Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Working Out How to Work Out

I've mentioned before that I used to be a marathoner. I absolutely loved running and probably still would if it weren't for a number of factors that make it a bad fit for my current circumstances. When I first became unable to run as much, I switched to high intensity workout videos (Jillian Michaels ones, mostly), and kept up a high fitness level even though I wasn't hitting the trail or the road on my feet anymore. It was really satisfying to me to be able to work out intensely, and I'd do it even late at night. While we were waiting to bring Zinashi home, my workouts tapered off a bit as we got busy getting everything ready, and as my racing mind made it impossible to focus on workouts that required coordination. Still, I could knock out a few workouts a week and felt pretty good about where I was fitness-wise.

And then we went to Ethiopia. There was no working out in Ethiopia.

And then we brought Zinashi home. There was no working out with jet lag.

And just wasn't the same anymore, nor was my desire to work out or my energy level. I've tried several different approaches to exercise, but nothing really sticks. When Zinashi isn't sleeping well, it makes it doubly hard because I don't have much time or energy. I'm sure a lot of you parents (and some of you very busy people) hear what I'm saying here. I'm in a season of life that just doesn't allow for intense workouts. And I can either be okay with that and figure out another way to approach fitness, or I can beat myself up about not being as fit as before and accomplish absolutely nothing. I choose the former.

My goal at this point with fitness is simply to challenge my body enough to keep my cardiovascular and respiratory systems healthy, and to burn enough of the calories I eat to maintain a healthy weight. As I've mentioned before, I'm not interested in chasing someone else's ideal of a perfect body. I want to be fit and healthy, period. We spend a lot more time sitting and letting machines do things for us than our ancestors did, so I think it's important to use exercise as a way of finding balance. If I were Laura Ingalls Wilder, doing my wash by hand every Monday and cooking everything over a wood stove, I would not need additional exercise. But my reality is one of technological advances and excess calories available to me at every turn, so I need to supplement my normal movements with planned exercise. This frustrates me no end, but I feel like there's sort of a way around it.

I say "sort of" because on some days, we really can walk or bicycle to do our errands, and so that works out beautifully since we are able to get something done that needs doing and work out at the same time. (And by "we," I mean that I am doing the physical work and Zinashi is enjoying the ride.) Our main forms of exercising involve the stroller or the bicycle, and carrying the extra 35 pounds of girl definitely helps keep my fitness level up, with a fitness bonus when walking or bicycling uphill into the wind. If we don't have errands, we just do the walk or bicycle ride simply for exercise, and I have to live with my nagging feeling of wasting time. It's not wasting time if I'm staying healthy.

My goal right now is to be active every day unless it's an officially declared pajama day (officially declared by me). Even if it's a short walk, it's good to get outdoors, for both Zinashi and me. If we can't get outdoors, it gets a little tougher, but I'm working on what we can do. Zinashi thinks it's funny when I do workout videos, so we can put one of those on and she'll work out alongside me, but I need to accept that I will rarely make it through one without her needing something or laying on top of me during the abs section. With the goal being simply to be active every day, this makes me feel better about this. I no longer feel like a failure if I'm too tired to work out during her nap or need that time to take a break. Something is better than nothing.

My favorite exercise is the kind we do as a family. I really like it when we can take a walk together or bicycle somewhere fun. I used to use exercise as a way to get alone time, but since that's not an option anymore, I can change it to be productive in another way and to grow my relationships with both Jarod and Zinashi, and our relationship together as a family. This is a situation in which everybody wins.

Someday I hope to be able to return to working out alone, and specifically to running. But if that doesn't happen anytime soon, I'm okay with that. Zinashi will not be little forever, and her needs will not always be as intense. I'm more than happy to put my own overly ambitious fitness goals on hold to be present to my family and to the life I have now. I look forward to the "someday," but I'm also really enjoying the now.


  1. Hey Mary. I'm not one to boas about my fitness level but I want to pipe in on a few things. Having been in the sleep nightmare stages. That- can emotionally deplete you. It can/does sap you for every bit of mental and emotional energy you have. The stress begins to raise your cortisol levels and you may know what that can do to your body capacity- but it also greatly effects your brain. It starts to mess with your frontal cortex. Which is where logical thought and reasoning comes from. The only 'antidote'? RUN. I don't want to either- but it's that or literally lose my mind. Strap him in the stroller- give him the headset or keep it myself (much easier) and just run. It isn't the same. No. But it's the only thing to hold back the tide a bit. Good luck to you and beautiful girl!

  2. Shannon, I know that you are right, and there is honestly nothing I'd love to do more than to get out and run. Or, in my dreams, I would love to hop on a Stairmaster as soon as Zinashi's eyes shut. But Stairmasters are expensive, so I'm just aiming to hit a similar exertion level to running while on the bicycle (it really is possible with a wiggly kiddo on the back) and eventually get her to the point in the stroller where she doesn't go into panic mode when I don't answer her as soon as she makes a peep. (Oh, cycle of need and unmet need, why do you vex me so?)

    I have a feeling that when her sleep regulates, she'll be able to sit in the stroller without moments of panic, but for now...oh, well. I'll just keep wishing that someone will drop a Stairmaster off at my house.

  3. Hi Mary, I've been 'lurking' on your blog for ages now... time to comment! :)

    Do you ever do compound moves during your workouts? I take fitness classes geared toward new moms *with* babies in strollers & a lot of the moves we do target a couple of muscle groups at a time for efficiency. Some examples of what I mean: squats with shoulder presses (2-5lb free weights lifted in each hand), lunges with lat pulls using resistance bands.

    I find getting the resistance training in there is so important now that I'm lifting my son constantly & he ain't getting any lighter... 19 lbs & counting. :)

  4. Hi, Lisa! I'm glad you've come out of the shadows. :)

    I used to do all compound moves in my workouts when I did the Jillian Michaels ones, and they are very efficient and effective. The 30 Day Shred series is great for getting an intense workout done in very little time. I just don't have the patience or focus to get through it at this point. So basically, my resistance training right now is lifting Zinashi (about 35 pounds of pure love), the groceries, and various items I haul out of my basement to take to Goodwill.

  5. Try giving her a set of headphones and an old Ipod in the stroller?! If you can manage the big honking headphones that add a little pressure- oooh. You could be in for stroller walk heaven!! It sooommetimes works round these parts. It isn't a given... but sometimes is good.


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