Exploring exercise

(Life is a hectic beast – this was written last Monday but not completely finished and posted until today. )

Last year, I was in the position to be able to join a gym thanks to living on-res that gave me a discount to the uni gym. I’ve just recently joined a gym that’s local to our new place and having had my first BodyPump class in three months on Monday last got me thinking about what I’ve learnt about myself in this regard in the past twelve months.

Previously, I’d resisted doing such. I’m not a “gym junkie” or the type to “work out” a lot. I didn’t particularly like exercise or sports, to tell you the truth. Gyms and sports places were a bit intimidating to me. I had no idea of how to use equipment and no desire to spend hours of my time doing weights. (….I had some preconceived ideas of what gym would involve, let’s say.) I have thin privilege, so my diet and weight aren’t likely to be commented on or judged by random people. I am uncoordinated and lack spatial awareness though, and it takes me longer to learn motor skills (I need to do more reps, more often, to process and learn the skill). Sports were a challenge – I’m a bit better at individual sports, where I can go at my own pace (hello 2017 Clare, who tried out fencing), but it can still be a challenge.

Then I joined the gym. With the opportunity to have a fitness program created for me (they do that for everyone) and opportunities for regular reviews, I could go at my own pace and follow my own goals. I began to get a sense of what sort of exercises worked for me – and what didn’t. I developed my own routine and liked learning and tracking my exercises, seeing when I could progress to a higher weight for different ones.

After a few months of going one session a week, my uni timetable freed up slightly, so I decided to try some classes as well, free with the membership. The idea was to try a few then pick one or two and stick with them. Some I rejected almost immediately, others I liked and I found a rhythm with these as well. I like classes that are not too fast-paced, with enough oomph to make me work for the reps. Also, once I started with weights at the gym I discovered that I need my classes to have some form of a weight-bearing component or it feels wrong! Again, as with many things in my life, I found the “just right challenge” level for me and stuck with that.

Shortly after I began gym classes, uni began to grind on me. It was the middle of the project placement, and things were getting tough. I made sure to occupy my free time with gym and choir, so I had ways of getting all my pent up energy and frustrations out of my system. Here is where I discovered BodyPump and the gym benefits in earnest. When I arrived at a class, or in the gym room, I could stow my bag and either set up for class, or plug my headphones in and set up for a gym session. I’d leave my worries at the door and sweat it out to music (or a podcast, at the gym). My heart raced in time with the beat and I discovered how to move my muscles in ways I hadn’t thought possible for me before. Then, at the end of the class or gym session, I would leave – often with a smile on my face – more relaxed and more centred than when I came in. Having access to those facilities saved me from drowning under my work, I think, during that time. It released my emotions safely on days with deadlines, or when I’d had to have tricky conversations with project stakeholders. Everything looks better in the glow of endorphins after a class or session. 🙂

I didn’t realise it until later, but thinking about it, the types of exercises and class I chose were also helpful in other ways. While helping my mental wellbeing and increasing my physical strength, they also increased other physical capacities. They taught me – are still teaching me – how to know the position of my body in space and position it well to get the best out of it, for example. They also provide a regular source of what occupational therapists call “heavy work”, incorporating movement and weighted pressure (in the form of the weights) to help regulate the body. I need that in my life. Proprioception, deep pressure and vestibular input – my programs have them. Doing these exercises are good for me – and I plan on continuing. Here’s to trying new things and discovering benefits!

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