Against Every Fiber

One of the things I’ve realized helped me remain motivated to exercise was progress; to see how far I’ve come since first deciding that I wanted to be more fit.

It’s really crazy just how much difficulty I experienced trying to get started. I always knew the phrase, “no pain, no gain” but as someone who wasn’t accustomed to experiencing pain, the struggle was just too real.

Twenty-five Thousand Push-ups  – A serious lack of strength was the first problem I ran into when I finally decided I wanted to be more fit to help others. Since I was more focused on how I could help physically (moving or carrying things), strength was my main and only goal for quite some time. The problem with this though was that it seemed like to build strength I first had to have strength; kind of like how many internships seem to work. I couldn’t lift any of the available dumbbells, bench presses were out of the question as I couldn’t even move the bar, and I could barely manage a proper push-up. Frustrating, to say the least. Not only was fitness already something I had to change my habits and schedule to incorporate, but my body was also making it extremely difficult for me to even start.

100 Pushups LogSo how was I to start? I figured out that I could at least do several knee push-ups, i.e. girl push-ups, so that’s what I started with. I suppose this was where being light-weight was to my advantage. As I got used to it, I transitioned to normal push-ups which actually became my only exercise for over a year. It was just very convenient since I could do it practically anywhere and at any time. I also thought it was a great exercise to stick with because I felt that if/when I developed muscles more weight would be added to my push-ups thus giving me an exercise that naturally increased in difficulty as I got stronger. Now is that really how it works, probably not, but that was my mindset. When I got to a point where I was able to do 20 push-ups in a row I found this program called “hundred pushups” and made that my new goal. The program scheduled three sessions a week, with each session varying in the number of sets and reps, for 7 weeks, with the goal of getting you from doing a single push-up to 100 consecutive push-ups. Truth be told, I never reached 100 because I reset the program several times (couldn’t keep up), and when I got to college I went to the gym instead of doing push-ups. The highest I ever got was 75 consecutive push-ups and 280 push-ups during a single session; a total of 26,819 push-ups logged. Obviously, quantity of push-ups is not a great indicator of overall fitness, but still something I’m extremely proud of just because it shows how far I’ve come.

A Hundred Miles and Counting – Next up after strength was cardio. As my fitness improved, I became more and more interested in physical activities so naturally that meant I needed to work on cardio so I didn’t die from running for half a minute. Let me tell you, running was a thousand times more frustrating and awkward than having to do knee push-ups. For those of you who have ever had the misfortune of deciding to improve your fitness after a couple decades of inactivity, you’ll probably know what I mean when I say running made by body itch as if I was bitten all over by mosquitoes while suffering from chicken pox. No exaggeration. Damn I can’t even begin to explain just how irritating (pun-intended) the whole experience with trying to start running was. After only a couple minutes of sprinting, if I could even last that long before running out of breath, my body would spazz out on me and start itching like crazy. It was as if every fiber of my being was telling me to stop the madness and to just go back to being a couch potato. I never talked to my family or a doctor about it, but instead just did what everyone else did when they had questions; I Google’d the symptoms. It turns out it was pretty common among those starting out and that it was just because my body wasn’t used to the increased blood circulation. So I became more understanding of it, but it still didn’t change the fact that I had to stop running because it was physically unbearable how itchy I got.

Nike Plus Status July 22The itchiness made me stop trying to exercise altogether several times, but fitness was something I really wanted so I kept trying again and again to see if it would go away. I eventually realized that I could walk for much longer than I could run before my body started itching so that’s what I did instead. I walked for as long as I could last and each time I made it a point to try and continue for half a minute or so after my body started freaking out. As time went on, I was able to last longer and longer. Eventually I started adding in super short jogs to my walks, half a minute max. I got to a point where I knew how long I could jog before my body started itching so I just stopped before then and continued walking. Eventually that improved and I just kept upping the intensity and well, the rest is history. It wasn’t until this past March that I really committed to cardio, but so far I’ve kept up with it just about every week, minus finals week. Managed to go from 20’/mile to a record of 8’30″/mile, with a total of 120 miles logged. Still terrible time from the standard 5′ to 6′ that I hear people generally run, but as with the push-ups, lots of personal progress. And it makes me happy because now I can walk with my friends who live off campus without my legs feeling like they’re going to collapse haha.

Why I Started Working Out

As the category might suggest, I did start working out. I eventually found reason to overlook what concerns I had and have since been actively trying to improve my fitness.

I don’t think there was an exact moment when I decided I wanted to get fit. I know it wasn’t until the later half of senior year of high school that I really got going, but I had planned to exercise and work out before then. What gave me the push to finally overcome my apprehension over working out though was a feeling of helplessness. I’ve come to realize that one of the few joys I get out of life is being able to help others, and that was true even back then.

I remember always feeling so useless when it came to anything physical. Teachers always asked for help to move desks or carry boxes and while several students ran up to help out, I always just slumped down into my chair because I knew I wouldn’t have the strength to do anything. Every now and then statements like, “I need a couple of strong guys to help me with something” would come up and again I would just sit back. I’ll admit sometimes it just felt embarrassing, being so weak. You can probably imagine just how much fun I had during my P.E. class. But that didn’t really matter to me. As someone who was always weaker than his sister, who was only a year older, I stopped caring about those kinds of things a long time ago. What really killed me was just not being able to help.

So that’s what I used to drive and motivate me. If my reasoning for not wanting to get stronger were wheel locks then my desire to help was my fuel.

I was on and off for a while, but I can now proudly say that I’ve been consistently exercising for three years straight. I’m not exactly the poster child for fitness, but I feel like I’ve come a long way from before I started working out. And boy was it a rough journey.

What I’m really proud of though is the fact that I only started working out when I decided that the reason would be to help others. It wasn’t out of frustration, so that I would no longer have to bite my tongue. I can’t even count the number of times I would have taken a swing at someone growing up if I knew it would actually hurt them. It wasn’t because of ego, so that I was more able to fit in or to look good. And it definitely wasn’t because I was told to, despite many years of my parents and even extended family’s nagging – who all did so mainly because they wanted me to look better. I made sure I had full control of my temper and then held out until I had something of actual meaning and value to work for.

So that’s why I wanted to write this before documenting my fitness progress from here on out; I don’t want to lose sight of why I started working out. My exercising should simply be about fitness; a healthier life so that I can live long, and strong, so that I can continue to serve.

Why I Refused to Work Out

Since one of the activities I wanted to document with this journal was my fitness I’m going to first write about why I originally didn’t want to work out and why I finally started.

Fitness was something I didn’t really care about until my senior year in high school. One of my main excuses for resisting working out until then was my short temper. I grew up with a very short fuse and I was always wary of being set off. While I was calm my moral compass was operational, but once I was set off there was no telling what I would do. My fits of rage could mean anything from verbal lashings to those around me to physical thrashings to my surrounding. So to help minimize damage, I controlled what I could do; I made sure I was weak so that I couldn’t actually hurt anyone or anything.

This worked fairly well for me. As someone who was much more interested in computers than sports, and someone who apparently had great metabolism, it wasn’t that hard for me to remain scrawny. And because of my stature and lack of strength, I always felt weak. This forced me to learn to bite my tongue and to walk away from fights simply because I never felt like I could win, no matter who the challenger. Since I decreased the blast radius I was able to worry less about fixing the destruction I caused every time I was set off which allowed me to focus more on lowering the frequency of the explosions. It was such a breakthrough for me. I was always so frightened of the monster that I was becoming with each outburst; I just didn’t want it to continue. The decision to stay small, scrawny and weak was my way of outmaneuvering the monster and taking back some control of my life.

So that became my excuse for many years, even after I got to a point where I couldn’t even remember my last outburst. I lived a comfortable life and contrary to how others interpreted my physical appearance, I felt just fine. I just owed so much to that one decision I made that since I didn’t notice any major health problems, there was just no reason for me to change. So I didn’t, at least not until a more significant reason came along.