Not too long ago I came to a realization of sorts: I needed to get back to the gym. Admittedly there wasn’t a great epiphany or anything. There may have been echoes from my physical therapists, telling me that they “weren’t miracle workers,” in the sense that I had to do some work on my own, and my surgeon, once telling me that I needed to do some sort of physical activity or else I’d “end up in a wheelchair.”
I know what you’re thinking: talk about motivation, right? Well, my surgeon’s words worked for a while. After discussing a proper and effective workout routine at the gym with the physical therapist I had in college, I started to go to my school’s athletic center. Soon, in what I used to jokingly call “my prime,” I was waking up at 6am before classes to go to the athletic center three times a week. I continued and joined my local gym at home so I could exercise during school breaks.
Then, I didn’t go to the gym as often. After that, I didn’t go at all. I’m not so sure there’s an all- encompassing explanation for why. It might’ve been depression. It might’ve been the classic barriers like time, motivation, and resources. If I really wanted to figure out an answer, I might say it was a combination of lack of motivation and perhaps even lack of energy. I don’t mean to make excuses here, just being honest and factual, when I say that this local gym of mine is at least half a mile away. I would usually walk there and back. According to my current physical therapist, it takes way more energy for me to get from point A to point B than your average non-disabled person because of my gait pattern and other physical aspects of living with cerebral palsy. Fact of the matter was, I would just be so wiped out from the day-to-day that I wouldn’t make it to the gym.
In addition to my surgeon telling me I’d end up in a wheelchair if I didn’t exercise, he also once said I’d have to “work three times as hard as everyone else,” when it came to fitness. You would think that would’ve inspired me, but instead I just felt down and disappointed. I think that’s also why it was tough for me to stay motivated with my exercises. I felt like I was barely seeing progress, and so I would regularly ask, what’s the point?
….That probably sounds super depressing. Don’t worry, though, this post takes a turn for the better. Eventually I began to miss the benefits of exercising regularly, like how it would relieve my stress, clear my head, and boost my mood by a whole lot. So, I decided I would reincorporate exercising into my general routine.
I recently came across a great article from Nerd Fitness about how to construct an ideal, effective workout plan. Though I am aware that this article was not directed toward those with physical disabilities, I still thought that much of what was discussed applied to me in one way or another. For example, the first piece of advice Nerd Fitness gives in the article is to identify a goal. That seemed easy enough.
First I wrote down my desire to lose 10 pounds. I try to stay in a specific weight range so I don’t put a lot of stress on my legs and joints. It would make walking harder if I had to carry more weight around. Thus, that goal seemed sensible and smart. Despite that, though, I kept feeling like that wasn’t enough. It’s not that these weight loss goals don’t hold value or aren’t sufficient, because they most certainly do and are. It’s not that it wouldn’t be a positive thing to slim down a bit, because I know it would be, but…I knew I had to be truly honest with myself if I wanted to truly be back in that gym. So I set that first goal aside, picked up my pen and wrote down another one: “make my legs stronger.” It made sense to me. Yet at the same time, I knew that this goal might overwhelm me at times, because I might convince myself that it would be too lofty to achieve. How would I measure that? How would I know I was reaching my goal?
Since being honest with oneself is a common theme here, I realized that if I stayed in my head too long, I’d never return to the gym. After inadvertently finding out that my best friend is a member of the same gym as me, we exercised together. I built off of the same routine I worked out in college some years ago. I ended up loving it so much that I went back, this time alone.
In regards to the questions I ask myself constantly, this is an answer I’ve come up with so far: simply take it one day at a time. I do my best to keep track of my progress with a “Gym Log,” where I note the dates that I’ve exercised, the machines I used, sets/reps, weight, etc. That seems to help a bit. In terms of my confidence, I bet I’ll notice some kind of improvement sooner or later.