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.
Originally published on July 7, 2021.