Throughout most of my life, if someone asked me why I exercise so much, my answer would be something along the lines of, "because I love it!" And until recently, that answer served me and was the most honest answer I had. Looking back, I see that that was not always my primary motivation, and my "love" for exercise recently feels like more of a chore.
Since becoming a mom, I've had very little "me time." And the little that I do have (when the kids are napping, or at 5 am, or putting them on the TV briefly) I typically dedicate to exercise. This can be a stressful routine to maintain. Trying to fit in workouts in between work, house chores, and time with my family/mom duties is not easy! My oldest is almost five years now, and my youngest is three, so I've been at this routine for awhile, and I've recently been enjoying it less and less. So I've begun allowing myself to wonder why I'm doing it- which is a milestone in itself, because I have created a great autopilot of exercise: no questions, just do it.
But, I'm realizing that there's other things in life that I'd like to be doing: reading, art, journaling, leisurely hikes with friends, and more time to relax! Also, I've begun asking myself what my goal is with all these workouts. Once upon a time, I longed for a lean, mean, sculpted body, but those days have passed. Not that I wouldn't like that body were it handed to me, but I realize that I am not interested in putting in the amount of work and discipline required to achieve that. And, nobody who matters to me cares if I'm sculpted or not. So why am I trying to fit all of these workouts in? Do I still love working out? Where am I with fitness now?
And recently, I've started looking at why I feel the need to workout as much as I do. To give you a clear picture, my workouts aren't crazy. I probably exercise a total of six hours per week, including the classes that I teach. My workouts include a combination of strength, running, yoga and HIIT. Motivation is not a challenge for me, it's actually harder for me to miss a workout than to get myself to do it.
The first time I remember being interested in exercise was as an athlete. My Dad was a professional tennis instructor all of my life, and taught me the value of exercising to improve my tennis game. So I would run occasionally, but really hated it. Fast forward to my teens, and awareness and insecurities of my body creeped in, which added another (more motivating at the time) reason for me to exercise. It was the mid-90's, Kate Moss was the hottest model, fat-free diet was the trend, and starvation skinny was the look to have. I remember painstakingly trying to skip my lunches in Middle School so that I could be skinnier. Sad, but true. Middle-School WHY: to be thin.
High School is when I first remember buying fitness magazines. I would skip right to the workout section so I could try out all of the exercises. This is where I first learned how to design my own workouts. During this period, I loved working hard at my tennis and getting a good sweat in. The sun beating down on my skin and sweating so hard and working to exhaustion is still one of my favorite memories. But my interest in exercise aside from tennis was honestly mostly about wanting to be thin. Highschool WHY: to be thin.
This general trend of wanting to be skinnier eventually morphed into wanting to be fitter. By the time I was in college, I was no longer a competitive athlete, but a lot of my friends were, and I envied how they were pushed in the gym by their coaches. I wanted to be stronger, but didn't know how. I continued exercising by swimming laps and running around campus. I had developed great discipling with exercise by this time. I no longer dreaded running, I actually looked forward to it. But sneakily tied in to my "love" for exercise, just below the surface, was motivation rooted in fear, the fear of being bigger or unfit or unattractive. I never would have admitted that at the time, but looking back, I can see that that was definitely a factor. College WHY: to be thin.
Things continued like this for me for the next decade or so. As I approached thirty years old, my love for fitness was even more intensified. I looked forward to going to the gym everyday. Exercise was my time to decompress. I could put my headphones on, tune in with my body, and not worry about anyone else. Exercise also helped me work through some of the hardest things in my life: divorce. I would put my anger and frustration into those last few reps, and it left me feeling exhilarated and awesome! And I also enjoyed feeling good about my body. I was single and wanted to look good. The aesthetic motivation was still there, but I was more interested in gaining muscle and being toned at this point (those were the societal trends as well). 20's WHY: to look good and therapy.
When I turned thirty, I met my husband and shortly thereafter had our first child. I longed for that "me time" that I was once able to dedicate to exercise. During pregnancy I didn't know how to exercise to maintain at least some of the fitness that I felt I had earned over all the years, but I did my best. And post delivery, I wanted badly to get all of that back, and I did! I found ways to structure my day, and make exercise fit into my life. I would have done just about anything to make that happen. I wanted my "me time" and to get my fit body back. At this point, my love for purely exercise was tightly woven in with my aesthetic desires, so much so that they were not recognizably different. So I maintained my "why" for exercise as a passionate and absolute "love for fitness," but in reality it was also about having a fit body. MOM WHY: "me time" and fit body.
Truth be told, there's a lot of unpacking about body image to do there. I'm thankful that I've been exposed to some amazing female influencers who speak about this on their podcasts, social media and other platforms. It is okay to struggle with how you view your body. And it's ok to want to look good! I think most people care about how they look. I would also venture to say that most people who exercise are doing it for some aesthetic reasons. And that's okay! I think it's good to care about how we look and present ourselves, but it's not everything right? There's certainly more to life than how we look, so much more!
My new why for exercise is to be healthy both mentally and physically. I think exercise will always be cathartic for me, and I will probably always care about how my body looks. But I am working on softening my image of how I'd like my body to look, and welcoming other activities into my life. This looks like working out four hours a week instead of six. And sitting with the push I feel to force myself to go exercise and not skip a day. I have this voice in my head that says, "but it's good for you, why question it." But I'm learning that that's a disguise for unhealthy motivation. So I'm also working on inviting more love and acceptance for my evolving body.
So, okay, as a personal trainer it's a little weird to announce that I am taking a step back from exercising. And it took me a while to figure out if and how I would want to share this. But here's the thing, I want to stand for balanced healthy exercise! I don't want to be a trainer who demands extremes. Exercise does not need to be extreme, in fact it is best when it is not extreme. Exercise can and should fit into every person's life. It should be practical and enjoyable. I like to say that if you don't like it, you're not doing it right. Meaning, you're not working at your level, or you're choosing a form of exercise that you don't enjoy: swimming when you actually love dancing!
I share my story with you to give you some insight on my personal journey. Even when we're trying to be honest, we may not always see the truth, but we should never stop trying. This has been challenging to share, but I hope you gain something from my story. Maybe a better understanding of fitness professionals, or "gym rats" who often get a bad rap, or maybe you're able to take a look at some of your autopilot habits and see if they're still serving you or if you can give yourself a little grace in some areas of your life. And maybe you also want to take a closer look at how exercise fits in with the rest of your values, and if you are distributing your time and energy among them the way you would like. I, for one, am looking forward to exploring some of my old hobbies/interests again, and loving my new exercise routine.