I peaked at age 22 in terms of physical fitness. I had begun my senior year of college knowing that I’ll never again have the same opportunities to focus on myself physically. I was determined to make the most out of these resources and push myself to the next level. I took free ballet classes from noon to 1:15, 4-6 times a week. 3 days a week I also had three-hour modern dance and choreography class. On days when I didn’t have modern dance, I cross trained by running and weight training at the gym (also free). And as if that wasn’t enough, walking everywhere around campus probably added at least a good hour of brisk walking to every day.
Throughout this time, I felt incredible about my body’s progress. I had never felt so deliciously fatigued yet weirdly energized around the clock. And, let’s be real, my thighs were so thin! I confess I felt an immense surge of pride in the J.Crew dressing room as I zipped up into size 2 jeans for the first time in my life. It was similar to the feeling of getting a paper with a big A+ written on it, except ten times better. And even though I started work 2 weeks after graduation, I really wanted to continue on this fitness streak. Without a gym membership or free dance classes, I started running outside regularly for the first time in my life. For the next few months, I was able to maintain my weight by virtue of not having many social or professional commitments.
Then, inevitably, things changed. I met my boyfriend, which meant I couldn’t eat small meals throughout the day. Working out on my own 5-6 days a week became a lot less important–not right away, of course, but definitely by the time my boyfriend and I got around to splitting a vegan chocolate cake while cuddling on the couch. (The moment he gave me the best bite with extra frosting was when I knew I loved him.). Then four months into my first job, I gave my two weeks’ notice; and the roller coaster ride that became my career trajectory came to take up way too much of my physical, mental, and emotional energy.
Four and a half years later, I have gone from doing “vigorous activity” 18 hours a week to just 3-4 hours a week. Some days all I really do physically is the bit of walking I do between home, subway stations, and work. I work a minimum of 90 hours a week, which really doesn’t allow much room for physical fitness time. But while my professional life keeps me stressed and chained to my desk, it’s also a genuine source of pride and joy. Unlike my skinny 22-year-old self, my plumper 26-year-old self has almost zero complicated relationship with food. I eat when and what and how much I want, which is always vegan, usually healthy, sometimes decadent, and very often chocolate-y. I prefer to eat very light for breakfast and lunch because I like to be alert for work, and I make dinner a chance to unwind and enjoy delicious, usually homemade food with my boyfriend. And though I’m definitely a lot heavier than my old self, I can still zip into my old pants. (Kudos to Ralph Lauren for making the stretchiest, hardiest, and most resilient pair of skinny black pants).
Still, what I really want is for me to move the ticker somewhere in the middle between “Lean Mean Machine – Works Out Around the Clock” and “Happily Accepting of Body’s Flaws – In Total Comfort Zone.” I don’t aim to take up any unsustainable fitness regimes that don’t suit my current place in life, but I also don’t want to just coast along in my physical comfort zone. So I’m making a pact with you guys, my Peaceful Dumpling readers, to make these following changes to my current routine:
1. Add High Intensity Interval Training.
Yes, HIIT sounds so played out at this point, but as much and as often as I have read about it, do I really, honestly employ this method? Not a chance. To do it correctly, you really need to push yourself to maximum exertion for 20 seconds. If you can do it for longer, you’re not running/pedaling hard enough! I am going to challenge myself by taking HIIT more seriously.
2. Lift Weights.
I am still getting adjusted to the idea that Resistance Training, not hours of cardio, is the key to weight control. It goes against everything I learned between age 18-23ish, but exercise science does that to you, like a lying frenemy. Anyway, I still don’t have a gym membership, so I recently acquired a pair of dumbbells. It’s not much, but combined with body weight exercises, I can get plenty of muscle-forming strength training.
3. Take One Fitness Class a Week.
I’m going to take one yoga, spinning, body sculpt, or circuit training class a week. It will take some pre-planning to accomplish this, but I’m ready to return to working out with other people. It’s lonely exercising all by yourself!
4. Run in the Morning.
All throughout summer I was able to take advantage of the sun and work out after work. Now that days are shorter, I will get up earlier and get in my run before breakfast.
5. Eat Less Sugar.
All this isn’t going to make any difference unless I eat healthy, too. Although I’m not going to be restrictive about it, I think a little less sugar will help show the results of my workout boost.
What about you guys? Will you also reboot your fitness routine?
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Photo: Juhea Kim