Gym, week 4-6: Commitment, schmommittment

That’s not gone well.

– Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear

Dear reader, I have a confession to make.

I failed.

There, I said it.

I set myself a target and I didn’t meet it.

You see, I haven’t done my prescribed five sessions per week since week 1.

Do I feel bad about this? Honestly, no. I did for a moment but I got over that pretty quick. Why? Because I learned a few things from this experiment. And that’s what it was – an experiment. Just another in the continual series of experiments that is my life.

I didn’t just fail. I failed forward!

Why did I fail?

I made failure an option. I defined the experiment in such a way that it was possible – nay, inevitable – that I’d fail sooner or later. The rules are simply far too strict: miss a workout and you’re basically done. Guess what? Life happens. Something will keep you from the gym at some point. Maybe for days at a time – or even longer. Sure, I added in some caveats after the fact, but they don’t come close to covering it.

I didn’t listen to my body. Put another way, I did too much too soon. I didn’t mention this at the time, but my first weights session was a group class – not my usual weights-machine/dumbbell routine. The classes encourage you to push really hard for the whole time (typically an hour), which feels amazing at the time but really takes it out of you. It’s also a one-size-fits-all approach (besides choosing your weights) and doesn’t consider your own needs. My PT told me I was lucky I didn’t get injured. As it was, I had sharp pains in my shoulders that took three days to fade.

Even with the standard weights sessions, I found I needed two days to recover. (Day 2 DOMS is real!) Seasoned pros can come back and do it again two days later. I can’t. Which means I can only do weights every third day. Let’s do a little math:

  • Days in a week: 7
  • Days per workout: 3
  • Maximum workouts per week = 7/3 = 2⅓

“But wait,” you say, “you could just work out Monday, Thursday and Sunday. That’s three times a week!” Hmm… That reminds me of a funny video I watched one time!

THE DUMBEST BOY ALIVE. PRETTY GOOD, EPISODE SIX. (Warning: language.)

(Once you’ve read this post, go check out the rest of Pretty Good. It’s brilliant.)

Ahem. Where was I…

I didn’t find the time or energy for gym. I have other interests besides gym – blogging, meetups, and quiz nights, to name a few. I have chores to do to keep things ticking over. I work full-time. I also need time to recover, physically and mentally, from these activities – my body makes this clear to me, whether I like it or not! Basically, my schedule is booked out – not necessarily in terms of time, but definitely in terms of energy. To make the gym thing work, I’d have to make big concessions elsewhere, and my options here are honestly pretty terrible:

  • Go out less? I’m putting together a social life for the first time in years – I’m not about to undo all that hard work. Knowing what I know now about the importance of social connections, that’s unthinkable.
  • Skip chores? Ok… so, hire a cleaner and eat out every day. I mean, I guess I could afford it, but there’s no way it’s gonna pay off.
  • Cut into my rest time? That’s a one-way trip to another mental health day.
  • Work less nope
  • Blog less nope nope nope

Exercise and physical health are important, sure. The thing is, I’m already doing ok on that front. How much am I willing to give to push for something I don’t really need?

If the above sounds like mere excuses, then how about I put it this way: I didn’t want it enough. If and when that changes, I’ll find a way.

Look on the bright side!

While this was technically a failure, I’ve had some successes along the way too.

  • I’ve been able to up the weights on every exercise. Just to the next one up – but in some cases that’s a 50% jump!
  • I’m having fun! Going 2-3 times a week instead of five means I get to keep some sense of novelty. On a good day it feels like play rather than work.
  • Stress relief. The various exercises give me lots of options to decompress after a tough day. It’s more effective than my previous methods, and healthier too!

Let me make one thing clear right now. I’m not quitting the gym. The weekly updates on the other hand? In case you haven’t noticed, they’re dead. To which I say: Good riddance! There are so many other stories I want to share, and the gym posts were getting in the way.

This little experiment is over. But don’t worry, there’s plenty more to come – that’s life!

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Gym, week 3: The umbrella hunter

This post is part of a series on my commitment to the gym. Every week, I hold myself accountable by posting an honest recap of my workouts. Can I make this habit stick and see some gains?

We had a classic Wellington southerly storm this Tuesday. Gale force winds, heavy showers, the works. This presented a perfect opportunity to indulge in another new hobby of mine – brolly-hunting!

The broken brolly in a bin is a symbol of Wellington. Some people, presumably tourists, attempt to use umbrellas in these conditions. I guess they just see rain and think, “oh, it’s raining, better take the brolly”.

The trouble is, these things are built for rain – and only rain. Not wind. As these tourists find out the hard way, your bog-standard umbrella will wilt in the face of an 80km/h southerly gust.

If they’re lucky, they’ll be able to get to shelter, fold it up, and save it for another day. And if not? Well…

1 Yowch
Yowch.

This is where I come in. I’ve made a bit of a game of it. On rainy days, I have the camera app open and ready for action at a moment’s notice. At lunchtimes I don my raincoat and head out on “parasol patrol” on a route with high foot-traffic and lots of bins. This usually comes up empty, but the walk is refreshing enough that I don’t care!

I’d seen a good few brollies before this week – two in one day at one point. But Tuesday, 12 June exceeded my wildest expectations. I’d found, not two, but FIVE by the time I got home from work. I even snapped the same bin twice with different brollies!

2 Morning and evening
Morning and evening, same bin
Wait, isn’t this post supposed to be about the gym?

I’m getting there! But not by my usual route. I’m taking a small detour in search of more brollies. Because apparently five isn’t enough. Well guess what? I was rewarded at the first bin!

6
Hit ’em for six!

And shortly after that:

7 Just a handle
7 (on closer inspection this was just a handle, but it totally counts!)

And right by the front door:

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8 (at first I thought this was two, but it’s likely just one brolly bent around)

Riding the high of this umbrella overload, I smashed my weights session. I even went above my starter weights on the machines without slowing down. Am I starting to see some gains? 😮

Week 3 wrap

Unfortunately the week went downhill from here, for reasons I won’t mention in this post. For now I’ll just say Thursday was a write-off, and I did spend Friday night in a yoga studio, though not actually doing yoga. So here’s what I managed:

  • Monday: 30-minute spin (still getting over that cold…)
  • Tuesday: Weights and brolly-hunting
  • Saturday: Town day, ~1.5 hours walking (trust me, this is more tiring than it sounds – I had to lie down for an hour when I got home)
  • Sunday: Weights and an hour-long hill walk

I may come to regret hitting both arms and legs today. We’ll see.

Can I pull myself together and put in a full shift next week? Or will I break like an umbrella in the wind?

Enter a New World of pain
Enter a New World of pain!

Seen any good brolly wreckage lately? Let me know!

Gym, week 2: In everyone’s best interests

All right folks, here’s the wrap for week 2 of my gym adventure:

  • Saturday: Yoga, weights
  • Sunday: Umm… I walked to town and back?
Snake! What happened? Snake? Snaaaaaaake!!

Mission failed? Not so fast. Here’s what happened:

No complaints from the body yet, other than the cold I’m now coming down with.

Me last week

That cold got worse. Much worse than usual. This was me for much of the week:

1-grooooaaaannnn
Grooooaaaannnn

Here’s a thing you need to know about Wellington. It’s a disease-spreading machine.

People come in and out of the city all the time. Some of these people carry cold-causing viruses. Some of these viruses come from halfway around the world and no one’s immune to them. The local geography funnels people onto a narrow strip of land. It’s cold and damp. Oh, and air conditioning spreads germs through entire buildings.

I love Wellington, but I get sick way more often since I moved here. It’s kind of annoying. Heaven help us if a pandemic breaks out.

I felt the ominous tingle in the back of my throat on Saturday morning, and by Monday I was done for.

Timely news

Naturally, the question came up in my mind: Should I exercise when I’m sick? Just as I was tossing up whether to skip my Tuesday weights session, the local news site ran an article on exactly this. The answer’s pretty clear cut – unusually so for articles that ask questions like this!

So I decided it’s in everyone’s best interests – especially mine – to rest. For five days. I say especially mine because, even though I’ve spared gym-goers my germs, this is Wellington which means everyone else will catch this cold before long. I just don’t want to be the one responsible for giving it to them!

Did I mention this cold was worse than usual? I’m no doctor but I’m pretty sure I had a fever on Wednesday – I can’t remember the last time that happened…

Excuses, excuses

This brings me to something I neglected to bring up in the intro. Namely, the part where I cover my ass!

Sometimes life gets in the way and I can’t reasonably get to the gym. Or, I can in theory, but it’s really better that I don’t.

Now to go full-lawyer. I may skip gym for reasons including but not limited to:

  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Travel
  • Force majeure or acts of god. (Because every legal document needs those.)

For lesser interruptions, like social events or appointments, I’ll reschedule workouts. As committed as I am to gym, there are more important things in life!

As for now, I’m pleased to report that the cold’s all but gone and I’m back in the swing of gym.

2-im-ready
I’m ready!

How do you deal with interruptions to your workout schedule? What other totally legitimate excuses can I add to my list? Let me know!

Gym, week 1: It’s not a fashion statement

Before I start, I want to set something straight for some of my readers. Back when I first joined the gym I stated that I wouldn’t wear gym shoes with my work clothes. I said it’s “a fashion crime I’m not willing to commit”.

I take it back. Here’s proof.

1-proof
It’s not a death wish either. Though it does feel like one some days.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s recap week 1 of my commitment to the gym.

So far, so good

You’ll be pleased to know that I made it through the first week without incident.

  • Sunday: 60 minute spin
  • Monday: Yoga class
  • Tuesday: Weights
  • Thursday: Weights
  • Saturday: Weights

And because the week starts on Monday (at least in these parts), I’ll throw this in to put us back in sync:

  • Sunday: 45 minute outdoor run (8km)

No complaints from the body yet, other than the cold I’m now coming down with. I can’t really blame that on the gym though!

Dress for success

Some people take gym fashion very seriously. I am not one of those people. I just want to get through my workout in relative comfort. To that end, I’ve spent next to nothing on gym clothes and used stuff I already have. The unexpected upside is some of my gear has nostalgia value!

2-shoes
Gym shoes maketh the gym man

These are actually running shoes. They look vaguely fitness-y so I’m sure no one bats an eye at the gym. I’ve had these 5+ years, but they’re still holding up just fine since I haven’t used them a whole lot.

3-navy-blue.jpg
Classic navy blue

I’ve had these more than half my life. I wore them when I did the Otago Central Rail Trail way back in 2003. (I still want to go back someday and ride it the other way!) They’ve been my go-to exercise kit until very recently, and still hold up pretty well. Unfortunately the shorts lack pockets, which I now deem an essential feature, so they stay in the draw unless the rest are in the wash.

4-warehouse
Warehouse special

I bought these for Round the Bays 2018 – my first 10k running event and still one of the proudest moments of my journey so far. Cheap yet functional, and I love the colour of the shirt!

5-viva chile
¡Viva Chile!

This shirt is legitimately from Chile (Patagonia to be more precise). I haven’t actually been there. But it does make for a cool conversation piece – like New Zealand with Australia, Chileans have a “little-brother, big-brother” rivalry with Argentina. Besides that, it’s a nice, long, comfy and stylish shirt.

6-stripes.jpg
Racing stripes

I bought these because I needed a second pair of shorts with pockets. Can’t go wrong with black. (I said some of it has nostalgia value, not all!)

Function over form

This is me heading out the door on Tuesday morning.

7-ready for anything
Ready for anything

How ridiculous do I look? Well, I have more pressing concerns at this point than my appearance. Like, how do I get to work and gym without (a) forgetting any gear, or (b) drowning?

Wellington decided to turn full winter this week – heavy rain, strong southerly, and bitter cold (by North Island standards anyway). Dressing for work has never been more complicated!

Let’s take stock of what I’m wearing here:

  • Standard office wear (sans shoes, which now live under my desk)
  • Thermals, top and bottom
  • Thermal socks over my office socks
  • Raincoat and rain pants
  • Gloves
  • Beanie
  • Gym shoes (any wetter and I’d have worn gumboots)

I’m not going on an Antarctic expedition here – just work and the gym! I have no idea what passers-by thought of this, but boy was it comfortable!

Hot yoga, not wet yoga

One thing you need to watch out for when doing yoga, especially in a heated studio, is moisture. I get sweaty hands, so it’s tricky to hold a downward-facing dog at the best of times. Doubly so towards the end of the class when my mat is covered in sweat. (Pro tip: bring a towel!) So the last thing I want is for me or my mat to be wet before I even begin! Which is exactly what threatened to happen this week thanks to the rain. So, thinking quickly and cutting it close on time, I came up with this:

8-#yogafashion
#yogafashion

Yes, that’s a plastic supermarket bag around my mat. And yes, I wore gumboots to the studio. But more importantly, I contained the damage to a few drops, which I quickly dispatched with the towel. Mind you, that didn’t stop me falling over (twice) during the class, but that’s because I was trying a new pose that takes more balance than I’m capable of!

Onto the next…

So that’s week 1 clear, in spite of nature’s best efforts. It’s only the start of winter though!

How long can I keep this up? What fashion crimes lie ahead? Stay tuned to find out!

What’s your gym style? Where do you stand on the “function vs form” debate? How do you motivate yourself to work out on cold and rainy days? Let me know!

Gym, day 1: Commitment

1 what lies beyond
What lies beyond the trees?

After I shared my soul-searching post, members of my community suggested that exercise is definitely a thing I should continue doing. This makes sense of course – it has all kinds of health benefits, and it’s a great form of self-improvement. But my gut feeling is that fatigue from gym workouts was a big factor in my breakdown. What to do? I thought long and hard, and here’s what I decided:

I’m going all-in on the gym. Starting today.

But – and this is crucial – I’m going to manage the other factors so I’ll have more energy for exercise. (I’ve already covered one, and I’ll expand on the others in due time.)

Why?

Three reasons come to mind:

  1. Reward. Exercise is a strange beast. Depending what you read, it takes anything from three weeks to three months for the body to get used to it. Until then it’s kind of miserable. But you have to go through it to get the benefits. Since the novelty of joining wore off, I haven’t exercised with any consistency, and I’ve been stuck in the miserable part. My mission is to break through that barrier and start reaping some real rewards.
  2. Habit. They say it takes 66 days to form a habit. I’m going to test that theory. Today is Sunday, 27 May. So by Wednesday, 1 August, hopefully I’ll know if it’s worked!
  3. Commitment. I’m terrified of commitment of any form. My mind likes to continually seek something new and abandon the old. Because of this, I don’t like to promise anything beyond the short-term for fear that I’ll lose interest, break my promise, and let everyone down. But I know that without commitment, I won’t gain anything from the gym. It’s scary – but it’s the only way. So this is a test for me. I’m out to prove, to myself and to the world, that I can commit to something.
The plan

This is my weekly exercise program. It’s my commitment – to you, dear reader, and to myself.

Three weights sessions, one cardio session, and one yoga class per week.

Here’s the day-by-day plan. (I reserve the right to rearrange this.)

  • Monday: Yoga
  • Tuesday: Weights
  • Thursday: Weights
  • Saturday: Weights
  • Sunday: Cardio

Weights is a 10-part circuit devised by a trainer, focusing on the upper body and core.

Yoga is a 75-minute, fast-paced class in a heated studio – conveniently located inside the gym.

Cardio is an hour-long spin or 45-minute run. If it’s nice out (unlikely at this time of year), I might take this outdoors.

I’m a tall, scrawny guy. My body is naturally suited to running and cycling, not lifting and pulling. This routine is firmly aimed at covering my weaknesses rather than building on my strengths. It’s supposed to be a challenge!

Milestones

This may come as a shock, but I don’t have any specific goals in terms of “I will be able to lift x kilograms by time t”. Right now this is more of a mental game. But there are some boxes to tick along the way.

  • Break through the initial pain barrier
  • Work up from 2 sets of each weights exercise to 3
  • Reach a point where the starting weights feel too easy, and up them
  • Learn more exercises and mix them into my routine for variety
  • Graduate from the beginner weights machines to bars
  • Form that habit! I want the gym to feel like an extension of my home, and not the big soulless barn it feels like now.

I’m not putting a time limit on these, but I trust that they’ll come in due time if I put in the effort. Maybe later on when I figure out how this stuff works I’ll set an actual goal! For now I’m just doing what the trainer told me to do, getting a feel for it, and taking it as it comes.

Accountability

It’s all well and good to talk about committing, but another thing to actually do it. To that end, I’m making one more commitment: Weekly updates on this blog. If I skip a workout, you’ll know – and there’ll be a black mark on my blog for eternity. If that’s not commitment, I don’t know what is!

It’s day 1. I’m off to the gym for a spin. I’ll let you know how it goes.

2 shoes on
Shoes on. Bag packed. Let’s do this.