Friday, September 27, 2013

Fus-Ro-DO IT!

Alright, guys. I need to share a story with you: I think I've discovered my new fitness-related "pet peeve."

In addition to my full time day job, I work part time as a cashier at an outdoor retailer, selling gear for camping, hiking, snowsports, climbing, etc. One day, a woman came through the line to buy a hydration belt for running. I'm not an experienced runner, so I asked how she liked using the belt over other options. We chatted about staying hydrated and how she was taking up running to try to get in better shape.

"I should probably start running myself," I said. "I do some CrossFit out of my garage twice a week, but I just signed up for the Tough Mudder, and I could really use the extra running practice!"

"I've heard of CrossFit!" she replied. "It looks like so much fun, but I need to get in better shape first."

I was crushed.

I tried to explain to her as I finished ringing her up that no, she didn't! I had 20+ years of athletic inability, excuses, and fear under my belt when I started doing CrossFit with friends in my garage -- we all start somewhere. But there was a line building up at the register, and though she smiled, I could see that she remained unconvinced by my plea as she left the store.

This happened nearly a year ago, and it's still with me today.

Guys, I was a timid and shy teenager. I picked dandelions on the soccer field and quit swim lessons when I got old enough to become self-conscious about my body. (Thank you, puberty.) I'm frequently anxious or at least quiet in public and I hate drawing attention to myself. Crowded places full of social interaction and loud people are just about the last place I want to be. I'm truly an introverted homebody at heart. Yet my intense group fitness classes are the highlight of my week, and have changed my life for the better in countless, immeasurable ways.

That timid girl I just described? Yeah, she walked into a kung fu studio at 16 with no prior martial arts experience, no strength, no coordination, and a huge, heaping dose of fear. Nearly 8 years later, the people at that studio have become my family, and I've accidentally turned into someone who prioritizes health, enjoys physical activity, and runs the Tough Mudder for fun. It's a far cry from the only child who hated sports, and it never would have happened if I'd told myself my only option was running on the dingy treadmill in the basement. (Ugh!)

Last spring I found myself in a similar situation, trying out parkour classes at our local YMCA with a group of those same kung fu friends. Um, let me tell you how much I am not a natural at running and jumping and being generally acrobatic. I am nearly paralyzed by my fear of falling -- even if it's only a 5-inch fall from a balance beam to the soft gymnastics mat on the ground, I'm terrified. But hey. I was with my friends, a great teacher, and surrounded by soft padding. So, I went out and tried it, and I had a blast!

Another friend of ours mentioned that it sounded like fun and asked if he could come along some weekend -- "But I should really get in better shape first." No! Come along and DO IT!

Look, I know how it is. Some of us legitimately prefer working out on our own, whether it's the solitude of a long run, rocking it to a workout video in your living room, or zoning out in the weight room. But so many of us avoid the gym or group classes not because we're not interested, but because we're afraid or embarrassed and don't want to stand out as beginners -- and while I fully understand that, it breaks my heart. I was just like that too (and I'm still not a fan of going to a gym!). I'm a terrible runner, gasping away after moments on the treadmill while Perfect Hair in her sexy workout clothes on the treadmill next to me goes for miles without the bright red face or death-rattle-breathing I display.

So what did I do? I stopped running on the treadmill at my university gym.

Instead, I found something that suited me much better: a small, supportive environment with folks who helped coach me through weight training, gymnastics, and functional movements in a more private setting. I couldn't do a pull-up. I'd never done a deadlift or a proper squat before. We all start at the beginning. And sometimes we progress very slowly. I'm still juuuust shy of a strict pull up -- and that's okay. We each learn and progress at our own pace.

Here's my point: If you enjoy running on a treadmill or working out to DVDs in your living room, rock on. That is awesome, and I mean it! But if you hate it, and you're just doing it because you "need to exercise," and there's something out there that's more appealing to you -- don't avoid it just because it seems challenging. There are modifications for everything that you can adapt when you're just starting out. And if you want to improve your health, you might as well be doing something you enjoy. Right? You don't have to punish yourself for hours on the treadmill before you give yoga a try, or sign up for that spin class, or walk into that CrossFit gym. Zumba sound like a blast to you? (It is!) Girl/guy, get in there. Want to try fencing? Go find a class right now. En garde!

There are no "prerequisites" for fun physical activity except a willingness to learn, a priority on safety/proper technique, and the patience to progress at your own pace. I think you'll find that your fellow zumba goers and fencing enthusiasts are going to be excited and supportive when it comes to sharing their passion with you.

What it comes down to is that there are a lot of different ways to be active out there. Don't suffer through something you hate because you think you're "supposed to." Ultimately, if your goal is to be healthy, fitness and physical activity will need to be a part of your life. Make it a part that you enjoy and look forward to!

What are your favorite ways to be active? What new thing have you always wanted to try? Get out there, Slayers! Show 'em how it's done!

Even the Dragonborn starts at level 1!

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