Couch Potatoes And Calisthenics

It’s not often that I get to write about some transformational changes for me personally. The last time I feel that I really changed myself was when I had children, and happily my youngest son is now 6, so dealing with pregnancies and babies is long behind me. Thankfully!

It’s extra surprising to me that this latest change is a physical one. I’m an intellectual and a nerd. I was in a lot of sports as a child but didn’t enjoy or excel at any besides elementary school track & field… and by highschool nearly all athletics were in my past. Today, I’m a programmer so I sit at a desk all day. My hobbies, with the exception of swimming in our backyard pool, are very sedentary. I love video games and reading, movies, board games and tinkering with electronics. I also have some health challenges: Crohn’s Disease and a mild heart condition.

I’ve made past attempts at fitness improvements, but most were happening during a flare of my Crohn’s Disease and my energy and nutrient levels were so handicapped that these were doomed from the start. However a few years ago something lit a spark. Early 2019 was probably a low point for me in regards to my fitness. My youngest was a toddler and he was on the move, and my 3 sons were growing increasingly active, so our family wanted to have ‘adventures’. We had bought a camper and wanted to make good use of it. We wanted to go for bike rides and trips to the park. Wrestle and play catch and walk around town. Those desires however did not match our actions.

I clearly remember one day when the kids asked to go to the park. Our neighbourhood park is a 2 minute walk away – the suburb equivalent of 2 blocks. I recall this memory clearly because of the oily feeling of disgust that my knee-jerk reaction caused in me. My response to this happy request was a heavy internal groan in my head at the thought of taking the kids to the park and at first I said “No.” It wasn’t so much the distance that I dreaded, but the mere act of getting off the chair, getting everyone into shoes, packing some water bottles and trucking the short walk there seemed like an awful inconvenience. Like more ‘work’ than it was worth. I remember that thought oozing through my mind and seconds later my recoil in horror at myself. Was I that lazy and unhealthy? What kind of parent was I? Was I going to train my kids to not ask to do physical things or go outside? Was I going to raise my 3 boys to also recoil at even the most minor of physical activity? And at this rate, how long would I be around to enjoy my wonderful family?

I was utterly disgusted with myself. I did indeed take the kids to the park that day. But the entire time I was looking at myself. At how I felt physically and mentally. I’m slim so most people assume I’m fairly fit. But I knew the truth. I was woefully lacking in energy, strength, stamina and the will to engage in life’s physical and outdoor opportunities. Even climbing the stairs in my house was an annoyance. The more I looked at myself the more I noticed subtle ways that I was avoiding physical activity and missing out on experiences. That very day I vowed to change things.

All of this is just a way of explaining why this blog is going to start having fitness content. :D

How It Started

It was now early 2019, the end of winter, and I decided to ease myself in with the most basic of beginnings. I wasn’t going to make a big show of buying equipment or joining a gym or getting cute workout clothes. I had shoes and I had a neighbourhood with sidewalks. I was going to jog.

I wish I could say it was pretty… but wow those early days were pretty pathetic. I could barely jog for the length of a house or two without slowing to a walk. The air was still cold and it was very uncomfortable. My shoes were definitely not right and I didn’t own even a single sports bra. I had no way to listen to music without holding my phone in my hand or a hoodie pocket, with some wired headphones getting tangled all over the place. I didn’t know how to dress and my posture was so bad that I developed significant neck pain because, as I later realized, I was looking down as I jogged and my head was bouncing in that position. Ouch.

I set myself a routine of 3 times a week, 2 kms around the neighbourhood. I wanted to log 100 kms by the end of June. Once I had jogged consistently for at least a month to prove to myself I would stick to it for a while, I treated myself to some proper running shoes that were on sale. I rigged a fanny pack to carry my phone in and later a proper runner’s phone belt. I bought a reflective band, because I could only jog when my husband was home to watch the kids, so this often meant evenings or very early in the morning before school. When the weather warmed it got much nicer, and when I improved my posture, the neck pain was solved. My husband bought me bluetooth headphones for Christmas. I found a fun fiction podcast about survivors in a zombie apocalypse (“We’re Alive”) that I would only listen to as I jogged. This kept my mind off my physical misery and was something to look forward to.

Within 6 months of this process I started noticing drastic improvements in my mood and energy level. I was still not even close to fit, but the changes were real. I slept better. I could focus on my programming work with improved attention and clarity. I could walk around the mall or to the park without feeling grumpy about it. It was actually working.

My jogging routine continued quite consistently for 2 years. In that time I got my rollerblades out of the dusty cupboard and discovered I love rollerblading much more than jogging. In 2021, with the Covid19 pandemic in full swing, I kicked my fitness up a notch and joined my cousin – MMA fighter Randi Field – for the Zoom workouts she was teaching. She focused on weights and calisthenics and building strength. It was awesome. I started feeling stronger and seeing muscle definition I had never seen before. Soon I switched to evening sessions so that my husband could join me, and my cousin made the workouts tough, effective and fun.

How It’s Going

My cousin had to end her Zoom classes in order to go to training for her upcoming fights. But I was already hooked. I can definitely say there was a psychological component involved. The pandemic has left many of us feeling like a lot of our lives is outside of our control. Improving my fitness gave me back something that I could control. A way to feel like I’m improving myself and my life, even if I’m in a pandemic lockdown or avoiding public places.

Over the winter I have not jogged because the snow and cold make it difficult and our public indoor running track was closed. I’m also trying to focus on things I can do with my husband. So we do our own strength routine or follow YouTube videos twice a week and do yoga once a week. I’ve also joined a gym and started doing a weekly class, to get out and support a friend.

I’ve also made a series of purchases of fitness equipment. Clothes for myself and sets of weights for the family. Tension bands, grip trainers and a set of parallettes. I installed handles in the rafters of our laundry room for pullups. Later this winter I put into that same room a line of gym rings for the kids to swing from and padded the floor. The YouTube algorithm has picked up on my new viewing habits and keeps recommending calisthenics videos to me. I’m now trying to practice daily to do a handstand. Today is day 2.

I hung rings for the kids and handles for pullups.

I’m now sporting an impressive (if I do say so myself) collection of muscles and I can do 3 full pullups – which I’m told is quite good for a woman. My husband is right along with me, improving his own pullups and strength. I’ve also improved my diet by reducing my carbs and sugar while increasing my protein a modest amount.

My next step is setting some goals and trying to learn some new moves (like the handstand).

I’m currently the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been in my adult life. I’m turning 42 this year and I’m very proud of myself. I can also see my children developing a positive attitude toward fitness, exercise and health- which might be the best result of all my work.

Just Take One Step

I’ve been amazed at the volume of resources you can find online. YouTube is full of channels which give gradual workouts for beginners or teach exercises with several modifications so that anyone can do it. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t taken that first step. If I hadn’t started with what I could currently do with what I had on hand. If this is a goal that you also have, but struggle to begin – just remember – it doesn’t have to be fancy or impressive. Just take that one beginner step. I’ve learned that consistency and routine is the most important factor. Not equipment or difficulty or length of time. Just pick one tiny beginner thing you can do, and do it consistently. That will form a habit and an attitude, and results will follow.