A few days ago I started a new 5-week training program.
(See my training journal for more details.)
After I finish a program, my husband and I sit at the dining table and discuss my progress and my goals. We talk about how the program felt, physically and mentally (which can be very different), and what I want to achieve next.
The conversation this past week went something like this:
Ever-Patient looks back and forth between me and my online training notes from my last program and slowly says: “So…looks like towards the end of this 3-week program, you only worked out once a week as opposed to 3 times. What happened?”
Me: “December happened.”
Ever-Patient (moving with extreme caution now): “How do you feel?”
Me: Insert expletive.
Ever-Patient: “Do you want to try bumping up your workouts to 6 times a week to increase your energy?”
(Now let’s pause here for a second. I have been with my husband for 20 years so I know that he really really means well and has loving intentions. He is still the patient one with me but in this instance, I’m the one that had to summon the Herculean amount of patience when answering his question, keeping in mind that he really does love me even though he sometimes forgets who he’s talking to.)
Me (after a deep breath and laying my forehead on the table and with incredible amount of restraint): “No, thank you.”
What I was really thinking: Did you forget how this time of year affects me? I cannot even fathom trying to “bump up” my workouts when all I want to do is lie in bed and let the grey skies go on about their business without me. How can I attempt to exercise when my body is screaming, “Sleep! Damn it! Sleep!”? How can I even think of finding more time when my mind is preoccupied with peppermint mocha lattes and those nasty store-bought gingerbread men from the coffee-shop-that-must-not-be-named?
Sensing my frustration with my energy, or lack thereof, he proceeded to tread gently.
Ever-Patient: “Ok. For you, the goal is to not let this next program stress you. Let’s stick to 3 times a week.”
Me (lost in my thoughts with my head on the table): Well, if the goal is not to stress me, how about Plan C? Trash the training all together and let’s go get mama that Peppermint Mocha latte…
Ever-Patient: “I know this weather is killing you…have you been taking your Vitamin D?”
Me (now kicking myself and wanting to throttle him because he hit the nail on the head): “Oops. I maybe missed a few days.” (More like a week.) “Will start again tomorrow but pretty sure it doesn’t work anyway. It only takes the edge off slightly when hearing Burl Ives over and over again all the live long day.”
Ever-Patient: “So…3 times a week?”
Me: “I will try. That’s the best I can do at this point. My goal is to just maintain my strength and not feel very crappy – just moderately crappy.”
And this is my story with exercise. My goals change throughout the year. My goal in the spring was to get stronger by picking up speed with my program. In May, which turns out to be one of my peak energy months, I increased my workout frequency to 6 times a week. But to try that in December would be insane. Keeping warm and not completely succumbing to depression, my dark cloud that tends to rear its ugly head at this time of year, is my main goal.
Part of the reason I have my training journal, see above tab, is to keep me accountable. Exercise is non-negotiable for me in whatever form it takes – kettlebells, gruelling hikes, random chin-up bar practices, crawling – depending on my current goals which are not only physical but also emotional. It is the KEY to my mental health and how I manage to be present for my family and myself.
This time of year my exercise goals revolve around the emotional and how to not let the lack of sunlight push me past my lowest coping energy level. It is a game of balance. My husband and I are very strategic with planning what I can do. What exercise program is least taxing or daunting emotionally but can still give me enough boost in energy to not answer every question with “bah, humbug” or crumple in tears?
The program is never set in stone. In fact, if you’ve been looking at my training journal over the last few days, we’ve already made slight changes. I tried this new 3 day one and I just couldn’t muster enough strength to do it so we modified it after the first day- dropping the reps and seeing how I feel. He is constantly checking in with me to make sure I am not getting frustrated and giving up completely on any effort to take care of myself.
And this is what exercise has become for me, especially in December – a form of self-care. On Sense of Story, we talked about mama maintenance this week – how are we taking care of ourselves right now? Part of this is listening to what my body is telling me and also listening to what my body needs.
It is not about an end result: losing weight, fitting into things, or even attaining x amount of strength. Yes, seeing myself getting stronger is a great way to measure progress because I like to be efficient with my time and know that I am improving at something. But in the end, it is the process of caring for myself by doing something that I may not feel like doing but I know that it works.
An instant gratification outlook toward exercise will never work. There is no shortcut that exists. I have parameters for training that change as the seasons change, as I grow older, as my life situations change. I have been training consistently for about 4 years and I am only now feeling less achy and more balanced physically. But in December, my focus is on how to best help myself mentally with exercise. I do what I can accepting my limitations this month even if it means a skipped workout and peppermint lattes. Now is not the time to feel guilty or lament over that extra shortbread cookie.
Today I began slowly. I played music that I love to dance to because the Christmas music can wait until I am finished. I paid attention to where the tension is in my neck and did some neck nods. I opened my hips by rocking back and forth for a few minutes. I rolled and cross-crawled to warm myself up. And then I tackled my workout which was light and fun and only lasted 10 minutes. It was enough today. Enough to keep me warm and hopeful. Enough to greet King Winter with a hesitant handshake. Enough to shake the humbugs and the blahs off for now.
Current mantra: Journey NOT destination. Process NOT outcome .
What is your body telling you these days? Can you hear it screaming or is it a faint whisper these days? Have you found a good groove with physical exercise this season or do you need to shake things up?