Man leaping by Gözde Otman

What if We Looked at Exercising Differently?

This month and last month I have exercised nearly everyday. And in years past, this would have meant one of my mysterious attacks. Not this year. I’m not sure why.

I have leaned on activities I have always done—racewalking, indoor cycling, yoga, stretching and weight training. (The last one has been absent from my training for a few years, but I will speak to this at another time.) It makes me wonder about something I heard in an indoor cycling class:

Do what your body was built to do

—Christine D’ercole, Peloton instructor and competitive cyclist

Uttered by one of my favorite Peloton instructors, Christine, as she spoke of her fitness journey—from wanting to be a ballerina to becoming a bike racer. And in some ways, I could relate.

Like many little girls, I dreamed of being a ballerina. I studied ballet until I was in middle school and I had to prioritize my time between school, dance class and rehearsal for a performance. One day, I decided to skip dance class so I could complete my school work and then attend rehearsal. At the time, my new ballet teacher balked at my choice. It was then that I came to the realization that ballet probably wasn’t in my future. I was built to be a dancer, just not be a ballerina. I switched disciplines after that performance and I haven’t looked back since.

This isn’t the only time that I’ve looked at an activity and said, not for me. Running is the first that comes to mind. But it also is my white whale. I really want to run, but I find it so difficult and I find bouncing down the street annoying.

My distaste for running is how I started racewalking. I wanted to do a marathon; however, my 15-minute mile walking pace wasn’t going to be fast enough IMHO. After trying to start running on a regular basis, I decided to take a racewalking class with my local running club, the LA Leggers. I was hooked.

That was almost 20 years ago. In that time, I have racewalked one marathon and numerous half-marathons. Despite knowing my exercise comfort zone, I have decided to try and run once again.

So last week, I did a 30-minute run-walk and toward the end I thought I was going to throw up. But here’s the thing: I didn’t hate it. I actually kind of enjoyed it—thanks to a good playlist and a nice view from the treadmill. Afterward, I was a bit sore and my legs were tired, but I was entirely miserable. I’ll try it again soon and we’ll see if my body is eventually built to run.

All in all, it makes me wonder if we are missing the point of what physical activity should be in our lives. Exercise shouldn’t suck.

The founder and CEO of Outdoor Voices, Tyler Haney, recently told Guy Raz of How I Built This, that the name of the company comes from the joy of children playing outside and using their outside voices.

During a different Peloton workout, the instructor had us doing crab walks like you may have done when you were a kid and referenced that. She said, we could learn a lot for child’s play.

Research supports the notion that the more that you enjoy physical activity, the easier it will seem and the more that you will do it.

Why not view exercise as play—maybe our adult recess?

For me, exercise keeps me sane. It allows my mind to wander, be creative, and, depending on what I am doing, laugh at myself. Sure, there are times when I am competitive (mostly with myself), but that’s when Health Makes the Girl becomes my mantra. It quells the competitive, push-harder, be-faster drive that has fueled my fitness endeavors in the past. Bringing me back to the point to enjoy what I’m doing and make my body a bit stronger instead.

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