I almost always make New Year’s resolutions. This year, I decided to focus on cultivating an exercise habit (as opposed to setting a goal that I would meet and then forget). In January and February, it was an effective way, for me, to start exercising a little more every week without burning out. Effective– but you really don’t get the same sense of accomplishment that comes from setting an ambitious goal. I was exercising three or four times a week and thought – why not go for seven days a week? I hoped that my goal would help me lose some lingering holiday pounds, explore new types of exercise, and (maybe even) realize that it wasn’t as hard to find the time to exercise as it often seemed to be.
Incidental walking would NOT count as exercise. Living in New York City, I typically log a few miles of walking per day going to work, out for lunch, and on errands. I would try for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, and I would be accountable to my friends by posting regular Facebook updates about what exercise I had done. I called my experiment “March Madness.”
Here are some key moments over the course of my “mad” month.
March 1: What Do I Do?
The first challenge I faced was actually figuring out what type of exercise to do on a given day! March first was in the middle of a week in which I had already gone to the gym once. I had good intentions to wake up and walk before work, but overslept. So after a long work day, I found myself without a plan at 6 pm. Fortunately, it was a brisk but sunny day in New York City. I set a timer and walked around the new World Trade Center Memorial and uptown to Tribeca until 30 minutes had elapsed, then hopped on the subway and went home.
March 6: So busy!
My weekday schedule, like many people’s, only provides me with unstructured time at the beginning and end of my 9-5 workday. I can’t count on getting away at lunchtime, though I did a couple times during March. For the most part, my weekday workouts happened at night, after work, and often after an hour-long commute home. One night I attended a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course after work, so squeezed two workouts (20 minutes and 10 minutes) into my workday. There were a few days I did fit in a 30-minute walk before work, and those days always started out on an extra positive note.
March 9: Seriously, What Do I Do?
Youtube was a lifesaver – here’s where I admit to having a playlist called “Workouts” that includes everything from 10-minute Pilates exercise band workouts (a favorite while I lived abroad) to free-weights routines. I found a few new ones, including this great (what I’d consider intermediate) yoga video that can be done before bed.
March 11: Snow Day
I went to visit family in upstate New York in mid-March. I am a nervous traveler, and those nerves usually manifest the night before a flight. I had a restless night and ended up getting up around 4:30 am rather than toss and turn until my alarm sounded. Once I’d arrived, I spent the day visiting with my Dad and my sister, making lunch together, watching cooking shows on PBS… and falling into a deep slumber after said lunch. I woke up feeling lethargic and unmotivated, especially because there had been a major snowstorm a day before my arrival, so there were few locations where I could go for a walk outdoors. My sister had already exercised that morning and my Dad wasn’t keen to join me.
I decided to set a timer and just move, nonstop, for 15 minutes. How hard could that be, right? I started by marching in place and went through situps, pushups, plank, jumping jacks, lunges, squats, and then grabbed two cans of beans and did every freeweight combination I could think of. It was actually… fun. To their credit, my Dad and my sister resisted making fun of me AND rewarded me with fresh-popped popcorn when I was done! .It always puzzles me how I can know, intellectually, that a workout will energize me… but that I can feel so bereft of motivation at least half the time. This was a good reminder of the power of mind over matter, but there’s no question in my mind that I would probably have foregone the workout if not for my very public “March Madness” goal.
March 16: Results
Dressing for work in the winter is something I dread: not only am I usually carrying a few extra pounds from the holidays, but I usually want to layer a long-sleeved shirt or long underwear under my clothes. Mid-month was when I could finally tuck a shirt into my pants without feeling uncomfortable. Yay!
March 20: Yoga
One longstanding regret I have is that I stopped going to my gym’s Monday night yoga class. I knew it had been a while when, at the end of class, my formerly-pregnant instructor said that she had a nine-month-old daughter! I had a lot of trepidation thinking about whether I was strong enough to move through a full sun salutation sequence, including cataranga, after so many months away. I set an intention to be as present in class as I could, I moved through cataranga twice with good form. I was reminded of the satisfaction of warrior two, triangle, and goddess poses.
March 22: Rest & Recovery
I scoffed when a friend warned me against injury – I was only really doubling the frequency of my exercise! Oh. Right. I was doubling the amount of exercise I did every week, which is significantly more than the 10% most experts recommend as the proper amount by which to increase. Fortunately, I never injured myself, but I did have days when I was just more physically tired. On March 22, I packed up my gym bag in the morning, took it to work, and brought it right back home with me. My body rejected the gym! I managed to walk around for 30 minutes before heading home but not at my regular pace, which is on the fast side of typical-New-Yorker-sprint. I came to appreciate that a moderately-paced walk would energize me while allowing my body to continue recovering from prior workouts.
March 26: Lazy Days
Like many people, I have fitness guilt when I have a low-key day at home or don’t exercise as often as I think I should. That’s changed a little, as I have come to appreciate that my body is repairing and strengthening itself in between workouts.
March 30: More Results
That moment when you’re walking a route you’ve traveled many times, but realize you’re not as tired or uncomfortable doing it as you used to be? That happened a couple times. So satisfying. But, it turned out that posting my workouts wasn’t particularly motivating and I had stopped doing it by the end of the month.
The Month in Review
I think my biggest takeaway was: If you really want to exercise, you will. Go for a walk, do random exercises, just do something. I didn’t weigh myself again until a week into April, and the number on the scale was actually the same as it had been a month before, but I actually didn’t mind. March Madness taught me that qualitative results can be very rewarding, if I just turn my attention to them instead of the more-easily measured things, like minutes, miles, and pounds. Going forward, my goals are going to be more about ability and satisfaction, which I believe will motivate me more than the numbers ever could.
March Madness Recap:
3/1 Walked after work
3/2 Yoga video before bed
3/3 Regular gym night (with my new jumprope)
3/4 Brisk walk in Queens
3/5 Brisk walk in Manhattan
3/6 Strength training workout
3/7 Regular gym night
3/8 A couple brisk walks
3/9 Yoga video before bed
3/10 Strength training video
3/11 Random exercises*
3/12 Winter wonderland walking
3/13 Random exercises
3/14 Yoga-pilates workout before dinner
3/15 (Ir)regular gym night (Wednesday instead of Tuesday)
3/16 Midday and after-work walks
3/17 Regular gym night
3/18 Random exercises
3/19 Brisk walk
3/20 Yoga class
3/21 Random exercises
3/22 Walked around the Oculus
3/24 Brisk walk
3/25 Random exercises*
3/26 Walk in the park
3/29 Brisk walk in Manhattan
3/30 Youtube yoga video*
3/31 Walking around a museum* and random exercises
*Days I did less than 30 minutes, usually 15 or 20