I've never been one for working out. Growing up, I was an active kid—running around until the street lights came on as us Olds would say—but I was never what one would call sporty. I danced for a number of years (like every good '80s girl, I could do a mean Broadway step), but by the time high school came around I was pretty much the nerdy overachiever type who hated gym class because, god, can't I just have a study hall or be allowed to read a book or something? I didn't see how the laughable P.E. regimen of doing a couple of warm-ups before walking around the perimeter of the gym with some girls in my class talking about hair and boys could really count as "exercise" anyway. (FYI, it doesn't.)
I was a skinny kid, and a pretty skinny teen until puberty when boobs and hips showed up. My lack of muscle was deemed "fine" because I also had a lack of fat. Growing up as the runt in my family, I knew that I was just lucky to be skating by on the fact that my body was "acceptable."
But as time went on, I, like most non-healthy semi-adults who become full-grown ones, began lamenting the things that come with a non-active lifestyle–extra weight, sure, but more than that, aches, inflexibility, skin issues, and a general feeling of "blah."
So that's why I hired a personal trainer. I wanted to know how normal, everyday people who had jobs and lives and (gasp) maybe even kids could fit in regular exercise and how I, a somewhat normal 20something, just couldn't f*cking figure it out. Like, do I pack my gym clothes EVERY SINGLE DAY? Where do you store that stuff at happy hour? Do you even get to *go* to happy hour? WHAT/WHEN/WHERE/HOW?
Here, a journey with my sherpa Julia Lumpkin, trainer at Equinox/sarcasm extinguisher* (*not real title), as she and I took on regular exercise for four weeks to see what would happen.
Equinox hooked me up with a gym membership and personal trainer for 4 to 5 sessions a week for a month, which was not just one step up from my usual "I'm trying out this gym" schtick, but more like 23,348 hich-kicks above. Not only were there classes and a fancy AF lobby, but there was a spa. And a child's center. And a smoothie shop. And cold eucalyptus-infused towels to wash your dumb, sweaty face with.
My personal trainer was Julia Lumpkin, and god bless her soul. "You're funny!" she'd tell me every time I made a quip or sarcastic remark, which if I were in her place I'd tell people like me to "shut up and suck it up" and then eat a donut in front of them. Because these trainers, well, they are better people than me.
In my first meeting/consultation with Julia, she took my body measurements, which basically told me things I already knew—I was just slightly overweight (by a couple pounds) for my stature (I'm 5'2, and like Ciara suggests I do eat filet mignon), I had normalish (on the weak side) muscle mass, and my heart rate was, uh, you know—telling me that I was alive. Basically, my body was what I always knew it to be: conveying that I was normal to the outside world without betraying truths like "she eats too many cookies, sometimes just for dinner!" and "she can't run more than a mile without dying/contemplating murder!"
We figured out that with my schedule, I really could only count on working out in the mornings, since I don't get out of work until 6:30 p.m., oftentimes to rush to a media event (AKA parties, let's call a spade a spade here). Considering the fact that I drink quite regularly (it's my job! Kind of!), that I love sleep (but start my work day at 8:30 a.m.), and that I can't actually eat breakfast until much later in the morning, morning workouts seemed to be the worst thing to plan on. BUT WE DID IT ANYWAY. Because nothing says commitment to "I'm ready to completely overhaul my fitness routine" than 5 a.m. wakeup calls for 6 a.m. workouts four times a week, amiright?
The first morning, I was *ready*, albeit dead inside. I hadn't really slept well even though I tried to go to bed early. I hadn't eaten anything substantial other than a bit of cereal because 1) I am an idiot, 2) I wanted to sleep as late as possible, and 3) see above re: eating in the morning. But I had my workout clothes on! And shoes! I shuffled out the door and into the world, ready to GET IT DONE.
Once I got to the gym, Julia showed me the floor where I'd be working out. There were people there. Already. At 6 a.m. Now, usually, when I get into an "I'm Gonna Work Out Now!" week-long stint, I do a few stretches before heading to an elliptical or treadmill because they're kinda easy and usually in the back, away from people. Julia wasn't about that. She taught me how to use foam rollers to stretch out on the mat, and then we began working out. Like, honest to goodness circuit training (meaning a series of exercises, done several times in a row), using items that I had only once seen being used by the Real Gym People.
In the beginning of my first workout session, I felt...fine. My heart rate was climbing, but I just kept thinking, "This is fitness!" Fast-forward 30 minutes—after doing sets of lunges, squats, and rotations using those American Gladiators things—and the color had drained from my face and I needed to sit down. Julia took my pulse and talked about eating before a workout. I was straight-up going to pass out, throw up, or die. After that, we took it a bit easier—I made it out alive, but just barely.
As I continued my four-days-a-week workout regimen, some things got easier (thanks muscle) and some things never did (still no core). Some things never stopped making me laugh because they just looked crazy/sexual/awkward. If ever there was a benefit to having a trainer besides learning how to actually work out my body, it was for the fact of not feeling as self-conscious dropping my ass to the ground, lifting my legs like a dog peeing, or thrusting my hips into the air like an '80s aerobic video/someone who doesn't understand sex.
But while my body was changing for the better, life became a bit harder. I didn't want to socialize as much or go to events because I was tired or knew I would be by the time 5 a.m. came around. I had to do more laundry, had to eat/buy more food (oh hey breakfast), had to figure out when to shower/do my hair, and generally had to rethink how I approached my schedule. And even just that was exhausting.
Body-wise, I lost about 3 pounds of fat, gained 2 pounds of muscles mass, and my heart rate went down like, a TON, which basically meant my body adjusted to working out and was like "I can do this!" I also got *lots* of compliments on my skin/glow (#endorphins). I didn't really see a difference in my happiness levels (even though my roommate said I seemed happier), mostly because I love sleep and that was really the thing that suffered most. I was so tired all the time. If I kept with a regular exercise routine, I knew that at some point I'd probably be less so. But those first few weeks were basically me weeping at work for a nap, and knowing it would never come—then going home and wishing I could drink a glass of wine, but knowing that I just needed to eat, decompress, and go to bed. It wasn't particularly fun.
But towards the end of four weeks, it wasn't just my skin (and possibly my mood) that was better. My back hurt less (oh hey muscles, is that what you do? You support me?) and I could actually touch my toes. Is this what physical progress feels like? Answer: yes. And it felt damn good.
Everyone knows exercise is good for you. And everyone knows that with regular exercise and a healthy diet, you will probably lose weight and feel better. But no one ever really goes over what that entails for your actual day-to-day life. From my experience, I can tell you it's more money spent on gym, training, clothes, laundry, and food. But it's also less money spent on going out and drinking. And pro tip: You're in a better spot if you drive around in a car—then you can at least keep your shit in your trunk, as opposed to schlepping it on the subway/whatever public transit you take.
And while I'm happy that I finally know how to use machines in the gym that aren't treadmills or ellipticals, it did make me realize that fitness is, somewhat, a matter of privilege. You need a certain level of free time to work in exercise, and while you can work out at home, some people need a gym—for space or know-how—and that costs $$$. Not only that, but gym intimidation is real. My body afforded me the luxury of "passing" as a fit person, but even though I realized no one gives a flying f*ck what you do when you get there, for some people, just walking into a gym is a struggle. And can we also talk about how much gym clothes can cost? When you're a DDD, a regular ol' sports bra just ain't gonna cut it. Jiggling, boob sweat, erect nipples—literally the last things you would even think of when picking up a new fitness routine, but I guarantee you they will be the only thing on your mind when they happen. So plan appropriately.
Hiring a personal trainer made me realize that so much goes into living a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. And that, duh, you have to make sacrifices if you want to be fit and active. But really, we're talking about your health, your body, and your confidence—and those are well worth investing in.
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Samantha Leal is the Deputy Editor at Well+Good, where she spends most of her day thinking of new ideas across platforms, bringing on new writers, overseeing the day-to-day of the website, and working with the awesome team to produce the best stories and packages. Before W+G, she was the Senior Web Editor for Marie Claire and the Deputy Editor for Latina.com, with bylines all over the internet. Graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with a minor in African history, she’s written everything from travel guides to political op-eds to wine explainers (currently enrolled in the WSET program) to celebrity profiles. Find her online pretty much everywhere @samanthajoleal.
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