It’s Not A Workout Unless You Hate It

pigeonPhotographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
I hate running more than anything — global warming, murder, whatever. Every evil pales in comparison to the dread and rage I feel when someone suggests "a light morning jog." I hear stories about people finding a meditative space of calm and flow when they hit their stride, and I want to be that person so badly. But my runs inevitably end in a hissy fit. I hate running with the passion of a teething toddler. Here's how I stopped hating it: I stopped doing it.
For the past few weeks, I've been exploring fitness to find out what works best for me. Most of my life, I've been under the impression that it's not a workout unless it fills me with HATE. I was never a fan of gym class (is anyone? Besides TV sitcom bullies?), and aside from those mandatory tween years of gymnastic and figure-skating obsession, I never really found a sport I enjoyed. I think it's partially because I'm naturally inclined to spend sunny days curled up indoors with The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, but also to do with feeling resentful and disconnected from my body. When you don't like your body, you don't want to move it. Anything that engages those arms you hate or the tummy you're ashamed of is an exercise in self-consciousness — and I mean that in the literal sense. I didn't want to be conscious of my physical self. That's the first hurdle I jumped this month in the gym: I got reacquainted with my body and realized it's not so bad after all. Maybe. Kind of. I'm trying, guys.
The big revelation has been that exercise does not necessarily have to be the worst part of my existence. Despite all the rhetoric about endorphins and post-workout benefits, I think most of us still hold the belief that your workout should be a nightmare. I have friends who drag themselves to spinning and then have to go home and lie in the fetal position for an hour before they can engage in human conversation again. (I also have friends who hop off the bike and go straight to brunch afterwards, but I'm 80% sure they're cyborgs.) That's not what I'm looking for. If fitness is really going to become a part of my daily life, then it has to be something I enjoy most of the time. So, I got off the treadmill.
triPhotographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
I'm incredibly lucky to have an Equinox gym right around the corner from my office. I reached out to them about working with me on this project and they were so pumped about it that they even set me up with a trainer (you may have seen me and Stephanie on a little morning news show last week?). In our first meeting, I was up front about the fact that eventually I want to be able to work out properly, and consistently, on my own. Most people, myself included, can't realistically work out with a trainer every week for the rest of their lives. But, I recognize that I need help and guidance to get the ball rolling, and Stephanie has been invaluable. With her as my guide, I explore new exercises every week. If something hurts, I speak up. If I like something, I make note. If someone suggests I try running, I tell them to shut their stupid face and run away crying. In my head.
There have been some surprises. For one, I like the StairMaster. Is that possible? Am I a unicorn? Second, power-walking: It's not just for grandma anymore! Power-walking on a good incline is one of the most challenging, sweaty, bad-ass workouts in my repertoire.
And, third: the yoga paradox. The one physical activity I've done over the last few years (with inconsistent regularity) is Vinyasa yoga. I love the way it naturally calmed and cleared my mind. It fit so well with my super-flexible body as well and helped me to strengthen my weaker areas. Years ago, when I was in obsessive-diet/no-life mode, I hit the yoga studio one to two times a day. It was tough and sweaty and got me good and sore. Then, eventually, it just didn't. I spent months wondering why yoga was suddenly failing me. The answer was so simple, I didn't want to believe it: I was half-assing it. I took breaks I didn't need and always tried the easier pose instead of the variation I knew I could do. Every instruction in a yoga class comes with the reminder that you don't have to do anything. It's all up to you. So, I half-assed a few downward dogs, then went home and watched Netflix hard.
That's the second hurdle. It's up to you whether you want to kind-of work out or commit. Yes, I have a trainer putting me through the paces, but it's really up to me to show us both what my limits are. In yoga, they remind you to "find your edge." That's what I do now when I go to the gym or the studio. That's what it means to respect my body, and give it a chance to shine. (Side bar: Can we just talk about how brave I am for putting these not-so-skinny yoga pictures on the internet? Can everyone just clap for me for a second?).
bridgePhotographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
A workout should be challenging. It should make your heart pound and your face sweat and your inner-toddler whine for a minute. That's how you find your edge. It should not make you hate your life, your body, the gym, and every person in your line of vision. Only you know what that workout is for you on any given day. All you need is to be honest with yourself. That's the not-so-easy easy answer.
This time, I'm back in the gym and the yoga studio with self-consciousness (the good kind). I'm trying some new things and going back to the old things with a different attitude. The same way I'm learning to let go of my old judgments about good foods and bad foods, I'm also letting go of old judgments about good and bad exercises. Hence: Power-walking is cool now. IT IS SO.
If you're not a runner, don't run. If you like the StairMaster, come join me, fellow unicorn. All that matters is that you sweat enough to know you're doing something right.
Check back here every other Monday for updates on my personal progress and issues we all face when it comes to food, fitness, and body issues. You can also follow me and The Anti-Diet Project on Instagram and Twitter at @mskelseymiller and #antidietproject. Feel free to join me in hashtagging your sweaty workout selfies, too! Seriously, I'd love to see your post-gym tomato faces alongside mine!

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