My mindset toward exercising and fitness has shifted significantly over the past few years. I feel so energized by and excited about exercise these days, so I wanted to share a little bit about my journey of getting to this place.
Throughout high school, I ran cross country and track every season. I enjoyed group fitness classes when they fit into my schedule (mostly kickboxing) during the off season, and I dabbled in lifting weights from time to time, but I never had any kind of consistent strength training routine. Running was my default because it’s free, convenient to do whenever I have time, and I love it, so for years, I ran 6 days (40+ miles) per week, and that was it. And I craved running like I craved breathing.
Once I began my first year of college, I continued running ~6 days per week, but less competitively because I was ready for a break. Running became even more of something I did because it felt good and put me in a great mood for the day (and to be honest, probably because it let me eat more ice cream). I did maybe a couple of sets of push-ups before my runs and some planks when I got back, and that was the extent of my strength training.
By January of my junior year of college, I started becoming interested in a strength training routine. 6 days per week of pure running had started feeling like a little too much for my body. My legs were constantly tired, and I wasn’t enjoying running quite as much as I used to because my body was exhausted. I was tired of feeling weak, too– I could run 14 miles, but I couldn’t do 14 push-ups. And honestly, I liked the idea of being more toned and having more muscle definition, even though I didn’t know where to start.
So, I decided to just start something, anything. I’d heard good things about the Sweat with Kayla app and decided to do the 30-day free trial. I began doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) two or three times per week in my dorm room. I’m totally the kind of person who will cancel right after before the free trial ends, and that’s what I planed to do with this. But after a month of using the app for free, I was hooked. I loved the 28-minute workouts (4 rounds of intense 7-minute exercises) that were so quick and efficient. The workouts left my legs shaking.
I did these workouts inside my dorm room for about a month because I didn’t think there was enough space in the gym, and then someone told me that the gym has an entire second floor that I didn’t know about, so I went to check it out.
At this point, as a college junior, I’d only been inside UNC’s gym two times ever, which is hard to believe now. (I thought it was too crowded because I’d only ventured onto the first floor.) I discovered two group fitness studios that are often empty and they’re perfect, uncrowded places to workout. The campus gym doesn’t have some equipment, but it’s easy to switch those exercises out for something else or just use dumbbells.
Strength Training Progress
I feel a little funny sharing pictures like this of myself, but I think photos can tell a better story than words. I got the advice to take “progress photos” since it’s sometimes hard to notice gradual changes, and I thought I’d never do it, but I’ve realized photos tell a much better story about progress than the scale…and they actually can be really encouraging! I don’t share them with other people (besides a few on this one blog post) or post them on my social accounts (not that it’s bad when people do), so they’re really just for my self.
Instagram is full of before-after photos of girls who cut out cardio completely and put on a ton of muscle, and I think that’s awesome for them! But my goal is just to get more toned while still being able to run and eat good food– two things I love doing. More importantly than how I look, though, is how I feel. I feel great these days. I feel stronger, and every time I increase my weights, it’s a personal victory.
I once feared weight lifting because I thought I’d gain weight. I’ve put on a little bit of muscle and I’m guessing I’ve also maybe lost a little bit of fat, because when I weigh myself every few weeks or so, the scale has stayed just about the same as it was right when I started lifting weights. I attribute little changes mostly to my sweet tooth and my body’s natural fluctuations.
Making Strength Training Easy
I realized that part of my aversion to lifting weights was that I always had to think too much about what workout to do, but using a helpful app took away the need to do that. There are three days per week of workouts (arms, legs, and core), so in the beginning, I’d do 3 days of this app, run three other days, and take one rest day. If I was only working out five days during a hectic week, I’d usually just do strength training twice that week.
After using a workout app for about 6 months, I started writing out my own HIIT workouts before going to the gym. The app I was using was a little pricey (around $20/month if you pay by the month or cheaper if you pay for several months at a time), and at that point, I felt confident enough to design my own legs/arms/core workouts. And there are a lot of free options like the Nike Training Club app, YouTube videos, Instagram videos, etc. But I think the app was 100% worth it for taking the guesswork/planning out of my workouts, and I’ve considered re-downloading it just to simplify life a little bit.
What I’m Doing Now
These days, I’ve fully overcome my aversion to the gym and actually look forward to it now. I even prefer the gym over running on a day with bad weather, which is saying a lot since I used to love running more no matter what! I go to the gym with the mindset of being there to get stronger, which makes me excited to go. I still maintain my rule of getting in bed in time to get at least 7 hours of sleep if I want to work out in the morning, which has made all of the difference in the world for my energy levels.I’m strength training twice per week and running “long” distances 4 days per week primarily for how good, balanced, and centered both things make me feel. My runs usually range from 5-7 miles. I feel total freedom to change things up based on how I’m feeling or if fun things pop up, like going on a long hike with friends on a Saturday morning. So, that’s a little bit of where I currently am on my fitness journey!
So, tell me…
Do you like to do cardio, weights, or both? Any good workouts to share? (Links encouraged!)