Expectations (this workout’s gonna suck…)

Tuesday night was my first trip to the gym since last Thursday. While that might not sound like much time, it’s important to consider how many cinnamon rolls, bottles of wine, Christmas cookies, and slices of fresh bread transpired in just those four days. The word ‘debauchery’ becomes ‘de-batch-ery,’ this time of year, as I struggle not to make eye contact with the now-empty orange roll pan.

The ghosts of moscatos past clanked their bottles as I suited up for the after-Christmas cardio tour. ‘Trepidation’ didn’t quite cover my feelings on the subject. This is still my first year at the Y. I’ve gone through training. I have routines. I have notes about my routines. I’m about as serious as an overweight sedentary office gerbil can get at this point. But I’m also a mostly oblivious overweight office gerbil, and I had no idea if (and more likely: how much) damage had been done to my progress with mashed potatoes and ginger bread.

I tugged on my yoga pants and my Tardigrades Extreme Swim Team tee shirt, opened up my Muevete con Zumba playlist, climbed aboard the elliptical and prayed I wouldn’t throw up.

Five minutes later, I was wondering just why I’d gotten myself so worked up about all this.

We have certain cultural expectations of fitness. The longer I do this, the more I realize that the things I’d just nodded acceptance to are as mythic as satyrs and naiads. Or, they’re true – but only if your ideals and needs match the ideals and needs that birthed that expectation. I expected to have an awful day at the gym because I hadn’t been to the gym in almost a week.

The thing was, my stamina and my strength hadn’t noticeably ebbed. I was even able to push myself a little harder without repercussions. Instead of nagging at me about my failure to stay in line, my body was ready and eager to go! Four days’ worth of carb-filled ridiculousness hadn’t actually put me back at square one. It hadn’t even put me back a square at all, as far as I can tell. My dread was all an expansion of someone else’s goals, I realized. My goals circle around feeling better, stabilizing the muscles around my crappy knee joints, and staving off the health problems associated with a sedentary life. I want to lose weight to help those knee joints out some more – but I no longer want to lose weight to fit the cultural ideal of what ‘fitness’ looks like. It’s a benchmark of progress made, but it doesn’t ruin me anymore if I don’t see change.

I expect that my carb-, salt- and calorie-filled ridiculousness added some weight. I can’t tell you for sure, because I didn’t step on the scale that day. I expected the workout to suck, I think in part because the culture equates a lack of weight loss, and weight gain with failure. That concept expands out into a broader, more nebulous ‘punishment’ for not upholding a personal commitment. I figured I would struggle because I deserved to be punished for a perceived failure. In the future, I’m going to work on my mindfulness and try to approach these workouts as an opportunity to challenge myself and improve, than a punishment for doing something ‘bad,’ like holiday overindulgence.

A pan of orange rolls is still not something I should eat every weekend. I can do better – I will do better. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of, because I’m still committed to my overall personal health.

There are so many potential mental pitfalls, when it comes to fitness. I measure myself constantly, against what I did do yesterday and what I think I should have done; what I see others doing. But I’m glad to say – so glad that I can’t do more than make an exhausted wave of relief in its general direction – that I no longer measure myself against how this culture thinks ‘fit’ looks. Shy introvert me can now walk into a busy room in my tight pants and my tank top and not care – because on the day’s first round of resistance training I’ve just lifted five more pounds than I could last week. I can plank for a full minute. I can squat and get myself back up without help. I can feel improvement. That tops whatever the girl two machines over may or may not think of my gut.

(It’s important to note that whenever I feel self-conscious and wonder what said girl two machines over might think, I remind myself that said girl is just like me and just as focused on what she’s doing. Everyone else in the room fades for me when I’m struggling to lift eighty pounds over my head. It’s the same for her. If it’s not, then she might want to increase her weights. Either way, it’s out of my control and should be out of my mind.)

I’m still gonna dread the gym. That’s a given. There are just days when I would rather watch three episodes of Haikyuu!! and not put on my workout pants and go out in the cold. But – hopefully – I’m never gonna dread it again for the reasons I dreaded it this week. Brains are funny things, filled with a goop of past experiences and learned expectations. All we can do is prove the problematic expectations wrong, and keep doing it, until our mindsets change.

Here’s to feeling even better in 2017. You bet I’ll be on that elliptical, come January 2. Heck, tonight’s resistance training. Let’s do this.



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