No Pain, No Gain: How I Stopped Being a Couch Potato

I’m not one to follow diets and exercise plans, and when I was younger, I completely got away with it. Yes, I was one of those stick figure, skinny girls who could eat anything. I managed that for two decades – until now. As much as I hate to admit it, the cold truth hit in my face some months ago when I couldn’t squeeze into my normally loose-fitting favorite dress. As I was staring at myself in the mirror, the blue dress firmly stuck on my thighs, I decided to start exercising. Not only to lose weight: running to the metro when I’m late makes me breathless. It’s not supposed to. It’s only 10 minutes away. I would need to change my lifestyle. At least for a week to try what kind of exercise would work for me personally. I decided on a five-day trial run. Day 1: Jogging

The first steps seemed light as air…fast forward to a hundred meters and I’m sweating and panicking over the intense pain in my chest. It’s like my own weight is crushing me from the inside. I can’t even think. And yet I try to keep my feet going steadily forward. I push myself because I know that I should not be in this shape! I’m only 22, not the age where I should be slumping down on the ground from fifteen minutes of exercise. And yet, that is exactly the point I’m in.

I only managed a short jog (since then I have managed to run faster and longer, although I’m still a very bad runner) and I wanted to cry. I normally cry over very few things (unless fictional characters are involved, in which case I cry tons) but this made me feel bad about myself and, most of all, it made me crave cake. And lots of it.


Day 2: Kettlebells

I have the prettiest, lime-green kettlebell. It’s so adorable. Too bad it’s not taking my mind off from the sweat that’s dripping into my eyes. It’s hard to focus on anything else. I have a certain routine of moves I’m trying out – taken from YouTube, of course. I wouldn’t know what to do otherwise.

The lifts are simple enough but having the strength to do them is another matter altogether. I have never had much strength, let alone in my skinny little arms. While lifting the kettlebell, I was increasingly worried about dropping it on my toes – especially as my energy started to wane. I managed until the end, though. Afterwards, my head was spinning from the exertion and my legs and arms were shaking. Not exactly my cup of tea.


Day 3: Swimming

I used to swim a lot. I was actually good at it. I was spurred by my previous successes in the water to try it again, now as an adult. After a few strokes in the water I was overjoyed. Finally something that doesn’t make me sweat or cramp – it was like gliding in the waves, nothing was holding me back. Until a huge wave of water someone splashed next to me landed on my face.

As I was trying to shake the burning chlorine out of my nostrils and keep myself from coughing, the downsides of swimming in a public swimming pool began to dawn on me. I hated these grannies, slowly running their infinite little loops with their flotation belts. I hated having to zig zag to avoid bumping into them.

I started getting bored after a few hundred meters – is this all that there was to swimming? No wonder I stopped going. The only thing stopping me from outright quitting was the realization that I had swam a kilometer. Me. And I can’t even run a hundred meters. This was something I could do: I had peace and quiet (if I ignored the grannies), and I actually felt refreshed afterwards. People keep saying I’d feel really great after a good workout but this was the first time I actually felt it. After jogging and kettlebells, I had merely felt like collapsing on the ground and dying.

Day 4: Bouldering

As soon as I looked down, trying to figure out where I could step down a bit, I could feel my fingers doing a death grip on the wall. There was no way I could climb down and I was too scared to jump from the top (did I mention I once fell from monkey bars and broke both bones on my arm?) in case I’d break my legs. I managed to summon all the strength in me and climb a few steps down before dropping myself on the ground. When I had heard that there would be mattresses as floors, I had imagined soft fluffiness…not the case in reality. Dropping on the hard mattress made my legs shake. But I was having fun. I felt like for the first time this week I was tricking myself into exercising: I was doing something fun with the nice side effect of getting me into better shape. But it was hard. Harder than I could possibly describe. After five minutes I was panting and guzzling down every drop from my water bottle.

I found out quickly that you actually get a double bonus from bouldering: it’s also a puzzle for your mind. The routes you climb up are called problems, which is completely accurate. You have to actively think where you’re going to step and how you place your limbs. Like solving a crossword puzzle while doing pushups. I wonder if that gives the right impression of the sport? And the sense of accomplishment you feel after getting through the route all the way to the top. It’s like getting a five from a difficult exam. A class that makes you sweat like a pig and break the skin from your hands. A class that makes adrenaline course through your veins.


Day 5: Tendonitis Instead of Yoga

I had to skip my intended yoga class. After bouldering I got tendonitis or some similar ailment. All I know is that my hands aren’t moving. Or, if I manage to move them, I literally scream out of pain. It scares me quite a bit. So, no yoga for me today. I feel gutted that my experiment – if you can call it that as it’s mostly me trying to fit into my old jeans – has been cut short. Naturally, I google the symptoms and diagnose myself with cancer. Go figure. I also venture to bouldering forums and find out that my arms should not be locked into position while climbing and that it can cause too much strain on the tendons and muscles. I play the experience in my head: my hands gripping the holds on the wall, my fingers turning white from the lack of blood flow. I guess I should’ve gone easier on myself. But I guess the passion for exercise has taken over me…Well, the moderate interest in exercise more like.

Perhaps I will try the yoga class later – I will try to stick to my new exercise routine. I’ve tried hatha yoga before and really liked it. It’s easier to do in a class, because half the time I don’t know if my arms and legs are in the right position. I take comfort in having a teacher around, even when I don’t need help. YouTube videos just don’t cut it for me. This time I would’ve loved to try aerial yoga or hot yoga. Aerial yoga seems like a challenge to me – but an exciting one. I love heights (when I don’t have to grip the wall for my life) and yoga makes me feel all stretched out – in a good way. I also relish the feeling of walking straighter than ever before, after a yoga class.


My efforts to find some form of exercise that I could include into my weekly routines were not in vain: I am still going to continue swimming at least once a week and I’ve continued jogging. I can now do at least 300 meters. Go me! I still do have plans to attend new forms of yoga and I’d like to go bouldering again – after I get over my initial shock (my arms luckily got better after a week). I think I am best suited for solo exercise or something I can do with a friend. But I wouldn’t completely count out group sports either. There are simply too many interesting things I haven’t tried yet. I just have to find my thing.
















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