Finding my way back to the gym

I have had a long and complicated relationship with exercise, my health, weight, and my size, and I have gone into this several times over the years here on the blog. I’m not going to go into it all again, don’t worry (there’s over a decade worth of archives for y’all to rummage through if you’re curious). For the newer readers among you, just know that:
1) I am as lazy as all get out
2) Really. I am supremely lazy.
3) I weigh more than I should.
4) I have PCOS and part of my particular presentation is insulin resistance which makes it a) very easy to gain weight and b) bloody difficult to loose weight.
5) I have joint issues (primarily wrists and back) making some of the exercise I used to enjoy (archery, rowing, yoga) almost impossible.
6) Before you say anything about swimming being a joint-kind exercise, I’m not a swimmer. Just… not.
7) I did actually used to go the gym a lot (like daily) and genuinely enjoyed it, then I got an office job and moved cities and sort of… stopped. Then I turned round one day and a decade had passed.
8) Have I mentioned I’m lazy?

None of this is exactly earth shattering and put on the page it doesn’t look like much, but it’s important to know the background.

In the last few months I’ve reached a point in my life where I have said “enough is enough!” I’m 34 now and it’s only going to get harder to get healthier. Note, I said healthier. I am being firm with myself and NOT making it about a number on the scales or my clothes size. My goals are to be able to take the stairs without getting out of breath. To be able to run for the bus. To try and head off at the pass even more of the health issues I am at risk for due to my size. To be more confident in the body I do have and to take care of it.

That being said, is weight loss something I am aware of? Yes. I know the number I am now and I know my hypothetical “goal” number. I have worked out that number after careful consultation with my doctor and knowing what is best for my particular body and set of health issues. Ideally I will loose 10-20kg (20-50lbs) over the next two years. That will probably equate to being a dress size smaller? Maybe two in some stores? Nothing more.

To reiterate: The weight loss in and of itself isn’t the goal.

Nor will this blog become all about weight loss strategies and gym workouts and things. Because UGH, so not my thing.

Enough about what this ISN’T. What IS it?

Well, as I was merrily striding?jogging?tromping? (what *is* the appropriate verb to describe the action on a cross-trainer/elliptical?) away on the cross-trainer last night, I started to think about all the barriers I had been putting in my own way to stop myself getting to the gym before this point. I now have three months under my belt and honestly? I am enjoying it. I couldn’t go last Friday and actually found myself missing it and was antsy to get the make-up session in on Monday.

I know. Who am I and what I have I done with Cas? A real X-Files situation, as a colleague said.

But I do. I like that I am moving with my body for once, not fighting it. It does what I ask it to and is responding when I push it. I like that I go at the end of the work day and can vent frustration and clear my mind. I like that I am doing something and working towards a goal. I like that little smug feeling I get when I say “I am going to the gym/when I went to the gym…” For someone who has as many issues surrounding her body and her perception of it, to actually feel connected with my body whilst I exercise? Phenomenal and terrifying and wonderful, all at the same time.

So how have I got here? Well, it’s not been quick to happen. I have been talking about going to this particular gym for at least a year, but I never followed through. I’ve been acknowledging the need for more exercise for quite a bit longer than that.

It all started to click in the summer last year when I started seeing a counselor regularly because my depression was winning and I needed help. I also started to embrace my “little steps” philosophy, something – funnily enough – influenced in part by an interview with Terry Crews where he recommended treating the gym like a spa. Rather than trying to make big, sweeping life changes and then failing and feeling awful, I break things down into little achievable chunks then build on them gradually. The first achievable step on the way to the gym for me, was walking to/from work and taking the stairs more. I also started doing habit tracking in my bullet journal around the same time because it turns out? I am motivated to tick boxes off and get gold stars.

On the one hand, walking to/from work every day seems a long way from hitting the gym regularly, but it really is the first step. When your activity level has been basically zero, ANY improvement is a good improvement. And it started to have a positive effect in that I was enjoying the walk and, by last Christmas, I voluntarily went on long walks because I was getting antsy when I didn’t get some exercise! Total 180 on my behaviour for the last few decades, I must stress.

Come January 2017, I set out my resolutions, the over-arching theme of which was “do SOMETHING”. I see these resolutions as my “mission statements” for the years ahead, and I then did some brainstorming to think about what the little steps making them up might be.

So I decided that I would start by going to the gym once a week. I am fortunate because there is a good local council-run gym just a five minute walk from my office and it isn’t too expensive whilst still having all the equipment you’d expect a modern gym to have and be in good repair. I dug out my sports bra from the last ill-fated attempt at an exercise regime, bought a really cheap pair of jogging bottoms, found a baggy black t-shirt, took a deep breath and… went.

Reader, I went. And it wasn’t awful. The staff on the front desk were welcoming and helpful – my first session was even free to see if I liked it. The changing rooms weren’t crowded and had a private cubicle so there was no need for the dreaded public changing situation. I remembered how to use the machines – just recumbent bike and treadmill to start – and no one stared at me judgingly. I was startled by how familiar it felt. Even though I hadn’t been in a gym setting in over a decade, my body remembered these exercises. I even tried the rowing machine but my back quickly put a stop to that, which is sad but we can’t have everything and I need to work with what my body does NOW, now what it used to do. I put in a respectable 45 minute workout and at the end? Felt good about it. Sure I could do it again.

And I did, the next week. And the week after that. Each week I would do a little more – one level harder, or an extra 30 seconds. Or on a hard week, just staying on what I knew I could do because there is value in achieving even that. Little steps, but pushing gently to see where the edges are. I’ve added the cross-trainer into the programme now and – I’ll be honest, the first time I tried it, I thought I would die, but even after three weeks I am leveling up. I can feel the difference. I’ve got a FitBit which measures heart rate and already I am seeing that improving. I am having to work harder to raise it, it is returning to resting much quicker, and the resting rate is getting a little lower.

Yes sports bras still suck. I still go the colour of a ripe tomato after 30 seconds and stay that way for hours after. Sweaty men clustering round the weight machines are still intimidating. But fuck that. I am enjoying it and that is all that matters.

I’m still not quite ready to go twice a week yet, but baby steps. I just managed 15 minutes on the cross-trainer without wanting to die at the end of it last week. I’m taking the win and putting a gold star in the bullet journal.