This post has not been sponsored in any way.
Just over a year ago I snowshoed up a mountain.
In some ways, it was a triumph because I didn’t die and now I get to say things like “I snowshoed up a mountain”. In other ways, it was a really sobering experience. As soon as we started the ascent, it became painfully obvious that I had virtually no cardiovascular endurance. The lack of thigh muscles definitely made the trek upward more difficult than it needed to be, but the main issue was that I needed to stop every few minutes to catch my breath.
To put it bluntly, it was embarrassing.
I came back from that trip realizing that while yoga is (and always will be) something I really enjoy, it doesn’t do much, if anything, for my cardio health. And guys, my heart is important! Yours is too! It’s literally keeping us alive, one beat at a time. Lub-dubbing its way through each day, providing a subtle backbeat to the rhythm of our lives.
I already have one defective vital organ, I can’t afford to have a shitty heart, too! My kidneys are messed up and will be my entire life. My condition is managed with medication but damn, I’m already operating at a deficit! How am I going to throw my heart health under the bus, too?
I knew it was time. I had to start exercising. Ughhhhhhhhh.
This certainty sat at the back of my mind for months, wrapped up in a decades-old sense of insecurity, a serious lack of trust in my body, confusion, and dread. I hate working out. I’m constantly low-energy because of the aforementioned kidney condition and I also hate gym culture. I hate the posturing and the bewildering machines and the fact that the entire endeavour relies on me digging deep into some wellspring of energy and motivation that I, quite simply, didn’t feel I had.
These two realities – the fact that I needed to become more physically fit and the fact that I hated virtually everything associated with the process of becoming physically fit – rattled around in my head for almost a full year.
Then, three things happened.
First, I was hired by RoundGlass, a company that centres its entire philosophy around physical and mental wellbeing. I work with them writing content to inspire and assist people around the globe to pursue holistic wellness. Yet I was avoiding it myself.
Then, at Olive’s Tae Kwon Do class, I was chatting with one of the other moms, as you do. I don’t remember how the topic came up but she mentioned that she’d joined an Orangetheory gym a few weeks ago and loved it. She must have seen my eyes glaze over because she hurriedly added that she’d tried working out in a handful of different formats before, but she’d never found something she took to so quickly or stuck to so effortlessly.
Finally, a few weeks later I was driving home when I noticed an obnoxiously bright orange billboard a few blocks from my house. What’s this? Oh nothing, just an Orangetheory gym opening five minutes away from me.
Not exactly subtle, Universe, but I can take a hint. I pulled over, walked into the temporary trailer and signed up for a membership on the spot.
For those of you who don’t know what Orangetheory is, their website describes it thusly:
Orangetheory is a 1 hour, full body workout, focused on training Endurance, Strength and/or Power. We use Heart Rate Based Interval Training, which burns more calories post workout than a traditional exercise. When wearing our Heart Rate monitors, your real time results are displayed on large screens throughout the studio. Intensity is based on your individual Heart Rate zones, making the workout effective for all fitness levels. To top it off, our fitness coaches to lead the workout to prevent you from over or under training.
So basically, the furthest thing from my comfort zone possible. Cool. Cool, cool, cool.
Despite my initial trepidation, the first three months were great. But, um, they were great mostly because the gym wasn’t built yet. Ha! What?!
It was actually kind of an ideal situation – I had all of the smug satisfaction of having a gym membership without actually having to go to the gym, because I couldn’t! I mean, I wanted to work out but unfortunately, they weren’t open yet! Damn, you know?
But then it did open. And I did have to go. And I was terrified.
Honestly, I was afraid of failing. I was afraid of the physical challenge, sure, but I was more worried that I wouldn’t be able to commit. I worried that I’d be gung-ho for a few weeks and then be paying for a membership I didn’t use. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to show up. I was worried that trying and failing would confirm that my body wasn’t capable of what other people’s bodies were, that I was somehow just not a part of that group of people who could regularly work out.
I have friends who have gone to the gym religiously every single morning for years and I’ve always viewed them with a mixture of disbelief, incomprehension, and admiration. How?! How do they stick with it? It seemed like they were some sort of superhero breed, just a different type of human altogether. What they were doing seemed absolutely beyond me. I am incredibly routine-averse and the whole thing just seemed utterly beyond my capacity as a person.
Nonetheless, I did go. The gym opened and I laced up my ancient running shoes and walked through the doors with my heart beating a mile a minute, not knowing at all what to expect.
The day of my first class, I arrived a half hour early for an orientation and the coach showed me around the gym and explained how it works. Basically, the gym is divided into three areas: treadmills, rowing machines, and a weight floor. In a typical class, the group is split in two and you start on either the rower/weight area or a treadmill. The coach guides you through an intense interval workout, adjusting speeds and inclines on the treadmill, and then alternating between weights and exercises on the floor and rowing. Then the two groups switch places and if you were on the treadmill, you do weights/rowing and vice versa.
Throughout the entire class, you wear a heart rate monitor, and your heart rate zone is displayed on a screen alongside your name. There’s a lot going on and being so new to everything definitely made it feel a bit overwhelming at first, but I got through the entire hour. I didn’t die! No one looked at me and scoffed at my eight-pound weights or my speeds, everyone was similarly focused on not dying. At the end of the class, the coach took me aside and walked me through the heart rate summary for the class (which also gets emailed to you) and answered any questions I had.
Internets, after that class I changed my membership from 2x a week to an unlimited pass, and I’ve been going four times a week for almost three months now. I drop Olive off at school and then I work out.
Tae Kwon Do mom was right. I love it.
I’m just as surprised you are. But I’m even more surprised at why I love it :
1. It’s dark. Yeah. Weird, right? The entire gym is quite dim, with orange overhead lights. This takes away from the meat-market gym feeling and creates almost a club-like atmosphere. The whole thing makes you feel anonymous like no one knows who you are.
Also, if you’re someone who gets super red in the face while working out (ahem) you don’t even notice it! This is such an unexpected bonus.
2. You go at your own pace. It’s a group class, yes, but everyone is doing the class at their own speed, their own intensity, and their own fitness level. Because of the heart rate monitors, you can push yourself into a challenging workout without feeling like you need to keep up with your neighbour (or feeling ashamed when you can’t).
On the treadmills, you can power walk at various inclines, jog, or run. On the weight floor, you choose your weights and the coach offers modifications for exercises (hi, lady pushups!). And yeah, your heart rate is displayed on a giant screen, but no one knows who Madeleine is just like I don’t know who Bruce or Kathy are.
You’re only competing against yourself. And it turns out that’s pretty powerful motivation.
I started off power walking (and I still do some days because those inclines are awesome for the booty), on April 10 I ran a mile in 10:08, and on Thursday I ran a mile in 8:21. When I started I was rowing at 110 watts, now I can hit 250 watts. That’s so incredible to see, especially since I didn’t think I was physically capable of doing these types of workouts, I didn’t think I was mentally capable of sticking to a routine. But I’m doing it and I’m improving each class.
3. The coaches. I am not competitive in the slightest and due to my kidney condition, I’ve always been really reluctant to push myself physically. The coaches, however, aren’t.
As they guide you through the workout they remind you to challenge yourself, to get uncomfortable, to bump up your speed or your incline or your weights. It’s different every single day, and they never push you too far, but there’s definitely no room for boredom or complacency.
As a result, in the last few months, I’ve realized just how much I underestimate what my body can do. At the tail end of a 20-minute treadmill block, I feel utterly exhausted but when my coach asks me if I can bump up my speed .1 or .2 higher for the last minute, I do. Every time. I get it done, and it feels incredible.
Basically, I’ve discovered that I perform way better when I have someone yelling at me. (Now if only I could hire a writing coach to do the same thing!)
4. The sweat. For decades I’ve said that I’m not a sweaty person. I don’t sweat. My feet don’t sweat, my back doesn’t sweat, I’m just…not sweaty.
OR SO I THOUGHT.
Guys, it turns out that I am VERY SWEATY. The sweatiest. Apparently I just never did anything at a high enough intensity level to produce sweat? This is alarming on many levels.
How bad is it? Well folks, I had to return a pair of workout leggings because I sweat through them. They were a smokey blue and advertised “advanced sweat-wicking” material but the first time I wore them I was like, “Sweet mother of Beyonce, what is happening down there?!”
My knees, my thighs, my butt, my crotch. Yeah, apparently crotch sweat is a thing? Try explaining that to a 17-year old male Gap employee, because I had to. It was great.
5. The emotional exorcism. Thought that was a typo in the title, didn’t you? Nope. It was on purpose because it turns out that not only do I sweat a lot, I am a treadmill crier.
Does this happen to anyone else? I’m not sure whether it’s an endorphin rush or an exercise-induced emotional exorcism, but every so often I’ll feel this wave of emotion take over me on the treadmill and I’ll start crying. Not bawling but definitely crying. Thankfully (?) I’m sweaty enough that when I wipe my face it doesn’t look obvious, but it’s been really interesting to see what has come up during these moments.
A lot has happened in the past few years and I’m really proud of the way I’ve worked through everything but still, things I thought I’d laid to rest years ago pour out of me on that treadmill, old issues come up and are worked out – it’s like all sorts of stuck energy and painful past experiences have been stored in my body somewhere and the running is knocking them loose. I leave feeling spent, cleansed, and free.
These workouts have been absolutely vital to my mental health, especially during the sometimes-bumpy adjustment to full-time single parenting over the last few months.
6. The muscles. I have muscles. Me! Muscles! In my body! Leg muscles, butt muscles, arm muscles, ab muscles, back muscles! It’s a very strange sensation. I am getting used to it, but these days I find myself looking at my naked body with this sense of abject curiosity, like, what is that?!
I’m not boasting a rippling six-pack by any means, but I can feel – and see – the musculature of my body developing and that’s incredibly cool.
Finally, I want to underline that I’m not writing this post to sell Orangetheory and it is not sponsored in any way shape or form. I wanted to write it because the physical, mental, and emotional changes I’ve seen in the last few months have been incredible and they’re made even more significant because I never thought I’d be able to do it. Maybe you don’t think you can, either.
You are underestimating yourself. Seriously, if I can do it with kidneys that don’t work, filled to the brim with cheese and fear, covered in sweat and tears, I promise that you can too.
After all, all of this came from simply getting uncomfortable. Agreeing to go on an 11-km snowshoe hike I was woefully underprepared for. Signing up for a gym I wasn’t sure I would go to. Completing that first workout I wasn’t sure I would survive.
It’s so easy to put ourselves last, especially as parents. It’s easy to get complacent. It’s easy to ignore our health until it’s too late, or allow fear, doubt, and insecurity to stop us from making positive life changes because we think might fail.
I’m so glad I decided to try, instead.