On Tuesday night last week, I found myself skipping rope and doing side planks in a random pop-up “boot camp” type class taught by my spinning teacher. That was my final entry in my “work out every day in July” streak.
I don’t know exactly *why* I decided I wanted to work out every day in July — I think it actually happened because I roused myself from a stupor at 8 pm after a travel day on July 1 and went for a short run, and felt energized and happy. And thought, what would happen if I tried to get out and do some kind of intentional movement every day in July, even when I didn’t feel like it?
I wrote a little bit about what I was discovering about the emotional benefits of moving every day about a month ago. I definitely felt more clarity and much greater awareness of the relationship between exercise and mood. (Spoiler: it’s important). But I also learned a bunch of things about my own habits and that elusive thing called motivation. In no particular order…
- Everything that looks like intentional movement beyond your day to day “counts.” I’ve made this assertion before in our posts about “218 in 2018” — but my 32 workouts in July (I did two in one day, once) ranged from overt “workouts” (the boot camp class or runs) to long bike rides (alone and with friends) to yoga classes and videos to paddling a canoe and camping to deliberately riding my bike all over the city for errands to deliberately walking to errands/dinner. And every one of these activities made me feel calmer, happier and accomplished.
2. Be playful — think less about “training” and more about “movement.” When I started this little streak, I was clear that I wasn’t trying to build strength or improve times or get ready for an event — that I just wanted to move every day. Sam and I have had a lot of discussion about the need for rest days when you have training goals — and I agree. But that’s not what this was.
One of the things about just needing “to move” every day is I got less rigid about what I did to move — and discovered a kind of playfulness I don’t bring to my movement very often. I played with a kind of underwater skateboard in someone’s pool, went for a long paddle on our non-travel day on a canoe trip (and ran into a lady moose bathing!), and, in the last week of the streak, did a handstand for the first time in yoga practice.
I was ridiculously proud of myself.
So by the time I got to skipping rope in the pop-up class on July 31, I was just 8 years old again. Hopscotch, anyone?
3. The voices in my head that say “just skip today’s workout” are persuasive and diverse, but are worth overcoming. I have been running for 23 years, and I cannot count the number of times I have actually gone so far as to put on running clothes and then flopped back onto the couch or into an online rabbit hole and never made it out. This happens a lot to me. But with this streak, that wasn’t an option — I was going to work out, I just had to figure out how.
There are a LOT of factors that make it easy to skip days, and I saw them all in this month. Work stuff that piled up against a need to get to a friend’s for dinner (with the burgers!), with a thunderstorm in the mix (I squished in a 4km run that ended in the rain, and was 15 minutes late for dinner). Very hot busy day and no time for a run plus a shower (I walked 5 km to meet a friend for dinner and a movie instead, and accepted that I was going to arrive damp. They ordered me a drink while they were waiting). Spinning studio closed because of issues with construction upstairs — hence the pop up bootcamp class. A Sunday that was overloaded and included an early meeting an hour away, brunch with a friend even further away, sausages in the brunch that did NOT lend themselves to running, a flat tire on my bike, and severe ennui with running in my neighbourhood — I ended up willing myself into my running clothes at 7 pm, texting a pic to my cousin for accountability, taking a bike share bike down to the beach, and having my fastest, strongest and happiest run of the year).
4. Plans should be loose. In this framework, weirdly, I found it better to NOT have a plan for what I was going to do on any given day. Because it is July, I have a less rigid work schedule — so I tried to listen to what I needed, and look at what was actually happening in the world. A couple of times I planned long bike rides but woke up and took stock and realized my body needed yoga instead. Another time I spontaneously drove out of the city for a 60km ride at 3 pm on a Sunday. Honouring what I felt like doing felt like a huge gift to myself, and gave me that same kind of airy, restorative rhythm that traveling alone does. I know this is a huge privilege — and it’s summer, light, and less busy. But listening to what I actually needed let me work my body hard over a month without hurting it.
Which leads me to ….
5. Rest matters. Even though I was working my body every day, I did it in a way that gave different parts of me opportunities to rest. A lot of the workouts were yoga, which, while strength-building, also kept me aligned and supple and grounded for the runs and rides. When I walked, I listened to non-political podcasts. I tried to get as much sleep as possible. And whenever I could, I took to a hammock. I’m lucky enough to have one on my deck, and Susan is brilliant enough to bring one camping. Hammocks are the best.
6. Every time you move, you are building overall health, for now and as you age.
One of the things I was working on throughout the spring was a giant project about the role of mitochondrial health in our health overall. There is huge emerging evidence that exercise prevents cellular aging by boosting mitochondria. This speaks directly to all of the reasons I want to stay fit — to age well, with good mobility, with strength, and with emotional balance. I have written about this endlessly, but I felt it this month. Even though I wasn’t doing anything deliberate to “get stronger” or “faster,” that run on July 29 was my most comfortable and fastest in at least two years, and I got into a handstand for the first time since I was 10. I felt the tightness in my thighs and hamstrings loosen up. And I slept better.
I DID take a day off active exercise on August 1, mopping up a bunch of undone work and housework before taking off on a short holiday. But I still did a few sun salutations and stretches. My body asked for it. And my streak taught me to listen.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto and blogs here twice a month.