Like some — alright, many — I've been determined to work out to lose weight. Intense training and rigorous diets have been fads in my lifetime, but in recent years, my motivation to hit the gym has shifted quite significantly. The sort of transformation I'm currently after is conditioning my body to feel good through strength training and mobility exercises.
Something happened to my body after a few years sitting at a desk when working full-time — it started shutting down in bizarre and unexpected ways. At 22, I had nausea-inducing pain shooting through my back. There were days I would have to kneel at my desk, as ridiculous as that sounds, just to avoid it. After a few months in physical therapy, I graduated only to experience a neck issue creep up. Wrapping a heating pad around your neck only works for so long. PT helped yet again, but then my hip started acting up. Then my foot. It was as if I were playing a game of tag with my nervous system, and enough was enough. At 31, I made it my mission to rid myself of chronic pain and those repeated trips to the PT. It was around this time that I ran into my neighbor Derak Glover, who's a certified trainer. He introduced me to two effective habits that have helped me hit the gym regularly to eradicate pain and stress-related injuries.
The first is a mental workout, called The Five Second Rule by Mel Robbins. The rule, according to Mel, is as follows: "If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it." This can apply to literally anything in your life — whether it's getting up as soon as your alarm clock goes off, stretching when you wake up, going to the gym, or finishing that work assignment instead of watching Netflix. Usually, when we "don't feel like it," whatever "it" might be, we don't do it, even if it's in our best interest. The Five Second Rule is sort of the antidote.
For me, I knew I was inconsistent with stretching and foam rolling in particular. I'd wake up and feel tight, and instead of taking the time on a mat, I would jet off to work. When at the gym, the excuses would continue. I'd say to myself after lifting weights, "Oops. Look at the time! There's no time to stretch and foam roll today." That went on for years until it became second nature. That's when the injuries started to play out. Being pain-free meant I would need to apply The Five Second Rule every day to land myself on the stretch mat.
What's incredible is this shift of priorities has enabled me to become stronger. I can lunge and squat more deeply. I can crunch a little higher.
This leads me to the second habit. Derak explained that it's critical to take care of your fascia, the stabilizing, connective tissue that wraps around muscles, bones, and joints. So much attention is placed on muscle building and fat loss, and yet, if fascia is tight rather than soft and fluid, it can lead to pain, limited mobility, and injuries. Ding ding ding! That seemed to be my issue exactly. It was my wake-up call to prioritize this above all else at the gym.
Here's how it's played out. For the last year, I have been going to the gym four to five days a week for at least an hour. I begin with at least 30 to 40 minutes of stretching, foam rolling, trigger-point release, and simple movements called 3DMAPS that are designed to break up fascial tension. Then, depending on the time I have remaining, I complete a workout, which may include weightlifting, Zumba, yoga, or Pilates. What's incredible is this shift of priorities has enabled me to become stronger. I can lunge and squat deeper. I can crunch a little higher. I feel freer in my movements. Dare I say, I feel as good as I did as a 16-year-old? Life is now pain-free for the most part (other than occasional muscle soreness).
If I miss more than two days at the gym, my foot begins to cramp up, my hip starts to seize, and all the tell-tale signs that my fascia is begging for attention start to show up. So before I have five seconds to talk myself out of it, I pull myself out of bed, lace up my sneakers, and head straight to the gym. I want to continue to thrive in this body for the long run, and to do that, I know it takes an ongoing commitment, one day at a time.