What They Didn’t Tell Me About Getting In Shape

Exercise is hard. That’s a conclusion most people come to without much effort. With the luxury of modern day living comes freedom from physical labor as a need for survival. Most people in today’s western societies get the option of a fairly sedentary lifestyle. It should come as no surprise, then, that most people find it hard to get in shape – in reality, the majority of us have no need to.

So getting in shape is hard, and it always will be. Personally, it’s always been hard for me to convince myself to go out and run, or go lift some weights. It’s a struggle that’s gotten a lot easier since I got into college. When you’re around people who are active (or if you have the bad judgment to enroll in a 7am weight training course) It’s a lot easier to motivate yourself to get in shape. I was really surprised, though, to find that beyond the simple struggle of just getting to the gym, there are a lot of things they don’t tell the newbies about the path from unfit to fit.

The first thing I noticed when I started working out was how tired I felt all the time. You think to yourself “Hey, exercising is going to give me so much more energy to do things!”. No. No, It doesn’t. Not in the beginning at least. Workouts would leave me feeling exhausted rather than energized. All that new stress on your body really starts to wear you down. It takes a long time for your body to readjust, especially if you go right from a sedentary lifestyle (working a graveyard shift) to an active one. It doesn’t last forever, but it can be discouraging in the beginning.

Your hands are also going to suffer. Especially if you’re lifting. After several weeks of lifting weights I started to develop huge callouses on each finger. All that tension against the skin really does a number on your hands. I started to feel like some sort of thick fingered dwarf from middle earth. If you’re especially crazy like I am, you pick up an adventure sport like climbing. All those new callouses? Yeah… those got torn off each time I lost my grip on the wall. After a while my hands started to look like this:

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Pictured above: not my hands (image credit: http://therxreview.com/review-climb-on/)

Gauze is your best friend in this case.

If you started running get prepared for this or worse on your feet as well. Blisters from hell my friends. After a 5 mile run; your shoes rubbing against your feet, you are not going to be a happy camper. It takes time to build up those callouses to the point where you don’t have to worry about them anymore. Get ready for several months of sore extremities.

While we’re on the subject of soreness, expect a whole bundle of sore muscles. Sometimes I’d be sitting in class and raise my hand to answer a question: WHAM! next thing I know my shoulder is in intense pain. Why? Oh yeah, I just did shoulders and traps in the gym yesterday. Soreness will rear its ugly head in weird everyday situations, and not just in your run-of-the-mill muscles either. Look forward to your first leg day. I was limping for a solid 36 hours afterwards!

One of the weirdest things though is the crazy side affects. Beyond soreness, sometimes an intense workout will do all sorts of strange and unnerving things to the body. Once (after a combo pecks and running day) I found that my vision was so screwed up that I couldn’t even see straight for about an hour. Something about all the stress I was putting on my body must have put a lot of pressure on my eyes – the whole world was out of focus all the way through my post-workout breakfast. Another time, after some vigorous cardio, I kept getting sharp little chest pains that took several hours to completely fade away. These type of things can be scary. Unfortunately, I’ve also been told they’re not all that uncommon.

You should also expect yourself to puke a few times. This is a given, and there’s really just no way around it. When I was in high school (and in shape) my coach used to tell us “pain is just weakness leaving the body!”. After I threw up at practice once, he told me I had done a good job, presumably because I was getting rid of a lot of “weakness”. Putting your body through that much stress can have some unfortunate consequences.

It’s not all bad. I don’t want to act like there aren’t any benefits, because there are good things that happen too – even if they were a little unexpected.

Beyond the obvious (big muscles, slimmer waistline), there are some pretty cool perks too. When you start working out, you are making you’re muscles more efficient. But, you’re not just making it easier to lift things, you’re also making your organs work better and your internal cycles feel the difference. I was completely not expecting that things like my diet and my erm… ‘daily bowel activity’ would be changing as a result of the exercise I was doing. In a lot of ways, this was a good thing. My body started to regulate itself better. I started getting better sleep. I was able to eat more. I had more regular bowel movements. It’s gross, but it really does make your body more efficient in more ways than one.

On that subject though, you’re going to be draining a lot of toxins from your body in a fairly short amount of time. It’s a good thing, but getting rid of them is… uncomfortable to say the least.

Getting in shape wasn’t all roses and buttercups, but it was definitely worth it. Now that the big changes to my body have happened, I feel a lot better. I’m more focused and I have more stamina. Getting in shape has allowed me to pursue adventure activities like climbing, and have more energy after a long day to get things done.  It’s still a struggle to improve. I think the zero-to-hero stories are less common than the fitness trainers would have you believe, but getting in shape is certainly a wild ride. At least, it was for me.

The takeaway is this: shifting into an active lifestyle is weird, uncomfortable, gross, and physically and mentally exhausting. Does this mean it’s not worth it? absolutely not. Just don’t be surprised if you get the shits after a long run. Pro-tip – invest in talcum powder and spandex. the chaffing is not fun!

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