My Toughest Workout:
I have been a habitual over-trainer. For better or worse, I’ve had a “More is More” mentality. I’ve voluntarily chosen physical pain and potential injury in the name of fitness. The faster, harder and heavier, the BETTER. This is what I called fun: Tough Mudder Obstacle Course Races and getting my ass handed to me for hours and hours while taking Krav Maga Belt Tests. I’ve been competitive in CrossFit, NPC Figure Shows and participated in Strongman Workouts that included throwing logs and hoisting up Atlas Stones to my shoulders that practically weighed as much as me. We never did Keg Throwing, which I always found both entertaining and intriguing when I saw enormous Swedish men do it so effortlessly late night on ESPN2. Then there was my Powerlifting Phase in which my personal record was a 195 lb. Power Jerk at the Gold’s Gym in Venice. My trainer was a very kind man and former professional wrestler, “Wild Man” Jack Armstrong. I wonder where he is now? Stunt school was 2 weeks of intensive all day training that included fighting, tumbling downstairs, breaking through glass, falling off horses and other tall things, as well as lighting each other on fire. Physically demanding is an understatement.
My toughest workout isn’t what you may expect. It was one I didn’t do.
With a highly charged, highly kinetic and a self-proclaimed “Type A Minus” personality, my obsession for training began with best intention…to perform optimally, to be strong, powerful and confident. Somewhere along the way, my intention changed. My workouts were fueled by guilt and punishment. As dysfunctional as this may be, my story isn’t unique. It may be yours, too. To make matters worse, this behavior became my drug. I needed to be obscenely physical just to function at a fundamental level. Here’s the sad irony. Exercise increases serotonin, dopamine and elevates all the feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain. So, that’s a good thing, right? It is, but in my case, not so much. After extensive testing with one of the best functional and preventive medicine practitioners in LA, I learned that my levels were rock bottom. I needed that much more exercise to even feel normal. And, for someone who knows that taking any anti-depressants resulted in negative side effects, I knew of no other option. Not only did this constant punishment have adverse effects on mental health, but all other operating systems in my body were misfiring. My cortisol levels were through the roof because I was in a constant “fight or flight” mode, my adrenals were tanked, my hormone levels were all out of balance (I hadn’t menstruated in over a decade), and I was in peri-menopause in my early 30’s. My gut microbiome was in distress. Issues like Leaky Gut and Candida contributed to waste and toxins getting into my body and bloodstream instead of being eliminated. I was dealing with excessive bloating, discomfort, fatigue and brain fog. I spent many years and money on supplements and hormone therapy to help reverse some of the damage that over-training had done to my body. I didn’t want to hear the truth, that I needed to back off and be kind to my body, or all money on therapies and supplements wouldn’t do any good. I was deteriorating, and I needed to start thinking about my future. I was sick and tired of feeling horrible all the time, but gaining weight and losing my identity still trumped all the warnings.
Not working out as much took much more strength and discipline than any ridiculous WOD (Workout of the Day) or physique show I had ever entered.
I will be completely honest, I really didn’t back off all that much. I still trained, taught classes and ran miles with my dog daily. I must have done just enough, as stomach issues were gone within a year, and my friends even threw me a “Welcome Back Aunt Flo” period party when I started to menstruate again. This was extremely important for me to do if I ever considered having children in the future. But honestly, I hated it. (I mean, what woman does look forward to her cycle??) Against better judgement, I went off the hormones, and “Aunt Flo” quickly moved back into her retirement community.
I wish I could say that I wised up. I wish I was mature and self-aware enough to realize if I continued to live as hard as I had been, that I would likely become injured and do irreversible damage. That’s not exactly how it happened. It was my change in professional circumstance and perhaps some other type of divine intervention that gently phased me out of the abuse. It was when I became a touring trainer. I didn’t have 24 hour access to a gym, or my beloved heavy bag to punch whenever I wanted. I didn’t have my dog and the familiar Santa Monica Pier to run to every day. Instead of having a million things to do, now, suddenly I only had one (albeit extremely important) job to do. I didn’t mind. I loved it. I truly believe it saved me.
The conclusion? Save yourself the time, money, energy and health problems. Allow me to make the mistakes for you. My boyfriend at the time once said to me “You have spent more time in the bathroom of a gym than most people spend working out in their lifetimes!” He wasn’t referring to my unusually small bladder either. It was a funny and quasi-charming observation to the sheer volume of time spent working out. Time that I should have probably spent with him. Time better spent putting focus on career, the book I have been wanting to write since college, or other creative endeavors that bring true joy to life. If I got paid for all the hours I spent training, I would have my Tiny House and have the means to travel around the world with my cats…
I can never get back the lost opportunities, experiences and relationships, but here are some things you can think about today so you don’t miss another moment.
1). As hard as it may be for some, understand the importance of rest days. This is when your body heals, repairs muscles and all working systems of your body. True growth happens at rest. Engage in activities that nurture your health, relationships, and creative mind.
2). Don’t panic if you miss a workout. I promise you won’t gain 10 pounds over night. You may think you look different in the morning, but trust me, you DON’T.
3). Take a moment to think about what is fueling your workouts? Does motivation come from a place of strength, empowerment, and genuine excitement? Or, do you drag yourself to the gym to punish yourself due to low self-esteem or the guilt that is consuming you for poor food choices and binge eating?
Here is what helped to shift my focus, and if you relate to the latter perhaps it will help you, too. Gratitude. I know that it may be hard for some to wrap your head around this concept, but it is simple and powerful. Imagine if you lost your mobility due to illness or injury? How would that change your life? I am so grateful that my body is strong enough to carry me through my workouts. I train because I CAN, not because I feel like I have to. Don’t take your body for granted. There are so many people who wish they were you.
4) Feeling like absolute crap all the time is NOT NORMAL. Your body is trying to tell you something. Don’t suck it up and think it is all in your head, you are strong enough to power through or it is “normal for you”. You may not realize how bad you feel until you start feeling better! Make quality nutrition and sleep a priority. Also, if you have the resources, I strongly suggest getting your levels tested. The whole “Lube, Oil and Filter” as I call it. Blood, Saliva, Urine and Stool. I know it may be gross, but this data is so important. Even if you are young and healthy, it is still a good idea to have those markers. Then, when you test again later in life, you can know where your levels were at optimum health, and you can supplement accordingly.
5). Don’t spend more time in a gym bathroom than necessary, and send Aunt Flo a thank you card for visiting so often over the years.