Over a year ago, when the world was shut down and uncertainty pervaded our daily lives, I quit both my Orangetheory and YMCA memberships. I figured that it was a waste of money to pay monthly fees when both gyms were closed and likely would not return to normal in the near future.
At the time, I was also three months into my training for a marathon scheduled to take place in May 2020. When the marathon finally announced its cancellation, I stopped training. I went from running every day and squeezing in regular lifts at the gym to being stuck without any motivation to run or workout from home.
After a week or two, I became so restless being at home that I knew I had to start exercising again. I began to get out of my rut by finding entertaining workout videos online. I realized that I needed this release to break up the monotony of the day and to de-stress since my routine had completely turned upside down.
In this way, I began to see working out as a way to relieve the tension of being stuck at home in this new reality. I walked around my neighborhood and did weekly yoga via Zoom. Some days, I simply took a break.
After a while, I noticed how the pandemic had changed my outlook on how I defined “working out.” Previously, I’d focused on training for a big race, improving my body image, or simply just hitting a goal, but during the pandemic, working out became a way to find energy, peace, and movement during static, monotonous days.
With the world beginning to regain normalcy, I still haven’t rejoined my gyms, but I do consider these three important questions now before I workout:
1. What type of release do I need today?
Some days, I am upbeat, enthusiastic, and ready for a challenge: a HIIT circuit or a long-distance run where I am changing speeds constantly. Other days, general fatigue or the stress of my job and relationships leave me simply needing a familiar jog or walk around my neighborhood, where I don’t have to think or plan.
I know that I need camaraderie or someone to push me, so I’ll occasionally ask my partner or a friend to join. Constant Zooming while working from home also puts a lot of strain on my neck and back, so sometimes I know yoga is all I need.
Before the pandemic, I’d usually schedule my workouts in advance because I was training for a race. Now, I let the day take its course and listen to what my body needs at that moment.
2. What’s my goal for today?
The pandemic also made me realize that I often focused my workouts on weight loss or stress relief. When the world came to a halt, it seemed way less important to be so consumed with burning calories from a dessert at lunch or channeling all my stress into one activity.
When my marathon was cancelled, I had to refocus. I began to think about the reasons why I loved to run, the reasons why I loved to train. It was because I wanted to perform well.
Now that my race was taken away, I had to find other reasons to motivate myself to get moving. Why else did I want to workout? I asked myself. One reason was to gain strength so that I can always be able to take care of myself and my family.
So, I incorporated more strength-building into my routine. Some days, my goal was to just listen to a podcast while I worked out, meaning a nice long run was perfect. Often, my goal was simply to get my mind into a meditative state. This was when I chose to do yoga or take a walk. Once I took more time to think about my goal for that day, choosing a workout became easier. I also enjoyed the variety!
3. How can I get the most out of this workout?
In a gym, the music is blaring, other people are around, and there’s a greater sense of motivation and energy. This was NOT the case at home.
In my small apartment, I often worried about making too much noise for my roommates or neighbors, or I just felt constrained by my small bedroom. I had to find ways to make sure I wasn’t just going through the motions. So, I started working out outside. The sunshine, space, and fresh air helped me feel more motivated.
Other times, I recognized that my body was just way too exhausted to work out. On those days, I gave myself permission to rest so I could get more out of my workout the next time.
Now, I’ve continued these habits by intentionally taking time to pause and check in with myself before I go on autopilot and head out for a run. When I do this, I realize that I need to eat first so I’m nourished, or wait until my body is done digesting, etc.
Thinking about what my body needs for a particular day is a gift that the pandemic gave me, and a lesson that I am going to take into the rest of 2021. Before, I felt pressure to always squeeze in a workout no matter how I was feeling. Now, I ask myself centering questions that help me determine what I really need.
In a way, quitting my gym membership during the pandemic taught me to craft my own personalized workout schedule based on the needs of my mind and body.