Alright – I love working out and being physically fit. This is a well known fact among my friends and if you’ve had the wonderful pleasure to be my friend, I’ve more than likely dragged you to the gym with me at some point. Or at least – made you listen to my obsession with Crossfit or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). In the most recent months though, I’ve taking a bit of a break from physical exercise to focus on getting other areas of my life up to speed. With the strides I’ve made in those areas, I’ve started working out again and it’s been about four months of (mostly) steady gym attendance. And here is what I’ve learned, some of which has honestly surprised me.
I will never get on a treadmill ever again.
Nor will I take the obnoxious amount of time to run any distance as part of my exercise routine. Running has always been and is still presented as this easy effortless thing that all athletes and physically fit people do. And it was definitely in my head that a fast runner is a good athlete or at least, running is part of being physically fit. I have, with some work, let go of this idea and have exclusively excluded it from my physical fitness. Because running sucks and is actually quite difficult to do for an extended period of time without hurting yourself. Perhaps, if you grew up running like playing soccer or field hockey, it’s not that bad. But for the rest of us, it’s awful. The more I didn’t run (whether on a treadmill or not) the happier I was about my workouts. Now, don’t get me wrong here. Including a cardio based exercise in your routine at the gym is not optional but there are tons of ways to get your heart rate up to where it needs to be and only one of them includes getting on a treadmill to run. My personal favorite is rowing for ten minutes. Rowing is not only a really great exercise to bump your heart rate up, but also work your entire body with ease. Jumping rope is my second favorite (double unders anyone?). Look, the point here is, fuck running and go have fun doing something else that gets your heart rate up.
Workouts don’t have to kill you.
I think one of my biggest complaints about Crossfit is that every WOD is designed to deplete you. While this produces amazing results and can get quite addictive over time, for someone who is coming back after an eight month break pushing your body to the extremes of Crossfit can be extremely detrimental. For once, I wanted to feel good about going to the gym AND functioning afterwards. I wanted to build muscle, gain definition, and still be able to play with my puppies later that night without wincing in pain when they tug too hard. Instead, I started doing very isolated work on particular muscles with lighter weight and more repetitions. This not only allowed me to feel accomplished after a workout but also move through the somewhat mild soreness that occurred allowing me to do things like pick up a heavy cast iron pan with ease.
Squats and Deadlifts are the most important exercises you can do.
Mattbear and I went to the gym last week with a time crunch. So we did 5×5 (5 rounds of 5 reps) of back squat and then deadlifts. We were there for a total of 35 minutes focusing only on those two exercises with weight that was manageable but not exactly light. And it was the best workout I had had in weeks. I barely even broke a sweat but I felt the strain of my muscles alluding to the difficulty of the lift without destroying my ability to pick up the keys I dropped later in the day. DOMS did set in the next day but nothing I couldn’t stretch my way through. Spending so little time at the gym focusing only on two exercises made me realize that those two are the most important ones I should make a point to do more often. Various other exercises like leg press, leg curls, extensions and even lunges improved drastically from just one workout. And the best part? It only took 35 minutes and I barely broke a sweat.
Resting between sets is important.
Having been a Crossfit fanatic for a while there, I was very conditioned to not resting between sets. Or if I was ‘resting’ it included some time of low impact cardio like burpees or box jumps. And while I have to fight my urge to bang out 10 or 20 burpees between sets, taking the time to rest has enabled me to make enormous gains quicker than I thought I would be able to sans injury. My rest periods are usually around 30 to 50 seconds long but I take that time to reset my form, breathe through my diaphragm to increase oxygen to my muscles (and brain), and last but not least, jam out to the blaring tune in my ears. Because, if you have to lift weights it might as well be to the rhythm of Brittany’s Work Bitch. She does have one thing right: if you want a hot body, you better work, bitch.
These things combined have transformed not only the way I workout but also the way I think about exercise. While I was focusing more on a HIIT centered routine, I could tell the longer I stuck with it, the more I dreaded going to the gym before I just stopped going altogether. Adding in these few tenants has enabled me to rediscover how much I love to see what my body is capable of. Plus, the more fun working out is, the less I dread doing it. Duh, Nikki. Just, Duh.