Why I Don’t Care About Numbers at the Gym

For a lot of people, when they work out, it’s about a number: a weight they want to get down to, a weight they want to get up to, a weight they want to lift, a record they want to beat. Me? I have no number. I go to the gym for one reason and one reason only: to keep my body fit and healthy. I’m not looking to impress anybody, and I’m not going for aesthetic reasons.

My body has a history of injury, so I’m really just happy when it’s capable of doing exercise. I have to be aware of what my body’s limits are and just how far it’s safe to push it.

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I started going to the gym regularly two years ago, when I first arrived at university. Through a stroke of luck, that autumn was the time when the tennis elbow I’d been struggling with for the previous five to six years finally eased off. But, in consequence, that had left me with incredibly underdeveloped muscles in that arm (and the surrounding shoulder/chest area) because I couldn’t use it properly for so long. I was pretty weak on the muscle front in total, really.

But for whatever reason, when I moved to university, my body finally started co-operating. I was very tentative when I started going to the gym – when it came to running, I only did short bursts, afraid I would reignite that old injury. When it came to cross-trainers, I could only do short bursts because I didn’t have the strength for it: two minutes on a low setting would tire me out. When it came to weight machines, the absolute lightest setting was difficult for me.

Building up muscle over the last two years has been a slow journey, and I’m in no hurry to rush it. I have definitely seen remarkable improvements – simple as it may seem to some, I could barely lift heavy shopping bags two years ago. Now I do it without blinking an eye. The shape of my arms has changed incredibly; I used to have absolutely no shoulder definition, and very skinny arms. I still have skinny arms, but now the muscle definition is visible. I can go on a cross trainer for a good fifteen minutes on a medium level and continue my workout elsewhere afterwards. I’ve done 5km runs on the treadmill and felt good afterwards, rather than like my foot was splitting open – which used to be my reality.

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About nine months after joining the gym

To other people, who don’t live with my body and who don’t know its history, the numbers surrounding my workouts seem unimpressive. 20kg weights aren’t seen as much. Taking 45 minutes to run 5km is seen as slow. Only being on level two of the cross trainer seems mediocre. But for somebody who would be unable to walk for a day after running 400m, completing a 5km is amazing! For somebody who had to quit playing piano because the strain on their arm was just too painful, to be able to actually lift heavy boxes when moving house is triumphant. I kid you not when I say that even something as simple as plaiting my own hair was a challenge only a few years ago, because I lacked the strength to hold my own arm up for that long.

Even during the last two years I’ve dealt with other injuries – back in February this year, my thumb on my writing hand became so strained I actually lost the ability to handwrite for a while. Thankfully, I’ve mostly regained the ability since then – though I doubt if I’ll ever get back up to my old speed. I’ve also had knee issues, which meant I stopped using the cross trainer for a while so they could recover. But these injuries have been easier to deal with, and I suspect it’s due to that base line of fitness I’ve managed to build.

And that’s why I don’t care about the numbers. Of course I like seeing how fast or far I’ve managed to run, but I’m only looking to build muscle and fitness in the way that’s best for my body.

What about you – do you go to the gym? Do you have a numbers goal? Maybe you’ve got a condition/injury that you’re trying to work through? Let me know.

 

I Moved House – Third Time in Three Years!

Ah, the university life…

I’m very well aware, as you may be, that many people, when going to university, live in halls for first year and then find some housemates and live in a house/flat/whatever for the successive two years, or however long they may be there for. Well… not me!

I lived in private halls in first year because I didn’t get offered the university-owned accommodation I wanted, and the one they did offer me was far too high a price. Instead, I was in a five-person self-catered ensuite flat, with four people I’d never met before. The staff had managed to group the five of us together as all first years at the same university (they served 3 in the area). It was an interesting year, involving far too much cigarette smoke coming into my bedroom, a melted fork in the oven, and maggots in the flat.

In second year, I chose to live with four other girls, three of whom were also doing history, the fourth doing English. It was actually quite funny as I was the only monolingual of the group – the other languages spoken were Welsh, Punjabi, Greek, and Portuguese. This was a slightly turbulent living situation – two of us preferred to be far tidier than the others, and one housemate actually moved out shortly after Christmas. But, aside from the hiccups, it was a nice house, recently refurbished, with two bathrooms and it was close to the university – though on the other side of campus to my first year, not that this made all that much difference.

So what happened this year? Well, almost from the beginning, one of my second year housemates said they were planning to live with other people in her third year. Then another wanted to live in a different area to where we were – further from the university, where we didn’t want to move to. So we were down to three, until the whole oh-wait-she’s-moved-out thing. This left two of us trying to find an affordable two-bed student rental house, preferably close to university, after Christmas – by which time most of the properties have been taken up. (Top tip: when looking for second and third year accommodation, figure out what you want as fast as you can in October and GET LOOKING!)

If we’d known it would have been just the two of us early on, we probably could have grabbed a lovely, fairly cheap place. As it is, we have a pretty small, slightly shabby house – but it’s actually a tad closer to university than last year, and the bills are included in the rent which is slightly cheaper than it was last year (though my third year loan is smaller too, thanks government).

Moving in at the beginning of this month was a bit of a nightmare, largely because the property wasn’t actually clean. Not too big an ask of somewhere you’re paying a large amount of rent to, right? For it to be clean when you move in? Well, apparently, yes it is. Spiders – both dead and alive – were everywhere. Cobwebs everywhere, too. Sticky floor. The whole shebang. It’s taken a good while to settle in here. Then there was a bit of an issue where I didn’t know where what felt like half my belongings were – at this point my things were spread between two houses in Liverpool, one in Telford, and one at home in Hertfordshire! Thus, it took a bit of time to pool everything together.

See, I actually don’t mind moving – I’d go so far as to say I quite like it. The variety suits me well, and I know it can be a hassle (thanks mum & dad), but all the same… it keeps things changing. I realise many people dislike change as a whole, but particularly when it comes to the changing of home comforts – I can’t say that’s something I find too challenging, but I understand why others do.

So yes, I’m in this place for a little under a year – I don’t plan on going home for all that long over Christmas and Easter this year, probably under a month in total, so I’ll probably be here until the end of the tenancy at the end of June 2019. Then, of course, I’ll be graduating from university and moving back home… which I’m just thrilled about, by the way (sense the sarcasm – next weekend’s post will address this a bit further). In consequence, this is probably the last time I’ll move house (aside from moving out) for a while, which makes me a little wistful, to be honest. But I suppose if I don’t have to spend months searching for where to live for the following year, I might have to put that time into pursuing other, possibly more productive, pursuits… we’ll see.

One thing I’m infinitely glad about, though? After this year, I’ll never have to deal with student landlords again! If you’ve experienced it, you know. If not… be glad.

Have you got any moving-house stories? Let me know!

I Tried Meditation for a Month

Meditation, to me, has always been one of those things that sounds so… kooky. I’ve never found occasion to use that word before, but this felt like the time. And it’s true – sitting down with your eyes shut for extended periods of time? For what reason?

And yet, meditation is definitely having its vogue moment. Easily for a couple of years now, really. And I’ve dabbled before – I downloaded the Insight Timer app back in my first year of university and used it somewhat sporadically. My streaks never lasted more than a few days at a time, but I must have found some benefit in it if I kept going back.

Skipping ahead to last month, I downloaded Headspace. You can get the subscription for free when you have a student subscription to Spotify – something I did already know some time ago, but at the time I couldn’t figure out how to get the accounts to link (oops). But I figured it out this time and decided to give it a go.

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I don’t know what I expected, going in. I didn’t immediately decide to try it out for a month, but after it gave me this cute little image for having done 3 days in a row, I checked out the little ‘goals’ part of the app, where it tracks you as you reach certain milestones. 1 day, 3 days, 10 days, 15 days, 30 days, 90 days, 180 days, and 365 days. I figured I’d start with 30.

Headspace has ‘packs’ of meditation sessions – there’s a few Basics packs, of which I completed one, then they have Creativity, Managing Anxiety, Happiness, Productivity and more. There are also ‘singles’, which are of varying lengths and are intended for while you’re walking, or times you feel overwhelmed, things like that. Finally they have ‘minis’, which are all three minutes or under and are great for that spare couple of minutes where you just need a breather.

You hear a lot about the supposed benefits of meditation – as a stress reliever, as something to help you learn about yourself… And I guess I did learn some things. I definitely learned that deep breathing makes me yawn, and that was one of the biggest obstacles for me. I tend to naturally breathe through my mouth rather than my nose (weird, I know… I’m one of those), so concentrating on changing that is a challenge. My lungs are a little big for my ribcage as it is – it’s hard for me to take full breaths, which I don’t often notice on a day to day basis, but the deep breathing you do in meditation definitely made me more aware of it. My mum used to have that too, until she had kids and her ribcage expanded a little because of pregnancy.

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I know a lot of people meditate to become more in tune with their body, but what I realised as the month went on was that I’m already pretty in tune with mine. I have to be, to some extent, because of my hypermobility. I tend to know which parts of my body are more tense, or inflamed, or strained etc. fairly intuitively.

What did become clear is that sometimes, my brain is just super busy. It can be hard to slow it down and focus. What I did find quite amusing was that, for some reason, the number one thing my brain wants to do while I meditate is play catchy tunes in my head and dance around a little. I wonder what the psychoanalysis of that would be!

I also started off with the intention of doing a session every morning, but in reality I think I spent most of the days putting it off until the evening. I found it really difficult to bring myself to meditate when I get up in the mornings, but going forward I would like to make myself do it then. The days I did, I think it’s safe to say I felt the benefits more.

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So what was my overall experience like? Well, I didn’t have any major revelations. I don’t feel like any entirely new person, as some people claim. But I did find it to be an oddly enjoyable pastime – considering how bustling life can be, and how many of us nowadays rarely have a moment of silence, what with life happening all around us and listening to music/podcasts/audiobooks while doing a whole host of things. It can be quite calming to have those few minutes of stillness.

I don’t know if I’ll continue to meditate every day… I might do – the app reminds you each day at a time you choose – but it seems like a nice thing to do when your brain feels a bit too busy, or you’re a bit too stressed.

Do you meditate? Would you like to start?