Speed Bumps

The fitness train has come to a bit of a stop lately.

My schedule’s been a little nuts, and I’ve had more dinner reviews than I’d like of late, which has been a major disruption in my post-work exercise routine. There’s also the fact that it’s so goddamn hot, especially in my apartment, that I kind of want to come home from work and just plonk down on the couch instead of engaging in any kind of physical activity.

A couple years ago, this would have been very disheartening news. I was pretty desperate to lose weight and keep a regular fitness routine to achieve that end. Any time things got to the point where my routine was interrupted, I just gave up. I’m not sure if that was due to the obsessive-compulsive part of my brain that decided anything less than a perfect schedule wasn’t worth keeping at all, or the lazy part of my brain that was just looking for any excuse to keep my ass in one place. In either case, it brought me back to being sedentary.

But I’ve learned from my mistakes and developed a new perspective on fitness. Treating fitness as a destination can make the tiniest pebble in the path seem like a steep mountain, which makes giving up all the easier. After all, if I haven’t even lost 2 pounds yet, how can I possibly hope to lose 15? That’s impossible. My gut’s smaller than before, but it’s still a gut, so what’s the point in pushing myself toward washboard abs? Guess I’d better resume my torrid love affair with the couch.

If instead you view fitness as the path, things get much easier. There’s no frustration about not reaching the end goal, because that’s not the point anymore. Every milestone becomes important, because it means you’re still moving along the path. There’s less inclination to stop because it’s a leisurely (or brisk) walk rather than a mad dash to an arbitrary finish line.

So the little setback that I’ve suffered recently? No big deal. I would ideally like to stick to a workout schedule of 5 days a week with two rest days thrown in, but another rest day or two won’t hurt. I’ll just work out when I can, keep to the schedule whenever possible and sprinkle in activity of some sort throughout the day.

I’d prefer to walk along the path with a smile on my face than sit down in frustration for not reaching my weight goal.

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Back to Basics

I couldn’t figure out what sort of workout routine to do last week, so I ended up doing something I haven’t done in quite a while: karate.

Just straight-up karate basics, focusing on simple techniques and stances. It felt like coming home. I mean, I was home. I was working out in my living room, after all. But it felt so good to be doing one of the things I loved again, an activity that I had devoted 5 years of my life to, and which had sadly fallen by the wayside in more recent times.

It was just supposed to be a filler, a break from my usual routine, but I was eager to work on it again the next day. It may finally be time to make it a more prominent part of my workout again. I’ve tried to get back into karate in the past in an attempt to jumpstart a regular fitness routine, but it didn’t last long. Part of the problem, I think, was my own expectation, I was at a certain skill level when I trained actively, and I expected to jump back to that same skill and intensity after a long period of inactivity. Frustration followed, prompting me to push myself too hard to work my way up again, which led to a burnout and put me back on square one.

My expectations are more realistic now. I’m no longer burdened by the skill of my past. It’ a new beginning,in a way. It’s all completely familiar to me, of course, but I don’t let that fool me into thinking that I’m better than I am. I’m approaching the whole thing as a beginner, and I think that’ll help me train more consistently without getting frustrated. Plus, I have my Darebee routines to break things up if that does happen, so I won’t relapse into sitting on my ass again.

The Journey Continues

Things weren’t going very well.

I had all but given up on anything resembling a healthy lifestyle, stuck in an endless loop of lethargy. Inactivity led to laziness, which led to further inactivity. Something had to be done to break this cycle.

The solution to my problem came in the form of Darebee, a website run by fitness enthusiast Neila Rey (and formerly bearing her own name). I’ve actually talked about in an old post, back before I migrated my blog to WordPress. The website has ‘themed’ workouts based around superheroes, movies, video games and other popular media figures. Exercise and pop culture references? That’s my kind of workout!

That gave me just the motivation I needed. A Batman themed workout one day, a James Bond workout the next. Once again, exercise was something fun and not a chore that I needed to fit into my day. My old pants started fitting me again and I had much more energy throughout the day. I’m not a believer in diets of any sort, so I still eat pretty much whatever I want, but I try to keep everything in moderation and stick to my regular workout schedule.

I also keep up with martial arts from time to time, though it has become more of a personal fitness tool than the art it once was. I’d really like to find a solid karate community in the near future and re-build that aspect of my life. Now that I’ve settled into a new job and found some measure of stability, I may even work on creating such a community myself.

It’s certainly been an interesting journey from a scrawny, athletically-challenged kid to a college martial artist to an adult who sometimes plans his week around workouts. There have been occasional hurdles and stumbles, but I seem to have finally found a fitness path that I can happily follow. I can’t wait to see where the next stage of my journey takes me.

This is the conclusion to a five-part piece (which was supposed to be just one post, and then a trilogy, and then…) about my relationship with fitness. The other parts can be found here, here, here and here.

Changes

Life is a journey that takes some strange turns now and then. I was taking a karate class in my senior year, in a desperate bid to halt the expansion of my waistline and get some college credit out of it. Even though karate was something I’d grown to resent through my childhood, I gave it a begrudging shot.

It was a little intimidating walking into the cavernous gymnasium; I felt like a complete dork, probably because I was one. There were also preconceived notions that martial arts movies had instilled in me. Grueling training with lots of flying kicks, punching of boards, and a hardass instructor with gravelly voice and a permanent scowl. I was quite surprised to instead find a beautiful young woman in a karate uniform and an attendance sheet, greeting each new student with a smile. Maybe I could get on board with this whole martial arts thing.

As expected, I flailed around awkwardly during my first lesson, but it was such a rush! Learning the finer points of each technique and movement appealed to the engineer in me, and gave me a goal to aim for. By the end, I was exhausted, having used muscles that had been lazing around for a long time, but I was eager for the next class.

With the progression of the semester, my interest in karate grew exponentially. At least part of it was thanks to the instructor, who I had a schoolboy crush on. Turns out she was engaged, though, so that wasn’t happening. However, I did strike up a friendship with her (and her future husband, who was also part of the karate club), one that’s been going strong for 10 years now, even though we’re halfway across the world from each other.

Over the course of my training, I learned how misunderstood the martial arts are. We didn’t do any crazy spin kicks, there were no boards to break, and I didn’t have to avenge anyone’s death by fighting ninjas in a ring of fire. Instead, I learned all about making precise, controlled movements to efficiently and effectively use my body as a weapon and a shield. I learned that karate should be a last resort, something to be used when combat was unavoidable; don’t use your fists when words will do. I also became fitter, stronger and more agile by following a regular training schedule. Karate truly is an art, one that challenges both the body and the mind. And it’s one that I found myself completely absorbed in.

After a long series of ups and downs in my personal life, and in my karate life (broken and mended friendships, forged and broken relationships), I finally reached the point where I was ready to take the next step n my training. In November of 2008, almost 4 years after I’d started training karate, I finally attained the rank of black belt. It was a major milestone for me and is, to this day, my proudest achievement. I poured my heart and soul into training for that test, and I’m glad I was able to make my teacher, and myself, proud.

It as the start of what should have been a long journey but, alas, a mere two years after that, I was ripped away from the world that I knew and found myself in a familiar land that now seemed so strange. Having moved back to Dubai from the US, I had to start over in many ways, including with karate. I needed to find a good local club that would help me in continuing to hone my skills.

Metamorphosis

I had always been a skinny little kid, the sort that might blow away in a harsh breeze. The word ‘lanky’ would have made a good description for my teenage self. But when I started college, everything changed.

American universities use an expression known as the ‘Freshman 15’ to describe weight gain that happens during the first year of college, set at 15 pounds (for no real reason). I may have gone for the Freshman 20. Away from home for the first time, I had complete freedom with my schedule and my meals. Turns out, too much freedom leads to a full plate. One of my favorite snacks during my freshman year, the thought of which makes my heart break into a cold sweat now, was mozzarella sticks dipped in nacho cheese sauce. That’s right. Fried cheese. Dipped in melted cheese. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Needless to say, all that cheese decided to hang around and settle on various parts of my body. My friends remarked on my more filled out frame, but I didn’t believe them. I was still the scrawny young man I’d always been. My pants had just shrunk in the laundry or something. It took a few months for me to come to terms with the fact that I was overweight. Attempts were made at a healthier diet. I even started jogging…in the fall. Once the temperature dropped, so did my jogging routine.

As I got closer to graduation, I decided that enough was enough. I needed some sort of fitness routine, one that I could stick with. My brother suggested taking up karate, as he’d done a few times in the past. I’d always brushed it off. Karate? Kicking and punching and fighting people? No thanks. But it could be the key to helping me drop a few pounds. I only had one semester of college to go, and I still had a health and fitness course pending as part of my graduations requirements. My brother urged me to choose a karate class for that. Maybe I’d like it. If nothing else, it’d get rid of that pesky course requirement. It was win-win either way.

So, on a chilly January morning at the start of my final semester, I found myself in one of the gymnasiums on campus, about to embark on a life-changing journey. Nerd that I am, I was in a buttoned down shirt and jeans. Perfect workout wear. I was ready to rock.