I went to a personal trainer this week for a free consultation at my new gym, included as a perk of being a new member. Besides telling me that I’m at high risk for diabetes and asking when I last felt in shape, told me that I need to start lifting weights 6 days a week to start being fit. We went through the (really challenging) workout, and I was able to pass all the fitness tests but for one exercise, single-leg squats.
The after conversation involved him telling me my weaknesses and strengths, and some of the weaknesses he listed were things he initially said were good in the assessment (for example, my core strength, but then we all can take that to another level). I almost felt like I had to justify to this guy that the exercise I do do counts as exercise, and then I remembered that I owe this guy nothing. Then came the hard sell for personal training, because apparently, it’s not a real workout without a trainer there. He told me that I’m clearly fit and strong, even if nobody would guess that by looking at me (huh?).
Here’s the thing. I think that strength training is important. Now that I’m teaching yoga, I really do feel like I want to complement my practice with some resistance training in the weight room. I know that personal trainers can really help people achieve their goals, myself included. And I think that personal trainers, that is, well-trained ones with a solid knowledge base and credentials, should be paid well for what they do. But the trainer for me is someone who doesn’t have a set thing in mind for what I need to look like. It’s not someone who thinks that your goals have to be something, or else. Right now, my goals are to keep a fit body, make time to keep exercising during this extraordinarily busy season of my life, drop some body fat, and to take the pressure off of training for events because that’s energy I need to devote to my dissertation now.
So I don’t relate well to a fitness culture that implies that the only kind of exercise that’s a “real” workout is strength training. I don’t relate well to a fitness culture that makes it seem like running is the only kind of cardio that’s an actual workout. Or that these might be the only two “legit” options. I love cycling. I love swimming. I enjoy my long walks. And I love lifting weights. I love yoga practice. And anyone who says that yoga isn’t a strength workout should hang out in side plank for 10 breaths and reevaluate their perspective. And there’s some growing consensus that the best exercise is one you’re enjoy and one you’ll stick with.
What are we doing this for? Does the goal have to be 6-pack abs on the cover of Men’s Fitness? Do I have to be training for a marathon? It is necessary to always be triathlon season? Because I don’t want to tell my students that as a teacher. These are awesome things, but wouldn’t being fit for the rest of my life be nice? Wouldn’t making it to 60 and being able to touch my toes be nice? We’re living in a day and age where a substantial number of people don’t even walk 10 minutes at a time. I find this dichotomy interesting; so many of us are sedentary because it’s actually inconvenient to get exercise, even before doing the exercise, and yet our fitness culture pushes these extremes of what fitness “should” look like.
One day, my tune may change, and I may be working with a great trainer 3x a week and be shredded. Today, I’m using exercise as self-care; maybe that’s enough.And maybe, just maybe, something that reduces my stress, makes me calmer and helps me sleep better, without pharmaceuticals is a good thing, and it doesn’t have to be extreme. I’m more interested in making exercise a lifelong habit (4 years in August) and finding some sense of contentment in being able to do what I do, because I’m grateful for it. And as long as I’m guiding people in yoga class, I’m not going to tell them what their fit has to look like.
This is me. Like it or lump it.