Working out is hard. It’s hard to start; it’s hard to keep going. It hurts. Often, you’re the only one who cares about accomplishing your fitness goals, so how do you remain accountable to yourself?
I usually run alone. This is good, because I can set my own pace and stop if I need to without holding anyone else up. This is bad, because I can get complacent and stop anytime I want without anyone giving me shit.
Being new to the world of running (and fitness in general), I hate almost every minute. I would punch running in the face if I could. I hate it a little less every time, but the fact remains that before I hit my groove for that particular run (usually sometime after the first excruciating half-mile), I can’t help but think about all of the other things I’d rather be doing with my time. Boredom has become my worst enemy in trying to become a runner. What gets me through it is knowing that on a geological time scale, I’ll be done relatively soon. It also helps to remember why you’re putting yourself through whatever agony you’re enduring.
So let’s talk about goals! Why are you doing this to yourself? There are basically two approaches:
- Bikini Body: If you’ve read the About This Blog page, you know that this is not the type of goal that works for me personally, but I know it works for a lot of people. I’ve had friends tape inspirational magazine clippings up on their bathroom mirrors or make a Pinterest board to have a daily reminder of what they’re trying to achieve.
- Compete: When I first started running, I knew I’d have a hard time with it unless I was working toward something concrete, so I registered for a 10k race about four months out from my first running attempt. I also joined every other (short) running event that has come up since. Other than races, there are also crossfit competitions, if that’s the way you want to go. I’m also thinking about making up my own competition against myself in a few months to see what my body is capable of.
- Just keep swimming: Most of the time, you’re running or working out in less than ideal conditions. The sun’s hot, the water is cold, your shorts are falling down, the wind is in your face, your side/calves/knees/ankles/earlobe hurts, the person running on the machine next to you just let one rip. If you’re really lucky, all of this will happen at the same time. Just don’t stop*. If all you accomplished that day is that you kept going, then you have something.
- Break it Up: I just started lifting weights earlier this month. Especially for the upper body, it’s tough work to get through all the reps (although, failing on the last set is part of my weightlifting strategy). I’ve found that counting in weird ways to get to the number of reps I’m aiming for helps distract me from becoming overwhelmed. If 10 reps seems insurmountable, try counting 1-2-3-4-5 then 5-4-3-2-1. Sometimes I’ll count to 5 two or three times. Really I’m just about fooling my mind into letting my body do what it already knows how to do.
Below is a very literal representation of what I’m talking about.
Set realistic goals. When I first started working out, I kept it really light, trying to figure out what my body is comfortable with. Then I set goals that challenged my body just enough, like a game. I started lifting about 2 months after an injury that rendered my left arm pretty much useless, so I was terrified of injuring myself again and being out of commission for even longer. Injury is what happens when your fitness expectations do not align with reality. For example, about two weeks into running, I decided to see if I could run the 10k I’d just registered for, the logic being that if I knew I could already do it, then I wouldn’t have any excuses to stop. I set a steady pace of about 11:00 and went for it. About four miles in, my left (problem) knee began to throb, and not long after, as I started overcorrecting, my right hip started to hurt. I stubbornly continued to run the full 10k/6 miles, telling myself that I was already so close. The next day, I could barely walk, and I couldn’t run again for another two weeks. Moral of the story: know your body! There’s no shame in keeping it light or slow to start, but realistic challenges are what you get you results.
Set a lot of goals. You know how sometimes you write a to do list and you purposely include totally mundane daily tasks like brushing your teeth just so that you can have the satisfaction of crossing them off? Do the same thing with working out. My list looks a little like this:
- Wake Up (For those of us with long hours and longer commutes, this is already a feat!)
- Eat Breakfast (Whether your goal is to lose weight, get lean, or build muscle, do not skip breakfast! It should be your biggest and carbiest meal of the day!)
- Pack snacks (Ever since I started working out, I am hungry pretty much all the time. I try to snack every 2-3 hours. Since my commute is 1+ hours (one way), I eat an energy bar when I begin my drive. That way, I have enough energy to work out when I get home but I am not too full.)
- Hydrate throughout the day (This sounds stupid, but I can never remember to drink enough water, so I keep a bottle on my desk and set reminders on my phone to down it and refill.)
- Go to work (lather, rinse, repeat)
- Set your daily goals (For running, I set various pace/distance goals. For cardio machines like ellipticals or the stairclimber, I have a time goal (45 min for the elliptical, 30 min for the stairclimber), and I mess with the difficulty if I feel like it’s getting too easy. For lifting, I have certain weights in mind for each exercise, and I do 3 sets of 10 reps. When that gets too easy, I up it to 3 sets of 15 reps. When that gets too easy (usually a few weeks later), I up the weight.
- Go for a run/to the gym (I don’t like running on treadmills, so I use the RunKeeper app to design routes around my town that are the distances/elevations I want to do.)
- STRETCH (Please for the love of all that is holy, stretch after you work out. Studies show that stretching beforehand doesn’t really do much toward preventing injury–although you should still get in a good warm-up–but stretching afterward can prevent soreness.)
- Supplement up (I take serrapeptase, a natural anti-inflammatory, on an empty stomach right after working out to alleviate my old man knees.)
- Eat (I try to get in some protein within 2-3 hours after working out to feed my músculos. I don’t bother with protein powders or supplements (more on that in another post) but I’ve heard High Five is a good one to take before you go to bed, since the five proteins in there have different rates of absorption in the body, so it feeds your muscles all night long.)
As an over thinker, I love love love the feeling of accomplishment that crossing stuff of a list provides. As with most physical things, it’s all mental.
*Okay, you should probably stop if you are bleeding out of every orifice or seeing plaid** or something.
**My migraines manifest with a visual aura that looks a lot like plaid. My migraines are very hip.