Making the home workout work for me

I’ve been trying to work out every day, but I’m in a slump. I know, I’ve only been seriously working out again for two weeks, how can I possibly be in a slump?! And to be fair, I’m not when it comes to running, it’s just the off-day home workout part that I’m having a problem with. So if I can figure out why I’m having such a hard time with the at-home workout days, then I can probably figure out a way to fix the problem.

It’s not that I have any desire to slack off. I love being fit, I love the way my body feels after exercising, the energy I get, the sense of accomplishment and, more importantly, the sense that my body is capable of doing whatever I ask it to. But between the recent snow and a leg with an angry calf and hamstring (okay, less angry now, let’s just say they are mildly irked), I know I need a proper off-day workout to complement the running if I want to keep improving the way I have been. But when I think back through the years, I’ve started countless at-home workout plans, all of which have been abandoned. The only one that I managed to maintain with anything close to regularity was the physical therapy program I put together for my shoulder so that I wouldn’t blow it out on trapeze, and that wasn’t so much a workout as it was an insurance policy.

I realize, of course, that the biggest problem here is that I’m simply out of shape right now. I have less choice of alternative activities because I’m not strong enough to do a lot of them without hurting myself, like rock climbing. Hell, I can’t even do a pull-up right now! So maybe if I’m clear with myself that the boring workout stuff I’m doing now is prep to get me ready for the fun stuff, I’d be more willing to keep it up. I’m also lacking in discretionary finds, so purchasing home fitness equipment or a gym membership ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

Running gives me a high in part because of the intensity level. It’s the same thing I always liked about trapeze and rock climbing — you work so hard while you’re doing it that when you’ve finished, you feel it in every part of your body. You *know* you just worked out. Isolation exercises at home don’t give me that feeling. I’m not doing enough aerobically to get winded, and even when I work a muscle to the point of fatigue it’s rarely more than a couple individual muscles, so it doesn’t feel (mentally) like what I’m doing has anywhere near the impact of intense aerobic exercise.

Running also has the advantage of having a clear beginning and end: I change into my running-specific clothes, I stretch, I walk to the park, I activate the music and gps tracker in my phone, I run a clearly-defined 3.5 mile course that doesn’t allow for shortcuts after the first mile (when I don’t yet feel like I need them), then I walk home, drink some water or tea or juice, and shower off the filth and sweat. Lately, when at home I’ve been working out in my pajamas, I do a random assortment of whatever exercises pop into my head that day and seem appropriate, and I stop whenever I feel like I’m tired, or when the phone rings, or I get too hungry.

I’m also lacking in any clear goals or measures of success or improvement. Sure, I can do more sit-ups than I could last week, and my abs don’t hurt for 3 days afterwards, but I don’t actually know what my workout consists of, so I can’t really tell what’s better or not. I’ve discovered that I’m an almost obsessive tracker. I started using mapmyrun.com to help with the running, and after every run I log in to see what my per-mile pace was, whether I got faster or slower as the run progressed, how I did compared to other runs I’ve done, how much distance I’ve covered in the past week, month, etc. Even  this blog tells me if people are reading and commenting and which posts are most compelling, but my home workout has no structure or means to measure progress, and I clearly need that to feel some sense of accomplishment.

So, knowing what I know, I’m giving myself some guidelines for making my home workout something that I can and will stick to:

  1. A clear goal: just “being in shape” obviously isn’t enough for me, so I will get specific. I want to get properly in shape and conditioned for regular rock climbing again, and possibly trapeze and aerial as well. The fella from last weekend (remember him? Yes, we have an upcoming date) wants me to take him rock climbing, and I need to be in a position that if I get competitive (which I always do) I don’t end up hurting myself. And, you know, I really miss rock climbing. So, win-win.
  2. Well-delineated workout prep: sure, I *can* do my workout in my pajamas, but it feels less like a workout. If I change into specific workout gear, put on some good driving music (you don’t even want to know what I’m putting on my exercise station on Pandora), and drag out the yoga mat, resistance tubing, and exercise ball, and then put it all away when I’m done, then my brain feels like it’s in and then out of workout mode, and that’s something I clearly need.
  3. A clearly structured workout plan: I resisted writing down what I was doing because it felt dorky, but if I can’t remember my workout, I’m not going to do a very good job of sticking to it. And it doesn’t have to be the exact same thing every day, I can mix things up a little, as long as I’m consistent enough that I’m doing things regularly (more on that in a minute). I may even branch out one day a week and try a cheesy workout video on netflix instant, just to see if there isn’t something there that feels useful.
  4. A tracking system: once I know exactly what I’m doing for my workout, then I have the ability to record how well/how much I’m doing. I can track reps, sets, etc. so that I can see when I’m getting stronger, and see improvement. I’m basically still a little kid who wants a gold star for doing well, and having concrete evidence that I’m improving is a great motivator for me.

So all that decided, I guess it’s time for me to get changed, and get some paper to write down my exercise routine. And I might even bring out the pull-up bar today just to see where I am with that, so I have something short-term to work on.

Man, I can’t wait till I’m back in shape and this is all easier again, but in the meantime, I do better with a plan.

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About pippingeek

feminist geek starting over outside the academy
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