have fun out there


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softball
“softball” by tinatruelove

Exercise should be fun. That’s not to say it should be easy — if it’s easy, you’re not really doing anything. No, what I’m saying is that it should be fun. It should be something you look forward to doing, and not just look forward to having done.

I’ve participated in some fitness programs run by the gym at my workplace. These have been short-term programs meant to get the participants started on a path towards better fitness/lifestyles. I have found them very useful as a structured and goal-oriented accountability crutch, where the slightly competitive and also supportive nature of the program makes it harder for me to skip the workouts when I’m tired or busy.

However, after my fifth or sixth time through (I honestly don’t remember how many years I’ve done it now), I found myself in the odd situation of knowing almost as much as the trainer about what I should be doing, and in some instances, assisting my fellow participants on technique when the trainer was busy with someone else. I realized then that I didn’t need this crutch anymore.

Well, at least not when it comes to strength training. I’m all about the strength training. These days, I’m at the gym 4-5 times a week, primarily during the work week, lifting weights for 30-50 min and walking the track to finish off my daily step goal. I love it. Even when I’m the only woman over 22 in the weight room (often the only woman, period), and these college bros don’t quite know what to do with the fat, middle-aged woman who seems to know how the fly machine works.

I feel stronger when I’m at the gym. On days when it’s so tempting to get in the car and drive home after work, just a few reps will get the adrenaline going and all of a sudden that tired goes away for a little while. I feel like I could keep doing reps forever, until I hit the wall and it’s time to stretch.

Strength training is fun. There’s variety. I can focus on a specific muscle group on one day, or do a little with all of them. There are many different exercises to target specific muscle groups, and pieces of equipment to do them, so when I get bored with one, I can change it up for a while.

What’s not fun for me is cardio. Cardio is that necessary thing (or so they say) for burning fat. When I’m lifting weights, I’m putting effort behind it, so the heart rate goes up a bit, but not like it would for an aerobic exercise. I know I should incorporate cardio into my routine, but my options at the gym are so boring. Stationary bike, treadmill, and many variations on elliptical machines. The stair climber is right out. I could swim, but the hours and availability of the pool aren’t ideal for me, and it’s an extra hassle I haven’t felt motivated to tackle yet. Anyway, cardio: yawn.

That being said, I do like to do some athletic activities that involve an element of cardio in them. I play softball once a week about six months out of the year, weather permitting. I hike and bike when it’s not super hot or super cold out. Those are fun activities that I look forward to doing.

I figured out today that the one aspect of strength training I don’t enjoy — targeted core exercises — is one that I can kind of do with fun activities instead. One of the areas I focus on with core exercises are my lateral muscles, primarily because they help me have a stronger swing of the softball bat. You know what’s a fun exercise for lateral muscles? Swinging a softball bat.

This afternoon, I did several rounds (20 balls each) at the batting cage swinging right-handed and left-handed. This made me work both sides fairly equally. It also made me focus more on the ball and not just using muscle memory in my swing when I was batting left-handed (not my dominant side). I immediately noticed I was making better contact with the ball when I switched back to right-handed batting. Bonus! I did exercise that was fun and I got more out of it than I planned.

If exercise is chore for you, I my recommendation is to get out and try a bunch of things until you find the one that is fun. Then, just keep doing it.

becoming a better me


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I have struggled with my weight for most of my life. As a kid, I was heavier than most of my peers, and gym class was my least favorite time of day. I played some softball in my early teens, but by the time I got to high school, I had dropped that and was headed into 10 years or so of sedentary behavior and avoidance of all things athletic.

Over that time period, I allowed myself to gain 100 pounds, mostly through a love of carbs, fats, and sugars. I wasn’t actively choosing to be fat so much as I was actively choosing to indulge myself with food and my inherent laziness.

A few years ago, I decided that enough was enough. I joined a recreational softball team and started going to the gym more regularly. However, I was never able to stick with a strict diet, so all I’ve been able to do is maintain my weight. It wasn’t going up anymore, but it also wasn’t going down.

In December, a friend asked me to be her partner in a Biggest Loser-style competition at work. At first my inherent laziness and fear of the unknown made me hesitate, but I went to the information session anyway, and that sold me on it.

The participants (about 20 of us) are working with two trainers who run at least one group workout session five days a week. The sessions are a mix of strength training and cardio, and they vary the activities with every session. In addition, I’m taking a cycle (spinning) and tone (weights and crunches) class two days a week and walking several miles on the weekend.

I’m also meeting with a dietitian as a part of the program, and she has made helpful suggestions based on the food diary I turn in every week. I have been making small changes to my diet over the past year, and I found that works best for me. I’m also learning to make conscious decisions about food. Sure, I could have that doughnut from the box in the staff lounge, but I’d rather spend those calories on a tasty Belgian quadruple beer later that evening.

Right now I’m six weeks into the program, and so far the scales haven’t moved much, but I am slowly shedding the pounds. Meanwhile, I’m seeing muscle definition that I haven’t seen in a long time, and my endurance is increasing. I don’t look forward to the hard work, but seeing how much I’ve gotten stronger in such a short period of time keeps me coming back.

Aside from having two enthusiastic trainers, the other thing that has kept me going is the team spirit that has settled on those of us who are regulars at the group workouts. Theoretically, we’re competing, but I mostly forget that it’s a competition, in part because everyone encourages each other to push beyond what we think we can do. I need to have some internal motivation to keep pressing on, but having an external accountability means I still show up, even on days when I would rather be anywhere else but the gym.

It’s never too late to change your life. Whether it’s something as simple as drinking a glass of water instead of soda or something more challenging like committing to an intensive workout routine. And there’s no better time to start than today, because I’m sure you can find an excuse to not start tomorrow, either.

Whatever you do, remember to be kind to yourself. Making one bad choice doesn’t mean you have failed or should quit. Just do your best to make the next choice a good one, and take it one moment at a time.

Article first published as Becoming a Better Me on Blogcritics.