Inspiration, Motivation

My journey to redefine fitness

This post (and title) is inspired by Sweat trainer Kelsey Wells and her Redefine Fitness podcast.

In high school, I was so skinny that people often asked me if I had an eating disorder, which I took great offense to. “I eat all the time!” I would say back. “It’s just how my body is.”

I would go on and on about how much I eat and even boast that I maintained my small frame with no exercise. In my mind, exercise was a way to lose weight, and because I didn’t need to do that, I saw no reason for me to even try it.

That changed when I went to college.

Dipping my toe in exercise

Due to a mixture of mental health struggles, poor diet, and simply not moving around as much as I used to, I gained weight during my first semester of college. (At the time it seemed like the end of the world, but looking back the extra weight was much needed for my overall health.)

When I moved home for the second half of my freshman year, I realized that none of my clothes fit me anymore, which sent me into a downward spiral as summer drew closer. So, I researched at-home exercises (because I was terrified of the gym) and came across Kayla Itsines’s Bikini Body Guide—now referred to as High Intensity with Kayla.

At the time, Kayla’s workout program was a downloadable PDF that I purchased online. I saved the document in its entirety, and opened my computer three times a week to perform my routine. All in the hopes that my body would transform into that of an early 2010s Victoria’s Secret model.

To my surprise, I actually stuck to it. And to my bigger surprise, I actually began to notice results. By July, I felt confident in my body again—just in time for vacation.

This was the first time I ever consistently exercised, and it was for all the wrong reasons.

At that moment, I had achieved my desired body, so I didn’t workout again for almost two years. That’s when I began to explore gym-based workouts.

I was always intimidated by gyms, and had only gone to an actual gym one time my freshman year of college (horrible experience). I was self-conscious and I didn’t feel like I belonged, so when I heard there would be a Planet Fitness opening near me, I knew it was time to give it another chance.

I started out on the ellipticals—a safe choice. I was convinced that I needed to lose weight (wrong), and I thought that the best way to do that was through excessive cardio (wrong, again).

Eventually, I began to explore the weight machines and incorporated that into my routine. Each time I went to Planet Fitness, it looked something like this:

  1. Bust my ass on the elliptical until I simply couldn’t anymore.
  2. Wander around the floor and try out various weight machines.
  3. Do countless crunches
  4. Leave.

I would repeat this process a few times per week, then take a week off. Then do it a few less times per week, followed by a few more weeks off. Then, I stopped going altogether. Months later, I would get frustrated with the way I looked and begin the process all over again.

This cycle continued for years, and only fueled my obsession (and hatred) of my body.

Diving in head first

At the beginning of 2020, everything changed. I was 4 months post-wedding, and I had hardly visited the gym since my wedding day. I explored various workout apps, but nothing worked long-term for me.

I knew I needed structure and guidance if I wanted to stick to a consistent regimen, but I wasn’t sure where to find it.

That’s when I remembered Kayla Itstines. I followed her on Instagram when I first tried her programs, and remembered recently seeing something she posted about a Sweat Challenge, which is six weeks of limited-time workouts designed for the challenge.

I went to her profile, clicked on the link to download her workout app (a.k.a. the Sweat app), and never looked back.

Kayla’s programs were no longer in downloadable PDF’s. Instead, they were in a nicely-designed app, equipped with instructional videos and easy-to-follow directions. It was actually a dream come true for me.

I planned to dive in head first on Monday.

A slight adjustment

Half way into my first week of workouts, I began to regret everything. I told myself these high intensity workouts weren’t for me. I hated all the jumping. I felt embarrassed doing burpees in the corner of the gym. I wanted something else. I wanted to feel confident and powerful. I wanted to lift weights.

So, I decided to explore one of the other trainers in the app—Kelsey Wells.

The description of her PWR program said it focused on weight training and it was designed to help women feel self-acceptance and empowerment.

I was absolutely sold.

I had limited experience in the gym, so I started out with her beginner program within the Sweat Challenge. I carefully read the instructions for each exercise and watched the how-to videos over and over before I mustered up enough confidence to actually do it.

I spent the next six weeks weight training three times per week, stretching, going on the occasional walk on the treadmill (considering it was the middle of winter), and snapping photo after photo to document my progress.

At the end of the challenge, I noticed a change, and it wasn’t in the way my body looked—although I did notice teeny biceps appearing. I felt more confident in the gym. I felt like I knew what I was doing. I felt like I belonged.

I wanted to keep going.

An important shift

Throughout the remainder of February and into March 2020, I continued to consistently train with Kelsey’s PWR program. And just as I began bumping up my gym visits to four times per week, the entire world shut down.

I noticed that Kelsey also had an at-home weight-based program, so I ordered weights, a bench, and resistance bands on Amazon. I didn’t know it at the time, but these next 20 weeks of at-home workouts were going to be one of the most important parts of my journey to redefine fitness.

When I went to the gym, I had a heavy focus on the stats I accomplished at the end of my workout. How high was my heart rate? How many calories did I burn? How many steps did I get?

But when I was forced to switch to at-home workouts, I had to shift my focus to how I felt in the moment. Am I pushing myself? How heavy does this weight feel? Can I add more? How many more sets can I do?

I became more in tune with my body than ever before.

Plus, because I was working out at home in my basement, I didn’t feel the internalized pressure of other people watching me. I tried new workouts without hesitation, and I stepped outside of my comfort zone much more often than I did when I was in the gym.

With that, I gained a renewed sense of confidence. I felt strong. I felt like I knew what I was doing. I felt my body growing and evolving. And you could see that confidence radiating in me with each new photo I snapped.

When the world opened back up and I eventually made my way back to the gym, I was able to divert my attention from how many calories I burned to focus on what really mattered: how I felt in the moment.

That shift in mindset was the sole reason I continued to consistently exercise throughout all of 2020 and 2021, and what pushed me to continue beyond that.

Improving little by little

Something big happened at the beginning of 2021—I got an exercise bike.

Previous to that, the only cardio I ever did was walking outside with my dog, Zoey, which isn’t a problem except the winter months in Ohio are not the best for walking your dog outside.

Getting this exercise bike allowed me to have a consistent way to incorporate cardio in my workout routine without having to go to the gym every single day. I could get up early and ride the bike before work, take a lunch break on my bike, or release my stress through a ride after a long day of work (and watch reality TV).

It also helped me let go of a (slight) obsession with my step count. Instead of trying to get 10,000 steps every day by running around my house, I was able to shift my mindset to focus on moving my body every single day—whether that’s on my bike, at the gym, or doing yoga.

It was another step in the direction of a healthy body and mind. Something that I continue to work on each and every day.

Lessons learned

As of today, I have consistently exercised for more than 2.5 years. (That’s something I literally never thought I would say.)

I wouldn’t be where I am today without one pivotal action: shifting my use of exercise from a way to punish my body to a way to fuel it.

It was a slow, gradual change. It took me years. And I had to be patient with myself along the way.

Each passing week served as a learning opportunity, which allowed me to transform from an insecure woman who just wanted to shrink her body to a confident woman who wants to do anything to nourish it.

Some lessons I’ve learned in my journey to redefine fitness (more to come, I’m sure):

  1. Always listen to your body. If your body is screaming at you to take a break, do it. There are more ways to stay active than a weightlifting session or high-intensity cardio day.
  2. Take it week by week. Some weeks you will feel like you are completely unstoppable. You’ll want to push yourself as hard as you can and lift heavier and heavier weights. And some weeks you will just want to get through it. Adjust your routine accordingly.
  3. Give yourself grace. You will have days when you just don’t feel 100% about your body. It happens, and it will pass. On days like this, I do what I need to do to feel comfortable. Maybe that’s wearing baggy clothes or maybe that’s opting to go on a walk or a bike ride instead of the gym. I remind myself that my body is doing whatever it can to keep me alive and well.
  4. Your mental health comes first. Always. If you are heading down a path that involves constant scrutiny of yourself and your body, then it’s time to reevaluate things. Take a step back, breathe, and center your mind.
  5. Positive self-talk helps more than you think. It can fuel you, energize you, and make you feel like you can conquer the world. Whenever I find myself saying “I can’t do this,” I change that thought to “I am strong and I am powerful.”
  6. Whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to others. The only person that matters on your journey is you. Do what makes you feel the best and don’t worry about anything else.
  7. This is not a quick process. It takes time to undo years of negative self-talk, societal pressure, and unhealthy habits. And it takes even longer to build yourself up—physically and mentally.

Last but not least, remember that your journey is exactly that—yours. It will likely differ from everyone around you, but in the end the most important thing is to make sure what you’re doing is beneficial to you.

Find what you love—what makes you feel like the best version of yourself—and embrace it.

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