my fitness journey

Hey y’all. How’s it going? I wrote most of this post spontaneously in July of 2016, but wasn’t quite ready to share it. Here’s an updated version.

I’ve realized that more and more people have been asking about my journey, and how I got to be a fitness editor. Comments like “you’re so fit, though!” and “but you’ve always had abs, right?” or “I’m assuming you played sports in high school.” …. all of it is hilarious to me because no, I haven’t been fit my whole life. AT ALLLLLL. In fact, I have been somewhat out of shape for 90% of my life.

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Since I’ve met so many new people recently, they only know the current, 2017 version of me: a fitness editor, or someone they met in a yoga class or at a race or at SoulCycle. They know the healthier, happier, somewhat physically competent me. So it’s a shock when I tell them that this is still all SUPER new for me.

All of this made me realize that I’m a totally different person than I was a few years ago. So how did I get here?

My story is not linear, and there are so many layers and factors that brought me here. If someone wants the one-minute breakdown of how I got here and ended up in my position, I try to compress it. But it’s not telling the whole story. Here’s most of it.

[Spoiler alert: I didn’t start working out with goals of getting yoked]

I have been the opposite of an athlete my whole life (the context)

If you knew me prior to 2014, this is not news to you. If you’ve been reading this blog or my old blog (None For Gretchen Weiners), you also know this. For everyone else, to get some perspective on the subject, read back on this half marathon post, or this one about my general fitness journey. Or here, in which I yet again disclose my aversion to athleticism.

Not just “not an athlete” but soooo incompetent that:

  • I broke a tooth in half playing some kind of sport game with my brother in the front yard as a kid
  • Also got two black eyes and a broken nose from baseball at the age of 6
  • Also was the LAST to be picked EVERY TIME there was a team sport in PE
  • Nearly failed PE for not running the mile; was subsequently forced into it, basically died from walking fast
  • Broke a wrist trying to do dance stunts in high school
  • Had never heard the term “burpee” until 2014

My journey is ONLY 3 years old (the mom factor)

So yeah, all things considered, this phase of my life started March 2014. I wogged a 15k because my dickhead mom fricken tricked me into it. Prior to this, I was a flailing mess of physical ineptitude. In fact, I still am. But yeah — my mom was the person who forced led me into this. Thx mommy.

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the first time I ever did a thing, still friends with mom after she tricked me

Running was my first entry to fitness (the running factor)

And it was noooooot easy. It still isn’t! I’m slow af! But I just keep going because every time I complete a mile it’s a little victory. Every step I clock on my Nike+ app genuinely feels like an accomplishment, probably because of how far I’ve come in a short period of time. Every race feels like a MASSIVE accomplishment because I never thought someone like me could be a runner.

Why did I try to run a half marathon? After successfully not-dying during the aforementioned 15k, I was curious about the Nike Women’s Half Marathon. I assumed I could repeat my not-dying success, and figured it’d be a super fun event. I had worked for a Nike company (and thus was a Nike employee) and had seen how amazing their fitness events were (RIP)… it got me excited.

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first half marathon finish line: pure bliss (and pure pain)

Through running and training for my half marathon, I started cross training to adhere to the program I was on. I tried free Nike HIIT classes in stores, Kayla Itsines’s BBG, and yoga.

I’ve always loved dance classes, but never considered them “fitness” classes; they were always just for fun. That was my stress outlet I guess. Speaking of which…

I started working out to heal my brain (the mental factor)

I had pretty  bad depression in 2015. Like, actually diagnosed “severe” depression. I don’t really talk about it on the internet because 1) it was really horrible and 2) I’m selfish and like to protect my image and personal things and I have this thought in my mind that if people know I dealt with mental illness they’ll think less of me… but then I was like whatever so here we are. I said it.

I didn’t start working out to get toned, to lose weight, or to build strength (I mean, I had hoped I’d be strong and toned, but that just ended up being a nice bonus). I just wanted to feel better and take care of myself. So I did!

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Without getting too depressing (lol), I’ll just say — in the thick of my worst depression, there were days I couldn’t even get off the couch. This was SUPER weird for me, because I’ve always had an overzealous love of life and excitability… characteristically, I’m annoyingly bubbly, tbh. It was like something in my brain snapped or broke, and I couldn’t be myself. On the days when I felt even the slightest spark of energy, I would go to one, two, or three yoga classes at Mantra in Carlsbad; I’d drag myself to the studio and stay as long as I physically could. It was one of the only things that felt good.

I also started running (again) after a hiatus (thanks to depression). The combination of yoga and running started to truly heal me — it honestly saved my life. It was like I was clawing myself out of a dark, horrible pit, with every step, every chaturanga, every exhale. I don’t really know how else to explain it.

Once I started to clue into the healing power of physical activity, I craved more of it like a drug (or at least that’s how I think drugs work, idk tbh) — and on an intellectual level, I was captivated by its ability to help rewire and restore a human brain.

From there I tried other classes, and came on here to talk about my experience. I had run an amazing half in October 2015, and it seemed as though I was finally out of my “pit of despair” (all the bonus points if you get that reference). The combination of working out and writing about working out led me to where I am now, in which my career and everyday life are both fitness-centric.

Of course, there were several other factors that contributed to my recovery, and I know that just working out isn’t a cure for anyone. Just figured I’d finally share what worked for me, because so many people are suffering in silence. If you’re one of them, please know my heart is with you, and this will get better. But you have to help yourself! Don’t be afraid to talk about it with someone close to you, and seek the resources necessary for healing.

So yeah. That’s the big WHY I committed to fitness. OTHER FACTORS MOVING ON.

My goals weren’t about speed or strength (the nike factor)

A big part of my running experience, especially early on, has been the Nike+ app. I loved it because it didn’t judge me for how slow I was (am). It didn’t tell me I had to be fast, or run a certain distance… it just told me to go. I went at my own pace, and tracked each run (or walk), which let me log data to look at how I was progressing.

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As mentioned, I was already exposed to really amazing Nike events from my job; I also discovered the free in-store classes, which I loved. My affinity for the brand led me into an affinity for sneakers and activewear, which has yet to be curbed.

I’d be remiss to detail my journey without mentioning the role Nike played — because although it doesn’t necessarily fit in chronologically, the brand, its events, and its services truly helped grow me into an “athlete” (lol I’m not an athlete).

My friends and family have been the best support (The buddy factor)

So my mom got me into the race scene, but my friends kept me in it. The first race I ever ran was with one of my best friends, Laura. Sharing that experience with her is something I’ll always cherish. The following year got rough (as we’ve discussed at length). Yet, despite me being a total pile of sh** during my depression, those closest to me drew nearer instead of blowing me off, which was WAYYY chill of them. Like, someday I hope to buy each of you a house or throw you a party in Maui. TBD.

More BFF examples:

Olivia started her fitness journey around the same time, and introduced me to SoulCycle, which in line with the clichés has totally been a source of therapy for me. I don’t even care how basic that makes me sound. Fitness has also been a source of strength in our relationship.

Patrice and I talk about our running from afar (she’s a total boss and runs every morning before law school/work in San Diego), and what makes the best running playlist… I think my running playlist might be Trice’s favorite part of my personality.

Cheyenne introduced me to Kayla Itsines, and the BBG program. She was my Nike event partner in crime, and ran the 2015 NWHM with me too.

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Arielle, who many of you are familiar with thanks to my incessant diary entries of our running escapades, got me through not only months of being a total blob of a person, but went to yoga with me, bought lululemon pants with me en masse, and would run with me almost every day in SD. Even when I showed up late for our run dates (basically every time), she still went out with me. AND she’s done two half marathons and a 17k with me! BALLER ALERT.

I met some of my favorite people through the Tone It Up program, and have subsequently run races with them, gone to Barry’s and SoulCycle with them, and spent time at the TIU retreat together.

I think the power of friendship in fitness is something that needs to be explored more. It totally helped me get through tougher times and commit to a healthy lifestyle change… and it made me excited about it. I know fitness is a personal and independent experience, but having someone to share in it helped keep me on track, keep me strong, and keep me going.

So yeah…

I only started trying fitness things about two years ago, and it only became a central part of my life about one year ago. Crazy, right?

My advice to you:

  • If you’ve never tried working out or any fitness of any kind, pick some kind of goal and just go for it. You’ll be SO surprised at how much you can accomplish in a short period of time. You don’t have to be a superstar on day 1 — I think that was part of my hangup leading up to this journey. Just start wherever you are, give yourself that grace, and chill.
  • Thinking of a half marathon? Sign up! That’s half the battle, honestly. Pick a training program, and stick to it. Again, you’ll be shocked at what your body can do, even with zero experience. If I can do it, anyone can. An. y. one. From there, once you do a half marathon, you’ll feel SO able and accomplished, that you’ll start having more confidence in other areas of your life. Seriously! It’ll open up so many doors and change the way you view yourself.
  • Battling depression or anxiety? This is your time to be your strongest, even if it feels the opposite. Through working out,  you’ll feel your body getting stronger, little by little. And even when it’s hard, know your brain is getting stronger, too. Also remember, you’re not in this alone, and this doesn’t define you AT ALL. Also, get yourself a new pair of sneakers because you deserve it.

 

Feeling Fit & Feminine

It took me about 24 years to give exercise a try. It wasn’t until my mom duped me into a local race (that she positioned as a “walk,” btw) that I realized my body was capable of at least some movement without inducing imminent death. And when I decided I would try to see if I could survive a half marathon without dying, my whole life changed for the better.

This also was all happening right as activewear was starting to get much cuter (at least in my opinion), and big athletic labels like Nike were putting a much bigger focus on women — I’m not ashamed to say that clothes totally accelerated my foray into athleticism, a journey that started as a hilarious experiment and ended up becoming the biggest part of my life, and led me to feel my most empowered.

Why did it take me so long? Why did I think I wasn’t the type of girl that could be fit or strong? Why did I feel so isolated, and like a “girl like me” didn’t belong in the world of fitness? Though my personal fitness journey is only three years old, I’ve learned some really powerful things about myself, and what being a woman means to me, through my experience with exercise and health. Most importantly, that strength and femininity are not separate entities.

Before we get into it, I realize that femininity means different things to different people. For me, at a very surface-level, it means my style, and my obsession with things that are pretty or stereotypically girly: pink and pastels, anything glittery or gold, Chanel, shoes, manicures, Britney Spears, mermaids, Instagrams of sunsets, etc, etc, etc. — so that’s what my mini epiphanies will be based on. I hope each of these lessons I’ve learned help you learn a little more about yourself, too.

Strength and femininity are not mutually exclusive

This discovery was 25 to 26 years in the making, honestly. I used to think that sweating was unglamourous; that dainty, girly-girls don’t work out. “That’s for athletic, sporty girls,” I thought. I have no idea where this mindset came from, but for so long I assumed that it was unladylike to get sweaty, unless you were a “real athlete.” You had to pick a lane… you couldn’t have both. But today, I feel most beautiful when I’m in my favorite pair of tights, a sports bra, sweating, and working my muscles.

Aforementioned requirements: sports bra, tights, sweat, muscles.

Maybe it’s thanks to the glamorous celebrities in SoulCycle, or that I’ve become obsessed with ultrafeminine activewear, or the fact that my Barry’s Bootcamp instructor looks magazine-cover-ready when she’s coaching our Sunday class, or how the Tone It Up girls love face masks and rosé as much as they love booty workouts and burpees, but suddenly things clicked and I realized that they don’t have to be separate.

You don’t have to change who you are to embrace your strength

And that doesn’t just mean physical strength. Just like Elle Woods stormed into the courtroom wearing hot fuchsia head-to-toe (and totally OWNED that case), I show up at Barry’s or Bodyrok in hot pink Lululemon (or blush pink APLs). I didn’t have to compromise my femininity when I started going to the gym, and neither do you. In fact, I embrace myself more than ever. I didn’t need to fit a certain athletic aesthetic or look — I found my own.

You can be strong AND love glitter and the color pink. You can work on your muscle tone and how heavy you can lift, and still love rocking out to Britney Spears. You can go hard in a bootcamp class, shower, and spritz on your favorite Chanel perfume before heading to brunch (or wear your Chanel mascara during a half marathon, I won’t judge you!). These aren’t separate worlds.

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In fact, embracing your strength — physically and mentally — will only serve to heighten your femininity and highlight the best parts of you. Just like Elle. God, that movie was inspiring.

Embracing your femininity — whatever that means to you — also doesn’t mean people won’t take you seriously. You’ll get equal attention, respect, and instruction from a trainer in pink boxing gloves or in black ones (trust me on this one).

Keep in mind, it also doesn’t mean you don’t take yourself seriously. There’s a ridiculous misconception that equates a style — one that mostly women identify with — with being childish or not serious (another stigma Legally Blonde challenged, now that we’re on the subject). That’s lame. I took myself and my first half marathon VERY seriously and so did my Mariah Carey playlist and Tiffany blue sports bra.

You don’t have to love sports to love fitness

In fact, I kind of hate sports. I’m sorry, but unless I’m there watching a live game from a stadium, sports are boring AF. And playing sports??? HELL nah. I’m not competitive! I wrongfully assumed for years that because I wasn’t interested in sports, there was no reason for me to exercise. As such, I missed out on years and years of an activity that today brings me endless joy and a daily mental boost.

There’s no such thing as a “guy’s workout”

Even when I first started exercising, I thought some workouts were for girls, and some were for guys — WTF? And while our bodies are inherently different, the idea around gender-specific classes or styles of exercise is a joke. A barre class can totally destroy a dude’s will to live, while a girl can totally crush a martial arts class or a CrossFit session. Fitness is for everyone. I used to think boxing was a manly sport, until I showed up with my hot pink Everlast gloves and let loose on a heavy bag. It was one of the highlights of my year.

Strong IS beautiful

I’ve never felt more confident or beautiful than I do now — and I wear less makeup than I have since the 8th grade!

Strong is beautiful. Healthy is beautiful. Confidence is beautiful. Feeling good is beautiful. Think about it: when you’re feeling yourself, you’re radiant. When are you feeling yourself the most? When you’re crushing a workout, earning more confidence, making yourself proud, squashing your self-doubt, and getting yourself in rockin’ shape.

Getting stronger and focusing on my health in this way has made me more empathetic, open, supportive, kind, and positive; to me, those qualities are also hallmarks of femininity. So through my strength, I probably became MORE feminine. Imagine that!

It took me decades to learn this, and my hope is that younger women learn this sooner than I did. The strength I’ve developed over the past few years has made me my best, happiest self, and I didn’t have to compromise one iota of my pastel-loving personality; I just celebrate it in a new way.