Why did I stop, or, rather, what were all of the factors that culminated in the realization that I no longer have the physical shape I used to have – that I was once so proud of?
I’ve hardly been working out for close to two years. On average I’ve lifted weights 1-2 times per week and stretched only once per week. As a personal trainer that sucks!
Ok, so maybe that’s a bit of a bitchy, self-absorbed egoism. I have had my ups, working out three times per week and feeling great. I have had many more down days, feeling a lack of energy, a malaise, a lack of control of my time and schedule, a lack of discipline to commit to a time to train (like choosing to train early in the morning) that would not be corrupted by my client-life-dog schedule.
But, you see, it all boils down to sleep, or the lack thereof.
It started almost two years ago with some very serious sleep issues that quickly became health issues. After months of trying to figure out what the problem was, including trying anti-depressants (I wasn’t depressed, but the lack of sleep sure made me feel that way) and sleeping pills (which made things even worse), I finally went for an overnight sleep study (thanks to a good friend who is a trained nurse and suggested I talk with my doctor about this course of action).
I spent the night in a sleep clinic wired up up like some Frankenstein monster. Two weeks later when I met the doctor to review my results I was told that I stopped breathing for about 10 seconds almost every minute during the night. Brain wave scans showed that I was getting less than 20-30 minutes of REM sleep and never going beyond level 2 sleep. I was informed that I had severe sleep apnea and that the best solution was to use a CPAP machine (basically a respirator) while sleeping.
That was a massive emotional blow for me; a very difficult diagnosis to accept. I felt old, I felt broken, and I no longer felt in control of my health. A year and a half later I still have personal issues with using the CPAP machine, but I’ve mostly accepted it. I’d love to be able to go to bed without having to wear a respirator mask. It’s just uncomfortable and not the best for cuddling. However, I no longer feel like I did two years ago: sick, tired, exhausted, depressed, confused, unable to think straight, blurred vision, lack of motivation and lethargy.
My undiagnosed sleep apnea took me out of the training game for a long time. My ability to recover was shut down due to lack of quality sleep. Normally you should get 4-5 cycles of REM sleep per night. The first cycle is the shortest and the cycles last longer as the night progresses, with the last stage of REM sleep potentially lasting up to an hour. Also, there are five stages or levels of sleep, with the fifth level being REM sleep. As mentioned, I rarely got past a level 2 sleep and was getting less than 20-30 minutes of REM sleep per night (at least during the sleep study when it’s admittedly difficult to get a great sleep!).
I was a mess. I had no energy. I found it hard to focus, to concentrate. I had little energy to lift weights. I felt unsafe riding my bike in the city because my vision was unfocused and it was difficult to hold my attention without wanting to close my eyes. After a few weeks of using the CPAP machine and then having it properly calibrated for my needs, my health slowly returned, as did my energy levels, my concentration, appetite, etc.
But then there were other things happening in my life that made it challenging to get back into my regular workout routine: excuses, excuses. It took seeing a photograph of my body from a weekend in early May 2012 to realize that I was unhappy with my body. I already knew this and even though it’s not like I’m out of shape, I can feel that I’m fatter around my organs and in my midsection than it has ever been. I feel tighter and more soreness around my joints and in my muscles because I don’t have the range of motion that I used to have from stretching several times per week.
I know where my body has been, where it can be, and how it looks today. I know what I need to do to change it. I don’t hate my body or myself but I do feel better about myself when I’m in top physical shape. I think this has just as much to do with my appearance as it does with the endorphins and other healthy physical factors that elevate mood, improve sleep, and digestion that are all fantastic byproducts of regular and consistent working out.
So I took a self-assessment of all the things that I am using as excuses and all the things that may be a hindrance to working out. It doesn’t matter what the excuses are, rather I simply have to decide to take action to change. One challenge is my place of work, a fitness club. I’m not allowed to train during peak times at lunch and after work, nor are we allowed to wear headphones. I’m not blaming my workplace. These restrictions make sense for the members and for the atmosphere that the club wishes to create. Not wearing headphones makes me more accessible to the members. However, I tell all of my clients to train at the time that’s best for them and in an environment in which they feel they will accomplish their goals.
What works best for my lifestyle and energy levels in the day is to wake up between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., to have a healthy breakfast or a protein shake of greens, fish oil, fruit and protein, to take my dog, Buster, out for a 30-60 minute walk and then get to the gym for about 8:30 a.m. I can accomplish this is by having a membership to another gym, a place that is not associated with the work environment, where I can zone out with headphones on and feel completely free. I can warm-up, stretch or workout and be done around 10, shower and be home after 10:30 a.m. This schedule works for me because I work with clients from about 1-7 p.m. What’s most important to me: my health, my fitness, and my dog all get taken care of first thing in the day and then I have the time to write, create, work with clients and have quality time with my boyfriend in the evening and on weekends. I’m more energized, calmer and happier. I feel accomplished, I feel better inside and, thus, feel better about how I look on the outside.
I began writing this article almost a month ago as a self-analysis for change. Since then, I have been much more consistent with working out, which pleases me greatly and I simply feel so much better. But something else happened: I still wasn’t spending enough time writing, studying, reading, and working on products and business growth. Where was the time to do this? Again, I found I was wasting time throughout my day because I hadn’t chosen when to do my writing and be productive. I looked at my day using Excel, charting out an ‘optimal’ schedule. As of today, and as of this moment in time that I’m typing this Epilogue, here is my new weekday schedule that I trust will get me back on track for all that I want and need to accomplish:
6 a.m.: Wake and meditate for 30 minutes
7-8: Walk Buster
8-9:30: Read, study, work on my blog, write, business development
12:30: Eat and then walk Buster
1-7: Work with training clients
Note what I said earlier that this is an optimal schedule. Sometimes my clients can’t meet with me in that 1-7 work window. Sometimes I have to be flexible, for example, starting work with clients earlier and shifting when I do other tasks. I know myself and I prefer to do certain types of work at particular times because then I have a habit; a habit associated with a time of day. I write best in the morning (right now it’s 9:07 a.m.). I get my best workouts in the morning, be it at 8 or 10:30 a.m. That’s just me.