When it comes to walking my talk, lifting heavy things is my weapon of choice. Working out is relaxing, fun, therapeutic and just a part of my lifestyle.
However, this isn’t always the case.
Depending on what “life season” I am in, working out regularly isn’t always the fun, easy, breezy, beautiful walk in the park one imagines it’d be.
Yup, not even for a fitness professional.
Let’s time travel to January 2016.
A job promotion, new gig with Equinox and an unprecedented volume of client work and job responsibilities were seriously killing my vibe. Not only was I on the verge of burnout, but I was trying to complete a Pilates apprenticeship, study for an exam, build a business, and compete for a powerlifting meet simultaneously.
Instead of thriving, I was crashing. I watched my endeavors and health slip through the cracks. I was barely sleeping, barely training, and spent more evenings crying in my kitchen than actually cooking in it. To top it off, my social life was spiraling out of control. I locked myself in my apartment for a month to get things done, then went a little overboard the following month with social events, client dinners and copious bottles of wine. Oops.
I kept pushing through exhaustion, stress, depression and major meltdowns (again, in the kitchen. Always the kitchen!) to achieve all my fitness, professional and personal goals.
Needless to say, exercise took a wee-bit of a back seat in my life.
By March, I had reached a new low. There was a perfect storm brewing and I could feel it at every turn. In an effort to maintain my “perfect” routine, I’d sometimes hit the gym at 10 o’clock at night.
As in, P.M.
At one point I had to ask, “Are my workouts ruining my life?”
What happens when our relentless pursuit of fitness (plus everything else) starts to hinder our ability to enjoy life? After all, exercise should liberate us to enjoy more not less. Yet time and again I see people that push for 100% compliance in their workouts and nutrition while also chasing perfection in relationships, career, finances, friendships….and so forth.
Unless you’re a competitive athlete, there’s no reason why life should revolve around training day in and day out. Achieving optimal fitness is an important goal, but chasing PRs or the perfect body should not dominate our lives when there is so much more to live for.
And you have a lot more to live for than six-pack abs and a 300lbs deadlift.
At the time, I refused to see it this way. Now my motto is “If it’s not working out, don’t work out.”
The ‘on’ and ‘off’ switch
I often hear people tell me about how life interferes with their fitness goals. Someone in the office might complain that they need to exercise but they’re simply too busy with work and social obligations to do so. On the opposite spectrum, we have diehard meatheads who will forgo every other form of human activity and pleasure in order to train, eat, sleep, repeat.
And these aren’t even Olympic hopefuls!
Both groups are in pursuit of different goals, yet they all need an “On” and “Off” switch.
Even professional athletes have an on and off-season. Competitive bodybuilders have a bulking season, lean out season and then a normal ‘I-can-stop-weighing-my-food-now’ season.
Strength coach Dan John refers to this cycle as the park bench and bus bench training seasons. When you’re waiting for the bus, you need that thing to arrive on time or else your day is screwed. But when you’re sitting on a park bench you give zero f*&%ks about what time a bus arrives. It might be a lovely Saturday afternoon and you’re dozing off on that park bench reading a book.
No matter what our goal is, we must adjust our training to match the seasons of our lives. Where many of us fall short is believing that achieving optimal fitness or a great body requires ‘bus bench’ workouts 365 days a year.
We need a park bench season and bus bench season. A time for discipline, focus and grind, and a time for leisure walks, active recovery and easy, maintenance exercise.
There needs to be a time for exploring new activities and hanging out with friends, and a time for dedication in the weight room and the kitchen.
There needs to be a season for living!
This summer was my bus bench season as I prepped for the Right to Bear Iron powerlifting meet. Now, I can take the park bench approach with fitness so I can “bus bench it” in my business instead.
Give yourself permission to live.
Continue to exercise and eat mindfully, but do so in a way that allows you to live your life fully and happily. Achieving optimal performance or strength or fitness is useless if you can’t use it for anything outside of the gym. Be consistent but don’t kill yourself all year long. When the season comes to jump back on the bus bench, you can do so knowing that you’ve taken some time off to rest, recover, and enjoy all the benefits that exercise brings to you. Which is, the freedom to live more joyfully.