Towards the end of 2016, two things coincided that caused me to change my approach to my workout routine – Mike and I started planning out this blog and a more intentional approach to life; and I sprained my ankle during only my fourth week of a 12-week marathon training program.
Highs and Lows of Being Active and Healthy
Mike and I both come from active backgrounds. We played competitive sports through high school. I rowed competitively my freshman year of college, and he rowed all four years of college. That said, we both seem to have a bit of an unfortunate, all-or-nothing approach to health. When we’re healthy, we’re really healthy. We’ve tried paleo, 4-hour-body, the Whole 30 Challenge, etc. We’ve both been members of cross-fit gyms. Mike has been an avid cyclist for a few years now, participating in numerous long distance events (100+ miles). Before we got married, I trained and completed a sequence of distance running events, working up to a pair of half marathons. We ran daily and ate obsessively healthily leading up to our wedding. For a little while, we even tried and very much enjoyed a rock climbing gym near our first flat in London.
But when we’re off the wagon, we go pretty far off the wagon. Once we’ve missed a few workouts in a row, whether it’s because we’re on holiday or because we both get busy with work, it’s ridiculously easy to fall back into bad/lazy habits. We forgo walks outside to lay in bed watching Netflix like zombies [MC Ed. Note: better yet, to watch zombies on Netflix! Just kidding Casey hates zombies so that never happens. #deprived]. One of us eats cookies at a work lunch, and suddenly that means we collectively abandon our intention to cook the fresh ingredients in our fridge to indulge in pizza. An innocent few cookies is just the first step onto the 30-foot slide for a cannon ball into a pool full of junk food. [MC Ed. Note: a pool full of junk food – awesome! Which reminds me, one time when I was a little kid, an uncle sent my brother and me a huge box of jell-o mix so that my mom could make us a bathtub full of the stuff to play in. Needless to say, she did not comply. Seriously, #deprived].
Navigating a New Approach to Health
When we started to journal early last year, I began each entry with my short-term goals. Occasionally, I threw in some thoughts about long-term goals as well. As we started to talk about intentional living and what it meant to us, I knew that I wanted to include a focus on long-term health goals and motivation. I thought we should work on this all-or-nothing approach we had to our health, and look at our diet, exercise, sleep, and mental well-being as one big, uniform picture.
Personally, I wanted to abandon rigid crash-workout programs that make up 25% of the internet and instead find ways I could exercise for enjoyment. I no longer wanted to work out just to feel skinny, or to look better in pictures, or to forever be trying to get back down to my freshman year weight (which wasn’t healthy anyways). Instead, I wanted to exercise so that I would be happier, more energetic, and more capable of embarking on adventurous hiking and camping trips with Mike.
It’s almost fortunate that as I began thinking about my approach to exercise, I sprained my ankle. Four months later, I still cannot run (according to my physical therapist). But, besides the initial pain and the frustrating immobility of the first few weeks of the injury, the fact that I can’t run has forced me to follow through on trying new forms of exercise.
30 Days of Yoga
I decided in mid-January to start my morning for 30 days straight with a yoga sequence, in addition to any other exercise I would do each day. I know what you may be thinking – isn’t that a crash-course in exercise too? Yes, absolutely. But I chose to try this for 30 days just to see how it changed my approach to the rest of the day, to investigate whether I enjoyed yoga, and see if it made me stronger for our outdoor adventures.
I finished the 30-days-of-yoga last week. The result? Some mornings when my alarm went off at 5AM, the last thing I wanted to do was 20 minutes of yoga. But, as soon as I rolled out of bed and onto the mat, I was always happy to be there. My mind felt clearer the rest of the day. On days where I didn’t have time to complete any other exercise, I still felt great that I had started my day with the sequence. On the mornings where I didn’t have time to do yoga until later in the evening, I felt more lethargic and less focused. I’m able to do many more of the poses now than when I started, and I do feel much stronger. I enjoyed it so much that since the 30 days concluded, I’ve continued on with it each day.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
I recently read a blog post by Paula Pant at Afford Anything about goal setting. Paula points out the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation when it comes to setting goals. Intrinsic motivation is driven by enjoyment – i.e. do yoga because I enjoy it, and so that I am more comfortable on adventurous hikes with Mike. Extrinsic motivation is driven by a certain end goal – i.e. lose X lbs. by the time of that wedding I’m attending in X months. She emphasizes the importance of setting goals with intrinsic motivation in mind because when you’re enjoying the journey, you’re more likely to follow through on achieving and then maintaining your progress (rather than simply yo-yoing back to your starting point).
The Intrinsic Motivation Behind My Goals
After reading her article, I thought about my health goals, along with the reasons why I want to pursue these, in order to drill down to the intrinsic motivation:
- In a few recent posts, we’ve touched on the fact that our traveling evolved immensely soon after we moved to London. We have learned that we prefer to travel with a bit of adventure, and explore places that are off the beaten path. The adventures usually involve exercise – i.e. hiking challenging trails, carrying heavy camping packs, cycling for many miles. In order to really enjoy these trips, we benefit from training in preparation. I realized that I’m now motivated to increase my leg and core strength so that I’m able to confidently navigate strenuous descents down a mountain. I want to improve my cardio health so that I’m ready to take another cycling trip head on, hills and all.
- I want to continue doing yoga most days, if not every day, because it has noticeably improved my mental clarity and happiness. Obviously yoga also comes with the added benefit of strengthening your muscles, but I think the biggest positive change I’ve noticed from consistent practice is that I am less stressed. The less stressed I am, the happier I am for myself, and for Mike.
- I want to continue working on a balanced exercise routine that is achievable, maintainable, and enjoyable. I want to avoid the typical urge to squeeze-in-a-30-minute-run-on-the-treadmill-at-the-gym-and-call-that-adequate-exercise-so-I-can-lounge-around-in-yoga-pants-and-eat-snacks-the-rest-of-the-day. Instead, I will focus on leading an active, outdoor lifestyle that I can continue for the rest of my life. This is especially important to me because I want to be my best self in the future whenever we have kids – so that I am healthy for myself, for them, and for Mike. I know that the only way I’ll follow through on that goal is if my exercise routine involves things that I enjoy.
This year has gotten off to a great start as I’ve been thinking about all of these factors. I look forward to the time each day where I put my phone away and focus on a workout in our living room or a walk in the nearby park. I wake up each day with the intention of doing some form of exercise, and I decide what that will be based on how I’m feeling that day. Some days, when I’m more lethargic, I go for an hour long quick-paced walk in the park. Other days, I’m feeling strong and energetic so I’ll use kettle bells for a more strenuous, high intensity workout. As I make steady progress in my health and fitness, I feel ready to tackle the adventures that we have ahead of us. Thus far, perhaps most importantly, it feels maintainable. Here’s to finding the right motivation and commitment to long term health and fitness!
Example of my new approach to working out:
Monday – 20 minutes of yoga when I wake up, HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout in morning or evening, whenever I feel like doing it (60 burpees, 60 situps, 60 pushups, 60 squats, 60 dips), foam rolling and stretching before bed
Tuesday – 20 minutes of yoga when I wake up, 30-60 minute quick-paced walk in the park, foam rolling and stretching before bed
Wednesday – November Project (JUST SHOW UP, IT’S FREE! A really fun, energetic workout group with body-weight circus and bouts of running at Duke of York Column, 6:29AM, every Wednesday! Or find one in your city!)
Thursday – 20 minutes of yoga when I wake up, 100 kettle bell swings, 10 minute ab workout (1 minute each of crunches, side crunches, bicycles, bridge, leg raises, side plank on each side, plank, rows, Russian Twists)
Friday – 20 minutes of yoga when I wake up, HIIT workout in morning or evening, whenever I feel like doing it (60 burpees, 60 situps, 60 pushups, 60 squats, 60 dips), foam rolling and stretching before bed
Saturday – Some form of “fun” outdoor exercise with Mike such as hiking if we’re outside of London, a long walk to explore the city, or a longer yoga or pilates routine if we’re staying home for the day
Sunday – If we aren’t somewhere outside of London hiking, I’ll rest on Sundays
*As I mentioned in the post above, I base each day’s routine on how I’m feeling, so this week is just an example of how I’ve been exercising.*
Links to videos I use for free at-home workouts: