My Month-Long Fitness Challenge

While most of the country was taking part in No Shave November or Movember events (both great causes/efforts by the way), I decided to set a month-long fitness goal for myself: I would get to the gym to work out EVERY SINGLE DAY in November. I have a gym membership and a trainer (once a week), but by no means would I consider myself a gym rat, fitness fanatic or even “athletic.” I’m a 50-year old gal who is in relatively good shape but doesn’t live and breathe a fitness lifestyle. I know the “athleisure” attire that makes up the bulk of my non-work wardrobe fools no one.

I knew the hardest part of this endeavor would be simply getting myself to the gym— consistency has been my downfall in most fitness ventures. Anything from bad weather to soreness from the last workout to the perennial classic, “I don’t have time today” always used to make it seem perfectly okay to skip a workout. On top of all those things, I have been injured (bursitis in my hip, as well as plantar fasciitis that’s finally waning) since early October…see what I mean about the excuses? Anyway, I got past it all and did manage to finish my challenge—and I wasn’t crawling out of the gym on the last day, either. I was victorious, and though it doesn’t seem all that important given everything going on in the world today, it was important to me to prove to myself that I’m not a marshmallow, and that I can improve steadily if I give myself the time and tools. So, here’s what it looked like week-by-week, just in case any of my ideas are useful if you want to set up some sort of fitness challenges of your own.

Week 1: Planning and Accountability

You know that determined, I-can-conquer-the-world feeling you have at the beginning of a project or challenge? Yeah well, I didn’t really have it. In fact, I had been going to the gym for several days in a row before November even started, so I entered into it already sore and ready for a day off! However, I did have a secret weapon—my husband, who is always encouraging and usually goes to the gym with me. If you plan to try your own challenge, find a like-minded buddy to join you. Then, though I hesitated to do so because I knew once the cat was out of the bag it was going to be mighty hard to cram it back in, I went ahead and told people what I was doing—my Facebook friends, my “real life” friends and my kids. Someone would call me out if I got lazy. For some more motivation, I made a month of appointments (one per week) with a trainer at the gym. For one workout per week I had someone else put together the circuit—sometimes that felt like a gift (thinking of a month of full-body workouts isn’t easy.)

Oh, one more suggestion: get a back-up bottle of ibuprofen.

Week 2: Fatigue, Hunger and Blessed Sleep

The second week brought a general body tiredness that only abated when I soaked in our hot tub (yes, I know how lucky I am). My hip hurt pretty much every day, despite having modified my workouts to avoid aggravating it, and despite getting some physical therapy for it. On top of that, my appetite was increasing and I fought hard to maintain control when my body seemed to be screaming for things like pizza and banana bread. I gave in on both of those things, but still managed to not completely overdo it. On the plus side, I was sleeping like a baby each night.

As far as the actual workouts, I had asked the trainer to teach me to bench press and deadlift using the standard 45-pound bar setup. So I’d practice one of the lifts with her and then she’d set up a circuit for me to do (usually including things like kettlebells, hand weights, battle ropes, some ab exercises, and bodyweight exercises like burpees and lunges). When I started with the trainer I could barely bench press the bar five times—and that was with no weights added to it! I tried not to judge myself and remember that everybody starts somewhere. My deadlifts were awkward; I was trying too hard and just couldn’t get my body to do it correctly and smoothly. Again, I considered it a work in progress.

My trainer sessions were only 30 minutes long, once a week, which meant the other 6 days a week I was on my own to devise circuits and get some cardio in. Typically my workouts lasted 45 minutes plus a little stretching at the end. It wasn’t as big a time commitment as I always had imagined, and the gym is very close to my house (I highly recommend that if possible). I kept at it, with the encouragement of my husband, who reminded me that if I think I can’t do it, then I probably won’t. My “I don’t think I can do this” approach wasn’t helping me. The trainer agreed. I made every effort to stop the negative self-talk and just try to push through.

Week 3: Good Stuff Happening

By the time week 3 was in swing, I was feeling more confident in my weight lifting abilities; my form had improved as had my comfort level, although I still couldn’t lift much more than when I started. Instead of focusing on that, I was focusing on increasing the number of times I could press or lift the bar. It definitely was easier and I had worked up to 3 sets of 8-10 for bench presses and the same for the deadlift (I was able to add 20 pounds to the bar for the deadlifts). I also learned some new exercises, which was helpful for staving off routine.

My appetite decreased quite a bit this week (probably because of the medication I was taking for my hip), so my weight went down, my clothes felt looser and everything was just generally feeling better. I happily crossed off more days on the calendar. I was more than halfway through. Even the gym management had caught on to my No-Skip November. I had my eye on the “Most Inspiring Member” award that the gym does each month. Basically it goes to whoever shows up the most days. And, I wasn’t just showing up; I was working hard each time. I made it known to my trainer that I intended to see my name on that poster at the front door for November!

Week 4:  Digging Deep…and Thanksgiving

The bloom was definitely off the rose by week 4. November was even a short month; how could 30 days take so long to finish? The hip felt better (not perfect), so the trainer had me putting a bit more emphasis on strengthening my legs, which had certainly lost some strength over the summer of sore feet and during the bout of bursitis. Again, mixing up my workouts became something I actually put thought into so that I wouldn’t get bored and wouldn’t overtax my injured spots. The trainer was great at giving me ideas and we mixed everything up at each session so it kept it fun. Still, the lack of a rest day had caught up to me—I was so tired.

Although I didn’t skip any days (even went on Thanksgiving morning, when I was surprised at the large number of other folks there trying to work off their stuffing and pie ahead of time), on two days I really just did half an hour of cardio and then took time to thoroughly stretch and roll out my legs with a foam roller. Those were my rest days I guess. Of course, the day after Thanksgiving arrived and silly me stepped on the scale. There it was—the revenge of the stuffing, squash and pie. I almost cried when I saw that the weight I had lost had returned. As a dietitian, I knew it was not possible for me to have gained back the 4 pounds I had lost just from one day of eating, and I knew I should avoid the scale after a particularly carb-heavy eating day (hello, water-weight gain), but I did it anyway and it put me in a funk that lasted throughout my workout. Nevertheless, I still did the workout and then avoided the scale for the rest of the weekend. Problem solved, moving on.

Last Day: Pride and Relief

Today was my last workout day of the challenge (an 8 a.m. session with the trainer). I bench pressed the 45-pound bar like nobody’s business so she added 10 pounds. It was harder, I could only do 3 presses and then had to rest a bit and do three more. She added five more pounds and then I could only do one, then rested and did one more. I daresay that if I had had a rest day yesterday I could have done better, but that’s okay. There’s always next month to get better at it. The rest of the session flew by and I got my usual high-five and also a “congratulations” on reaching my goal. Now we’ll see if I get my name on that darn poster near the gym door… I can’t wait to take a day off of the gym; I know my body needs it (and my physical therapist advises it), but I’m worried about losing my newly formed gym “habit.” As I turn the calendar page over to next month, I resolve to think of a new fitness challenge for the month ahead—one that is doable and will keep me feeling strong and competent…but also allows for a few rest days (not excuses days).