There was a point in my life where I had boundless energy. I was a true morning person. I would wake up no matter what all bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to take on the world – or the gym. I used to go the gym up to four times a week, for nearly two hours at a time (this included stretching and freshening up to leave). I was hardcore. I loved the feeling of physically pushing myself, the upbeat fatigue I experienced after going hardcore that would actually make me feel kind of sleepy after the gym.
Never having been athletically gifted, especially in the team category, I enjoyed the gym for being my own personal competitive field – against myself. I went to my first traditional fitness gym in my high school when I was a senior. I no longer had to participate in team sports (a school requirement for underclassmen) but I still wanted physical activity. I remember going to the gym and sort of looking confused and being a little intimidated. Fortunately, the gym was not very well populated. This was a team sport centric high school where JV and Varsity teams were actually pretty massive with 2nd and, sometimes, 3rd strings. The gym not being that populated meant that I could figure out how things worked without any sort of anxiousness at looking dumb.
By the time I was in college, I had grown comfortable going to the gym and, except for taking fencing one semester, rugby in another (sweet jeebies – I saw a massive cornfed girl viciously cleat another girl on my team and I knew this was not going to be my sport), and the misguided idea of rollerblading on a very hilly campus (thank you natural extra butt padding), I was pretty much a gym rat. It was safe, I wasn’t in danger of hurting myself, and I fully controlled my surroundings and intensity of the workout. Plus, it made me feel accomplished. By the time I graduated college, and was out in the work force, the gym was a natural, non-negotiable part of my day.
For me, the gym was never just about physical fitness, it was about emotional release, letting go of stress, a time to process any thoughts, time to casually digest tons of fashion magazines and a place to physically challenge myself. I loved how I felt after the gym. I actually did not feel well if I took more than two days off from the gym. There was this sense of unease and anxiousness. So, imagine what it must have been like to not go for MONTHS! That’s what happened about two years ago when I started a new job.
At first I didn’t mind. I was officially unemployed after grad school and interning full time for quite a while, so I was just happy to be working a “real” paid job. So, the fact that it was going to be a rough couple of months starting out didn’t phase me. I had full confidence in myself that once things settled down I would get back into the gym without skipping a beat But that general sense of unease was always there. I was very aware of NOT being able to go to the gym. This wasn’t a question of bad time management. I really couldn’t go. I was working seven days a week for around 10-12 hours days, monday through friday, and about 5-7 hour per day on weekends. Oh, yeah and my commute was over four hours daily. (I never had any intention of moving away from the city, although people constantly brought it up because of how insane my commute was compared to theirs.) The camraderie and zanyness that comes out of people in the workplace was pretty addictive. It was actually a lot of fun believe it or not. It wasn’t just me getting heavier and sludgier feeling, getting by on only 4-5 hours of sleep on weekdays. Everybody else was too! So when the crazy work hours stopped and weekend work stopped, I thought I would naturally pick back up at the gym like NOTHING happened. HA!
When the first standard 8 hour workday friday passed, I thought I would wake up the next day like my usual self at 7am to go the gym. What actually happened was me too exhausted to get out of bed and saying screw it. The same thing happened on sunday. I promised myself I would start the next weekend and that I just needed to rest. When next saturday rolled around, I pretty much knew I WAS NOT going to the gym anytime soon. I recognized I was too physically exhausted. I went from sleeping an energizing 7-8 hour nights (before the job), to sleep-deprived, because I would get home after 10:30pm, need to dump my clothes, shower, and hit the bed to wake up at 4:45am to catch the 6:31 am commuter train out of the city. As to how I thought I was going to flit back to a 7-8 hour sleep schedule like no big deal after working those kind of hours and not sleeping for several months was off the wall.
It took me nearly two months of vegetating on my bed on weekends and sleeping 10 hour nights for me to actually build up enough energy to go the gym. And it was a non-impressive disaster. I did a lackluster, struggling, energyless 30 minutes on a stationary bike on the lowest setting. I think I easily spent another 20 minutes negotiating in my mind what else I could do that would not require a lot of effort. I left shortly after. I did not return the next day. For the next several months after that, I could only muster going once a week with a very uninspired cardio routine with no resistance. It was only after I no longer worked there that I started going back to the gym and slowly started rebuilding my fitness level. Fitness wise, I am very far from the person who got WINDED going up one flight of stairs at the old job. However, I am no where near the fitness level I was at before I started the old job.
Before I started that position, I was taking Barre fitness classes around four times a week, a masala bangra class once a week, roadrunners once a week – pushing the outer limits of my speed level and feel exhilerated and fatigued by it – AND going to the gym three times a week for my regular routine. Now, I can muster half the energy I had – which is still better than NO energy. With all that, the biggest change has also been the fact that I do need an energy BOOST. I never needed to rely on coffee, or caffeine, to get energy. I didn’t even really care for the stuff But I knew even with getting myself to the gym there was an issue about building up to the fitness level I missed. I felt horrible comparing my new fitness trough to my old fitness peak but I resented going “slow.”
I thought about all of the caffeine addicted girls at my high school who could not walk out anywhere without coffee or a can of Coke. I figured why not? I am not a fan of Coke or coffee, but I found a good substitute with espresso. Finding Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso cans were a lifesaver, and one can chugged 10 minutes before the gym is now part of my routine. Do I miss the fact that I didn’t need caffeine in my life to get me jump started at the gym? YUP. I feel a little sad about it actually. I hope my old energy level is something I can get back on my own eventually. But for now those little cans give me the necessary jolt I need to start at the gym the way I like it – super energized.
Advice? Be careful with what you think you are giving up because of work. I thought I was only sacrificing a few months of the gym, which I thought I could get back into really quickly, never skipping a beat. But that was not the case. I lost a lot more. I have not gotten back my old energy, old fitness level, or my old pant size back yet. I also think my sleep patterns got messed up. While some of it could be attributed to getting older, I know it was mostly the insane schedule I was keeping at the old job. I have no intention of doing that again.
*Yes, I jumped on the coconut water fad. This particular brand has no other fruit flavors and tastes very “green.” I sometimes bring a carton to the gym in the middle of a strenuous cardio workout. Is it necessary? Eh. I get a box sent about every 2 months. Not necessary but it does make me feel like I am being healthy….