The Flaws of Forced Workouts

ForcedWorkout

Living an active life was a requirement in my household. Both of my parents took their health seriously, and my father was especially determined to instill these habits into us from a young age. His tagline? “With great power comes great responsibility and your health is no exception.” This took the form of weekly workouts, from runs to jumping jacks to cross training, and more. And I hated every minute of it. Literally. Every. Minute. However, by the time I was 23 and living the life of my dreams in a body I didn’t love, I pulled out those old rules, sighed, and took on re-cultivating an active lifestyle.

Luckily for me, I was granted access to some of the most intense and effective workouts. I began to swear by HIIT and circuit training. Somewhere between the dreaded first few minutes and the final sweaty circuit, I found myself starting to have fun. I felt strong and powerful in taking ownership of my body. And it was all the better when I had accountability partners and professionals cheering me on--plus, the endorphin high was incredible. The first few months I was a powerhouse. Regardless of my physical appearance, I felt better and stronger than I had in my entire life. But I was walking a fine line between being healthily engaged versus being obsessively engaged. Soon, I found myself ignoring the golden rule:  with a great workout comes great responsibility. By ignoring this rule, I learned some difficult lessons, and my body took the brunt of these lessons.

 

By ignoring this rule, I learned some difficult lessons, and my body took the brunt of these lessons

 

I didn’t find balance. I was addicted to the high, to the push, to the pulse of the class, to showing up somewhere that was just for me. I couldn’t get over how strong I felt, how great I looked in my activewear. I jumped from working out 5x/week because I felt good about working out 5x/week because I was afraid of falling back into old habits--I was afraid of failing. It fed into a vicious cycle. I wasn’t balancing my HIIT with proper rest, stretch, and recovery, so my body started to respond accordingly. I was under hydrating and my muscles cramped. I overloaded with heavy junk foods, piling on pasta, burritos, and comfort food in excess. I pulled muscles. I got shin splints. And rather than heed the advice of the experts around me, I pushed anyways. While I was able to avoid major external injury, my endorphin high actually started slipping because I was running my body into the ground. Soon enough I found myself back at square one, feeling just as miserable and guilty as I had before I started working out. It seemed the workouts had failed me--or rather, they were just giving me another platform of how intensely I had failed myself.

Cue the emotional excavation: Why was something that was supposed to make me feel good and better and healthy doing the exact opposite? The answer was simple yet difficult to face. My workouts had become a reaction to internalized self-loathing rather than the instrument to help me cultivate long-term health. I was perpetually running my body into the ground while expecting it to be able to run a marathon. Just when I thought I had totally failed myself and was ready to give up, I remembered the golden rule: With a great workout comes great responsibility.  

 

My workouts had become a reaction to internalized self-loathing rather than the instrument to help me cultivate long-term health

 

Rigorous physical activity literally involves working against gravity. It makes me stronger and faster, braver and better, but it also requires rest. It requires compassionate care for my body. An endorphin high is great, but it’s also an ephemeral thing. It gives you a glimpse into the kind of freedoms your body was meant to experience, which is why I chased it. But the basics of the chase--hydration, nutrition, warm ups, cool downs--are not negotiable. Loving my body responsibly and treating it with care is its own form of radical self-love. Balancing the heavy muscular burden of intensive workouts with Epsom salt baths and endless foam roll sessions allows me to live lightly—elevating me as a whole, happy, and healthy person—not just a workout junkie.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olivia Howard is a regular contributor to The Thirlby. She lives in New York.