Progress isn't linear.
The saying applies to fitness just as much as it applies to school. It applies to your career, your work place, your relationships, and quite literally anything that you’re trying to progress in.
The phrase resonates with me in a few different aspects, but recently it’s applied to my fitness regimen. Some of you may know, others may not, but for the majority of 2016 I took a break from my workout routine. At first, I made the decision to slow down on my workouts because I was exceptionally busy at the start of 2016. I went to school full time and was working on finishing my last semester of college. I worked at two different gyms as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, as well as working with clients online, all which equated to about 50+ hours of work per week. My personal health and workouts declined because of it.
As the first few weeks of 2016 went on, I quickly became exhausted, both physically and mentally. When I found free time, which was scarce, the last place I wanted to be was the gym. When I would workout, my workouts were struggling. I had no passion for the gym, I had no energy to workout, and ultimately it felt like I was defeated. Was fitness no longer going to be part of my life? What if I can never regain the motivation I once had to workout?
As the weeks rolled by, I decided to take a break from the gym. Part of the reason was due to mentally struggling with depression and anxiety. Another reason was due to injuries. When you lack sleep (which I certainly was at the time) and you’re stressed, you put yourself at a very high risk for getting injured. Alas, it caught up with me. My scoliosis was acting up and causing severe back pain and I ended up tearing my quad when showing a client how to squat. I was out of the gym and I was terrified.
In May, I graduated from college with a B.S. in Psychology and I moved to Colorado, a dream of mine that I had since I was 8 years old. Life was looking up! The struggle of the last 6 months was finally coming to an end, right?!
In Colorado, there were very few gyms available, and the ones that were, were completely out of my price range. I started working out in my garage with little equipment and made the best of it, however I was only lifting once or twice a week, when I ideally wanted to lift 5-6 days a week. This was a mental struggle for me because I felt lost and confused and didn’t really know where I fit into the “fitness world”.
I began doing activities outside and enjoying the scenery that was around me. I climbed mountains, went on hikes almost daily, dipped my toe into mountain biking and snow shoeing! I found joy in areas of fitness I never thought I would be fortunate enough to do. I focused on getting outside everyday, and used my lifting to supplement my hikes, rather than hikes to supplement my lifts. For the first time in my life, I was actually enjoying cardio (coming from someone who despises it).
By being outdoors, I found my passion for fitness again. I didn’t dread lifting in a garage gym, but rather looked forward to it. I didn’t dread taking my dog on a walk, but was excited about it because I could see the leaves changing colors and the feel of cool wind on my skin. I began approaching fitness with a positive mindset, something that wasn’t forced upon me, but something that I freely chose to do because it brought me joy.
Unfortunately, the struggle was not over. My boyfriend at the time and I broke up, which meant I moved back home to Saint Louis. Again, I was lost, confused and didn’t know how to get back into a fitness routine. There aren’t mountains to climb in the Midwest and the closest place to go on a hike is a 30 minutes drive (as opposed to being able to walk into my backyard and start a hike). I started up a gym membership again and I started lifting.
This was HARD. My body wasn’t as “fit” as it was this time last year. My muscle mass significantly decreased and my strength was simply not there. It was a real mental struggle trying to be kind to myself when I felt like I had failed. I wanted to add 100 pounds to my dead lift and 50 to my squat by the end of 2016, and here I was struggling to lift my warm up weight from the end of 2015. I felt like I had failed because I did not commit myself to fitness how I did in the past.
But progress isn’t linear. Did I regress in terms of strength? Absolutely. Did I lose a lot of the muscle I worked so hard for? Yes. Did I keep moving forward? Yes, I did. Though my progress in the gym had declined, I gained a ton of knowledge from my year “off”. My muscular endurance was better than it had ever been. My cardiovascular endurance, though still lacking compared to most, was the best it had ever been for me personally. I saw some of the most amazing views because my legs carried me up a mountain. I was able to get creative with workouts that required minimal equipment, making me a better coach to those who workout only at home.
Now, I’ve been back on a gym routine for almost three months! My mindset is completely different than it was this time last year. I am energized for my workouts. I look forward to them with excitement and approach them with focus and passion. Something that I’m not sure would have happened had I not stepped back and taken time off.
Progress isn’t linear. You will fall down a million times. You will inevitably fail. You are human! But failure does not define you. Progress is not linear, but it does require that you keep moving forward. Take it one step at a time, keep going.