2020 has been a bit of a garbage year, but there has been one unexpected benefit – this mama finally found a way to move it. We all know the benefits of a workout. Reduced stress, lower anxiety, improved blood pressure, better sleep, stronger muscles and bones. Not to mention an increased ability to actually beat toddlers in a foot race.
Even though I knew it was good for me, I have never in my life found exercise that I could consistently stick with. One of my biggest hurdles is that exercise often triggers migraines. And being a full-time working mother means I’m not looking to spend my limited time figuring out additional ways to torture myself.
Never Overlook a Good Crisis
The global pandemic has meant my dining table has become my office. And we have been incredibly fortunate that while my husband and I have been working from home, our daughter has been able to remain in daycare. With a reduced commute, very relaxed dress code, and no distance learning to keep on top of, I had the opportunity to start incorporating some exercise into my day.
I started with walking in the neighborhood, but poor air quality and hot summer (both additional migraine triggers) made the walking very inconsistent.
My husband was missing his gym and invested in a certain expensive stationary bike. I felt much like the wife in A Christmas Story when the infamous leg lamp was delivered – I did not think it belonged in our home. I was convinced that it would just take up space and eventually become a catch-all.
Increased anxiety, depression, and a sore hip propelled me to try the whole exercise thing again. The monster was in the house, so I might as well get on the bike.
Twelve weeks later and I’m still consistently working out. I’m averaging 5.5 workouts a week. This from a girl who got winded going up stairs.
Now I’m not just cycling, I’m also adding in some strength training, as well.
And all of those benefits of exercise that I had only heard about – it turns out it’s true! And my hip doesn’t hurt any more!
Finding Your Way to Move It
In no particular order, here are some new mindsets that have helped me to keep going back for more.
1. Set the bar low.
Like world championship of limbo low. When I first started I convinced myself that if I put on the gear and clipped in to the bike, I could get off after 5 minutes. Once I was on, I didn’t want to abandon the ride part way through. I did start out super easy with 20 minute beginner rides, which was hard at first, but it has gotten easier to increase the time and intensity of the rides as time has gone on.
2. Be good with being awkward.
I come from a clumsy, physically awkward place. I knew starting a new thing was going to be awkward. It would feel weird, and I wouldn’t know how to do things. I honestly was just hoping not to somehow tip the stationary bike over. I also had faith that in time I would get more comfortable with clipping in, increasing resistance to get up the imaginary hills, and pedaling as fast as I could. Embracing the awkward has helped me to take on new challenges, like strength training.
3. Forget about the scale.
Exercise is not going to magically cancel out mindless eating and slowing metabolism. But it has reduced my anxiety and depression, given me more energy, made me appreciate how hard my body can work, made stairs and trips to the zoo easier, helped me to sleep more soundly, caused my blood pressure to be consistently great, and for the first time since having a child my butt is distinguishable from my upper thighs.
4. Reward milestones.
Hitting my first 25 rides in 4 weeks was a huge deal for me. It was the most consistent I had been with working out since my mom forced me to play middle school basketball. As a reward I got myself really nice compression leggings, two new dry-fit tops, and two more sports bras. I felt like I had proved that I was being consistent enough to get gear that performed well, instead of making due with capris that could not be worn in public.
5. Record your progress.
The fancy bike does it for me, but I love seeing the days, weeks, and months pile up with evidence of my showing up. Knowing I am within 45 miles of getting a gold pedal medal for a month will motivate me to take longer rides. And even when I’m not feeling my best, I can still do a 20 minute easy ride to not break a streak.
6. Grace for the days it doesn’t happen.
There are days where the schedule does not have a spare 20 minutes or a migraine keeps me from getting out of bed. Sometimes, there is no way to make it work, and that’s totally okay. A day off, or even a whole week off, is not going to totally ruin everything. But the more momentum you have with your consistency, the easier it is to get back to it.
7. Don’t go against nature.
I want to be a morning person so badly. I’d love the idea of getting a workout in and going about my day. But I am not. My morning spirit animal is a sloth. With a headache. Since I’m still working from home, but best time to work out is lunch time. It breaks up my day, helps to clear my head for another round of work in the afternoon, and doesn’t interfere with family time once I pack up the office for the day. Once I’m back at work in person, my plan is to get a workout in while dinner is cooking in the instant pot, crockpot, or having something already mostly prepped to throw together after my workout.
8. Keep trying to find your own workout.
I’ve never been against exercise, but before now I never found a thing I would keep showing up for. Dance, softball, basketball, rugby, swimming, running, walking, yoga, zumba, bootcamp, pilates – I’ve tried so many things. I needed something that I could scale back so it didn’t trigger a migraine, in a climate controlled area, with no one else to compare myself to, no one looking at me, with variety, and ridiculously convenient. I finally found it, and now feel equipped to launch and try new things.
9. Be your own cheerleader.
Cheer yourself on like you would cheer your best friend on. Celebrate every day you get any sort of workout in. Be kind when you don’t. Remind yourself that it’s not about perfection, or metrics, it’s about consistently showing up.
After the Crisis
Someday I will be returning to the office, my daughter will have more opportunities to fill up our calendars, and we will all re-introduce social activities into our lives. I know it is going to get harder to keep up the same workout pace I’ve established. My hope is that I am learning skills to support my workouts and continue to set myself up for success.