How I balance life with training

In a recent post, I talked about how I have turned exercise from a form of self-punishment into something that provides me with containment, self-care, and encourages self-love. That transformation did not come easily, and there were several things I learned in the process. I’d like to share with you the most important lessons I have learned so far.

  • I pick a sustainable schedule for my lifestyle, including times of the day and days of the week, and stick to that. Even if all I can muster on the day-of is showing up and stretching, I stick to it. If I find that I consistently am unable to stick to that schedule, or it’s burning me out, it’s not the right schedule for me. I’ve discovered that some of the best gains are had with a 3- or 4- day a week schedule because I have time to recover (that’s where the muscles are made anyway).

  • If I wake up in the morning feeling headachey, sick, stressed out, exhausted, or starving, I take a day off. I eat well and abundantly. If I have a food craving, I satisfy it. I stay in bed instead of go to the gym. I take an epsom salt bath. If I can, I go for a walk in nature. I go to analysis if it’s scheduled. I write. I take it slow and easy. I eliminate extra things in the day like social events and errands that are unnecessary. I drink lots of water and consume sodium. I drink electrolytes. I have learned that this is what overtraining feels like in my body, and it is communicating to me that I am over-doing it.  I have learned how to listen to that message and take it seriously.

  • If I don’t “feel like” going to the gym, I go anyway. I train anyway. *This is a different feeling than the overtraining feeling of actually being sick and headachey and starving. The “I don’t feel like it” is more of an emotional experience than a physical one, though it may have physical manifestations. It has taken me YEARS to figure out the difference, but now that I know, I am always honest with myself about which feeling it actually is and respond accordingly.

  • I remember the long game. If I am actually training for a competition, I commit in advance to an exercise and recovery protocol with my coach who works specifically with me to track my body’s response to my program. If there is no competition, I am not training: I am exercising. Exercising is for well-being and health and to support everything else in my life. Showing up at the gym becomes about building on something for the long haul. I remember that if I lower my intensity but keep showing up, my work will accumulate and I will have more strength and skill down the road.

  • The number one thing for me as a Masters athlete and as someone with a very stressful job is to prioritize recovery. I keep a workout schedule that gives me built-in days off to rest so my body can make use of the work I’ve put in. A consistent couple of days off can do wonders for my long-term health and my performance at the gym.

  • This also includes eating. If I’m training for a competition, I do my best to keep my diet abundant with plenty of protein, a variety of carbs, and my favorite fats to keep me satiated and to keep the food delicious. I do my best to cut out most alcohol and sweets and chips unless I am in a position where the craving is sending me a message about giving myself what I need. I don’t see cravings as bad. I see cravings as a communication that I am not getting enough of something. IT IS OKAY TO HAVE ENOUGH. On this note, I take the time to food prep once a week so that I have a better chance of feeling like I always have enough. This feels to me like a form of self-love: To provide myself enough of what I need.

For me, over time and trial and error I have found activities and sports that I enjoy and will keep putting the work into. Sometimes I go through cycles: Swimming in the summer, squatting more in the winter, more CrossFit in the spring, a couple of weeks completely off in the dead of winter. There are so many things to do with your body! I’ve learned that what you love and enjoy may change as you change and grow. It’s an ever-evolving relationship with movement and your body. Soak it up as best you can while you can.

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Sometimes, for those of us who drink, a beer is absolutely necessary. Pictured: A beer with a large foam head next to the book “Killers of the Flower Moon”

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