What I Learned from Working Out Three Times a Week

Back in September I stopped exercising. It wasn’t accidental or out of laziness. It was intentional. Froze my gym membership and everything. I’d decided I was not going to do any exercise for the next few months. Weird, right? Who actively decides that? But I needed a break from it. Not because I’d been going at it particularly hard. On the contrary, my workout efforts throughout the year had been unfocused and sporadic. So why the hell did I need a break?

Well, because I had been doing non-optional exercise for over two years. In October 2012 (fuck me that was a long time ago) I tore a ligament in my knee. This meant I could no longer play the sports I loved so much. It’s just a tiny bit of you, this ligament, buried inside your knee. But it gives you stability. Helps you stay upright when you slam one-legged into the ground and stuff. I had a year of physiotherapy to see if I could return to sports without surgery, then I had the surgery because no, and then I had another year of physio.

After my most recent experiment I talked about being ready to start working on other areas of my life now that I’ve got a handle on my diet. And I decided that the next big thing was exercise. The first 28-day experiment I ever conducted was also about exercise. I set the goal of exercising first thing every single morning. It didn’t work out (PUN!). I hated having to do it every day, and I had decided that so long as I did some exercise, that would count. So I found myself doing 4 pushups a day and calling it quits. Like, what the fuck is the point in that, eh? I figured out a few things about myself during that period, and that’s reflected in my latest exercise experiment.

The Experiment and What I Learned from It

For the past four weeks, I’ve been going to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to do a basic bodyweight workout. I’m following a set plan that I believe in. I go in the mornings, although not immediately. I give myself a bit of waking up time first, since one of the things I hated about my original exercise experiment was pulling my workout clothes on as soon as I woke up. I haven’t skipped a single session, and I am actually enjoying doing this. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. I Need a Specific Plan to Follow
I wonder how many people show up at the gym and just flounder around aimlessly, doing a bit of this and a bit of that. I was certainly one of those people. I’d have a vague idea, but I didn’t do circuits or even more than one set of my exercises. It felt pointless and like I was never really getting anywhere. This time around I’ve been following Nerd Fitness’s bodyweight workout plan and loving it. Each time I go, I increase my workout a tiny bit – adding one rep or one second to each exercise, or moving on to a more advanced movement. Small progress, but still progress, which feels awesome and worthwhile.

2. Tracking My Workouts Matters
Ever since I started logging my food back in August of last year, I have become a tracking fiend. Not only do I still record every single thing I eat, I also keep track of my bowel movements (you should know by now there’s no such thing as TMI on this blog), the basic flow of my days and, now, my workouts. If you don’t keep track, how can you know whether you’re improving?

So, before every workout I sit and jot down what I’m going to do that session. I alternate two different workout sessions, as per Nerd Fitness, so I already know what I’m going to be doing. I just need to write it down. This gives me something to reference for my next workout. Once I’ve completed a workout, if I found the exercise easy enough, I put a little ‘+’ next to it so I know to increase its difficulty next time.

3. I Need to Follow a Workout Plan I Believe In
Part of the reason I sucked so bad at my physiotherapy is because I didn’t really believe my therapist knew what was best for me. The fact that she didn’t give me a specific, structured plan to follow didn’t help, of course, but neither did the fact that she wasn’t specifically a sports physiotherapist. This is the National Health Service we’re talking about. Her goal was really just to get me back on my feet, which was easy enough. More advanced stuff was just not her priority. But I believe in Nerd Fitness. I agree with Steve Kamb’s beliefs around health and fitness, and I trust his guidance. Which makes following the plan easy. The thing is, I always think I know best. So if somebody hasn’t proven to me that they know better than I do, I’m not going to listen to them.

4. Following a Set Schedule Helps
Instead of saying I was going to work out three times a week, I decided to work out every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. No exceptions. This way I couldn’t make excuses like, ‘Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow.’ If it’s Monday, I’m working out. Ditto Wednesday and Friday. There’s no compromising. No umming and ahhing about which days to go on. The decision has already been made. And that works for me. It’s like with my diet: being strict makes it easier.

5. I Need to Put the Focus on Enjoying It
As a rebel, I find it incredibly difficult to make myself do things I don’t want to do. I know this about myself. That’s partly why I sucked at my physio workouts too, I guess. So instead of forcing myself to put my workout clothes on immediately, I lie in bed for a while. Have a cup of tea if I want. I wake up slowly. I have a 20 minute walk to the gym. My gym’s in a shopping centre overlooking the sea, so when I get there I head to Starbucks and grab a double espresso, which I then take upstairs. While I drink it, I look out over the sea and listen to music to get me pumped up. (Btw, the Attack on Titan soundtrack is fucking AWESOME to workout to. I’M PREPARING MY BODY FOR TITAN-KILLING.) After finishing my coffee and listening to a couple of tracks, I’m ready. I’m in the mood. I go do my work out. More importantly, I WANT to go do my work out. (Continue listening to the Attack on Titan soundtrack as I do so, obvs.)

6. My Identity is More Motivating Than My Goals
I don’t have any goals for working out. Well, okay, I guess that’s not true. I want to be able to do pushups again, and eventually I want to be able to do a pullup. But I don’t have timeframes or anything like that for my goals. Instead of focusing on goals, I focus on my identity – on being the person I want to be. This helps me a lot. I want to be somebody who works out. I want to be strong and have a functional body. It makes me a feel like a bit of a badass, and it makes the whole process a lot more fun.

7. Turns Out, I Can Work Out in the Mornings
Last year I claimed that working out in the mornings was not for me. Apparently I was wrong. The big difference this time around is that I believe in what I’m doing, I’m doing it on my own terms, and I actually want to do it.

I’m definitely going to keep up with this workout program. Honestly, I almost didn’t even bother counting this as a 28-day experiment, because I knew I was going to stick with it before I even started. But still, writing this up has given me more clarity on why this works for me, and hopefully it’s given you some inspiration too. I seriously recommend conducting your own 28-day experiments.

My Next 28-Day Experiment

Next up? I’m going to experiment with ‘cheat days’ in my diet. Last week I figured out that the Specific Carbohydrate Diet has already healed my guts. I’ll explain why when I write up this experiment’s results, but what this means for me is that I can now eat whatever I want and not get ill (this usually takes about a year’s worth of medication to accomplish).

But now I have to be extra cautious. Knowing I can eat whatever I want could potentially be bad news for me. I could easily slip back into my old ways, eating whatever the hell I want, which could lead to feeling like shit, having no energy, putting on weight, and maybe even having another flare-up of my ulcerative colitis. All bad things that I don’t want to happen. I don’t want to go back to my old eating habits, but I do like the prospect of indulging occasionally. Fortunately, I now know I can eat healthily, avoiding processed food and other baddies. So I want to test having a cheat day each week. Here’s the plan:

  • Cheat day will be Saturday. No exceptions.
  • On cheat day, I will eat whatever I want. Yay!
  • On Monday to Friday, I will eat strict SCD, but I won’t eat any fruit (which is allowed on SCD, but I usually end up eating way too much, which can, you know… make my digestive system move a bit too fast). This basically means I will just eat meat, vegetables, butter and cheese. Maybe a bit of peanut butter.
  • On Sundays, I will allow myself to eat fruit. A sort of SCD cheat day. This is because I know myself, and I am likely to be lax on Sundays (it is the weekend after all!). I don’t want to end up persuading myself that it’s okay to have two cheat days each week, so by turning Sundays into a different sort of cheat day, I hope to sidestep that issue.

And that’s it! My first cheat day will be this Saturday. I’ll report back once the 28-days are up.