What I've Learned (And Re-Learned) About Working Out

Somewhere around mid-March I knew I was making progress. I rose out of bed in my underwear to greet another morning of kid-food preparing, dropping off and picking up. Groggily looking over at me, Kate (official wife of Dad Stuff) sounded a startled tone

“Honey! You look pretty good.”

In late November, I’d decided one thing I wanted for Christmas. I wanted to start some form of exercise where I could fight something (or somebody). After reconciling that fighting with other people was perhaps a bit too much of a leap for someone accustomed to staring at a blue line, avoiding human contact at all costs, I settled on a cardio kickboxing gym in Jersey City.

I quickly became addicted to “CKO”, so much so that I now go every weekday (unless traveling). Days off sink me to into a slight depression, as I hanker more and more for doling out punishment to a heavy bag.

On the course of that journey, I’ve reflected a lot on what this new routine has taught me, and also what it reminded me. Here, in no particular order are my biggest personal revelations:

  1. Regular exercise is good for your mood- As I’ve discussed in various other posts, I have bouts of both depression and anxiety. Exercise has not “cured” me of either but it has considerably smoothed things out. However, this smoothing is dependent on a number of other factors including:

  2. You have to enjoy it. One day in class I broke into a broad smile. I was punching and kicking across from an instructor who was just “one of us” that day (more on that later). He looked at me quizzically. Afterwards he questioned: “What are you so happy about?”. That moment I broke into a smile was the first time I had gotten some honest enjoyment out of exercise for nearly a decade. But also

  3. No expectations in my luggage. There is something paradoxical that happens as you develop skill at something. In this case, I was a complete neophyte, which has been a tremendous advantage. I have basically no expectations for how I will “perform”. I simply show up and do the work. I remember this feeling when I was growing up swimming. I was terrible in the beginning but it was kind of fun to be terrible. You always had a ton of room for improvement, and that was pretty fun. At some point, things flipped and I began to carry the heavy weight of expectations to everything I did.

  4. I realized my level. One thing that was stressed to me when I started was that I not feel pressure to do anything exactly as instructed. If I was told to do 10 pushups and couldn’t complete it, no sweat. If I needed a break, I could take a break. What mattered was that I did as many pushups as I could do, and took a break when I really needed one. I’ve often fallen into the self-destructive pattern of punishing myself for “failing” the instructions of some coach or instructor. I managed to stop

  5. I got more energy. Something simple holding me back was that I was exhausted. Between a baby at home and anxious thoughts, I wasn't sleeping that great. I felt pretty tired on most days. Initially the workouts were really tiring. After a little while, I actually found I had more energy than before. Another simple caveat here: I’ve stuck pretty hard to not completely destroying myself in any given workout. I work hard, but not so hard that I start the next day feeling worse off than the one before it.

  6. I got “more” time. When I’m home, I basically have 5.5 hours of the day in which to get everything I “need” to get done, done. These are the hours that baby Jake is in daycare. By committing to this exercise, I’m lopping 1.5 hours out of that total daily. Again, before starting my expectation was that I already didn’t have enough time to get all my “stuff” done. However, recently I’ve noticed that I often can finish my task list faster, even with time to spare. Huh.

  7. Take your own medicine. I’ve talked this talk quite a bit in my coaching career, but not always walked my walk. Above I cited the example of an instructor working out side by side. I realized that it made a huge difference for me. Here was a person who was walking their walk. They weren’t just giving the workouts, they were doing them, because they believed it was a productive use of their own time.

So, aside from my enhanced underwear look, I’ve found a lot of other benefits to regular, pretty vigorous exercise. There’s always time to learn, and re-learn, something new.