping my back leveled and bending my elbows. I shook through the last 30 seconds, but I was amazed when I could actually hold a plank for a minute and a half. It felt so GOOD!
None of these are the goals of someone who is a competitive weight lifter or training for a marathon. Exercise is a part of my life, but it is not the most important, and it doesn’t have to be. I go to the gym three days a week for a little more than an hour two days, and about an hour and a half on Zumba days. When I don’t have a class, I spend some time lifting weights, and the other time doing resistance and speed intervals on the step machine, uphill elliptical machine, or treadmill. Recently, I’ve been trying to incorporate one day of interval training at home and one day of yoga, both of which I hope I can improve at. I try to stand when I can and walk and take the stairs when I travel.
I love these sneakers–they’re so comfortable and colorful! Great workout gear always motivates me.
Anyhow, what I’m saying here is that you don’t have to work out every day. You don’t have to do Cross Fit, or go to an expensive pilates class, or force yourself to go running outside. Find what works for YOU and YOUR LIFE. And you don’t have to be perfect.
Here are the best tips I have to offer anyone about exercise, regardless of whether you’re just starting out or an old pro:
- Find out what you like. I used to not like anything, and a lot of people feel the same way. The problem here is that when you do a form of exercise you don’t enjoy, you’ll want to reward yourself for the time you spent “slaving away”–you know, letting yourself have ice cream for that half an hour spent running on the treadmill. Sound familiar? You don’t have to be madly in love with the form of exercise you choose, but you should at least like what you’re doing. It can be swimming, walking, biking, yoga, pilates, rock climbing, playing basketball, hip-hop, Cross Fit, powerlifting, High Intensity Interval Training, martial arts, or even following workout videos. For me, it was Zumba and weights, but for you, it can be anything. Just find something you can maintain for a long time and is enjoyable.
- If you can, get a gym membership. For me, at least, the power of other people is a very motivating reason to workout. I workout at home sometimes, but often, I get distracted by my phone, my computer, my T.V., my cats, whatever, and I wind up abandoning my workout. Once I started being dropped off at the gym, it was an easy decision: my parents wouldn’t be back for at least another 45 minutes, so why wouldn’t I use that time productively? My gym also has lots of classes all day long, so if I feel like mixing up my routine or have a day off from school, I can always drop in and do something active for an hour.
- If not, get a workout buddy. If you live too far from a gym or don’t want to put down the money, I highly recommend finding a friend or family member to workout with you–one who is also motivated and won’t whine and complain about getting a little sweaty. Another person telling you to keep going and being put through the same ordeal as you is extremely helpful, especially when you really feel like throwing in the towel. For me, I like working out on my own, but if you’re a people person, this is a great idea.
- Mix up your routine with intensity, weight, or type. Your body is a machine. If you do the same thing over and over again, your body will “learn” how to do it and won’t work as hard. Don’t let yourself get too comfortable in this place, because it means you won’t be getting a good, efficient workout! Always be looking for opportunities to try different moves, increase the amount of weight you use, or find a new form of exercise altogether. This will keep your body “guessing” and you’ll feel it in a good way!
- When weight lifting, start with the basics. You don’t need a shake weight or a fancy bouncy ball to get muscle tone. The most basic muscle moves–squats, pulls, and pushes–are really all you need. To work all of your muscles, all you have to do is pick up something heavy (or relatively heavy) and squat. Watch videos and look at yourself in the mirror to make sure you have good form–bad form and you’ll have a bad back. Start with light weight–or nothing at all–and gradually work your way up. Pick a realistic goal for how much you can lift and how many repetitions you can do.
- YouTube and Amazon are your friends. The internet is an incredible thing, so why would you not use it to your advantage? If you simply search “workout video” on YouTube, close to 17 million results pop up–and almost all of them are free. There are workouts for every taste, from Bollywood dancing to 10 minute fat-blasting circuits, and new videos are being posted all of the time to keep you interested. Similarly, if you have Amazon Prime, you can get a good selection of free workout videos to stream, or rent or purchase one for under $10. Some of them don’t even require equipment–all you need is a pair of sneakers, a good attitude, and willpower.
- Don’t give up. And don’t get intimidated. This, for me, has been the biggest one. I’ve never been an athletic kid, so the thought of walking into a gym filled with big buff guys or doing an intense workout video has always scared me. Conquering my fear and learning how to handle my exercise confidently was a huge achievement for me, and I no longer feel awkward loading weights onto a barbell or doing a burpee with an added thigh slap (very hard, by the way). Your first few times doing something new–like going to a class, the gym, or trying exercise in general–may feel weird, but once you keep doing it, the discomfort will go away. Power through!
Well, that’s my story. How do you feel about exercise? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!