I ate a big piece of humble pie.
It tasted awful and it was dang good for me.
If you’ve been following recently, you know that I had a pretty serious back injury at the beginning of the year.
I had to take 8 weeks off exercise entirely, and I’m still not cleared to do activities with impact.
I’ve recently gotten back in the gym (which I love. It’s my comfort zone. I don’t need approval. I rarely second-guess myself. I just love it) and I found that my weak points had gotten weaker and my strong points had lost their edge!
During the time I couldn’t do much, I gained weight. Nope. Let me try that again with a little more transparency. I gained fat.
I lost my motivation to eat well.
I felt generally grumpier.
I hurt. I hurt a lot actually.
I felt a little scared and a little unsure. I wasn’t terrified or questioning everything, but the things that felt mindless and automatic, now required more effort.
Getting back to the gym meant facing the mirrors and the amazing team (hi gym buddies- you know I missed you!) of people I am used to seeing, hugging, high-fiving. I thought I was going to have to go slow initially, and gradually get back at it. I even TOLD people that exact plan, “I’m just going to take it easy and build as I get stronger.” Well tonight I feel pretty naïve thinking about this super simple plan I made.
While I rested, I read great books, I learned a lot more than I ever knew about the nervous system, back pain, injuries, etc. (shout out to Dr. Stuart McGill) and felt ready with a plan. Hello- I’m a clinical exercise physiologist and a strength and conditioning specialist. This IS my zone!
Are you ready for the big pie I was served?
Well as I walked in for the first week, it felt like I was “home.” Everyone that I saw welcomed me back with a hug and awesome support. But even with all the pieces in place: feeling confident, having a rockstar support system, arguably knowing more academically than anyone else in the building about exercise science, and having a plan, I STILL FELT SELF CONSCIOUS. I wanted to wave a banner proclaiming my injury status and kindly asking (read: begging) for low judgement during this time. The exercises that were appropriate for me, looked different than my usual (oh I see you big 3) and I felt silly doing them.
Two weeks in, someone who didn’t know I was injured made a remark that I wasn’t working hard enough and that I should stop being lazy. Instead of recognizing this playful jab, that I would usually think was hilarious... it actually hurt me a bit. I took it personally and thought how inconsiderate this was. Of course my perception was just because I was feeling insecure, not because he was actually being unkind.
That experience made me think of other people in a completely different light. I feel like I am extremely nonjudgmental in the gym environment. There are enough barriers and I applaud anyone who works on their health and fitness in any environment. Working on it in public, in front of others, takes a whole new level of courage and I previously thought that I understood.
While I still don’t, and maybe will never understand the emotions that some people experience while taking the first step, I’d like to believe that I have a new level of compassion and empathy. What about the people who don’t feel confident? What about those with no support system? What about those who were never taught what to do? What about those who didn’t have a great plan? What about those with a super judge-y gym? What about those who don’t have the finances to buy bigger clothes?
I recognize that we all face our own battles and I am not trying to compare my experience with others. I just wanted to share my perspective with you.
If you didn’t know of my injury, many people would never know. The changes I notice about my body may never be noticed by someone else, but I notice.
I do know that it is quite possibly easier for me than anyone else and I STILL struggled. I had to face my own insecurities and perceived judgements. My clothes were tight and I felt like they looked super unflattering. I was unstable and shaky. I felt like everyone was watching me. I wanted to get in and get out of the gym without talking to too many people, and for the love of all that is holy, I wore leggings because my legs looked soft and weird.
You know how monumental this is for me. I HATE wearing pants to exercise.
I just wanted to encourage you that we ALL struggle at some point. No one was judging me, and no one was making me feel ashamed. I did that all by myself.
Here are a few things that helped me:
I told my story. To those who asked, I explained my injury and it made ME feel better.
I forced myself to show up.
I wore bigger clothes and pants. I noticed that I tugged and pulled at clothes that made me feel like a sausage. No thank you.
I did appropriate exercises, and sometimes I did them in a location that wasn’t out in the middle of the gym like I usually would.
I listened to loud music that pumped me up and made me feel brave.
I reminded myself to speak kindly about myself. “I’m working on it” and “I am not disqualified” we’re on permanent repeat.
I had a plan so I didn’t leave early or bail out because I felt awkward.
I forced myself to make eye contact with the people around me. This is a normal thing for me. I like to feel connected to other people.
Next time you look at someone doing a completely ridiculous exercise- maybe ask yourself if perhaps that is the only pain-free movement their body can do right now. Maybe they have something else going on that we can’t see.
While I’m not at all back to normal yet, I’m getting closer! In the meantime, I’m going to continue making progress with a whole lot more compassion in my heart.
Smile at the newbie. Welcome people and invite them into your space. Hug your friend who just returned. Introduce yourself. Take down one barrier.
Fitness is for all of us. We need more of us!
Loving you today, exactly where you are,
About the Author
Dr. Monique Middlekauff is a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). She has been a certified personal trainer with the NSCA, ACSM, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) for over 10 years.
Monique is the CEO and founder of Fitness For us, a program designed to teach the basics of exercise while providing support, and ongoing encouragement. She is a certified Higher Education Teaching Specialist (HETs) and has instructed courses ranging from introductory to graduate level including Kinesiology, Exercise Physiology, Exercise Physiology Lab, Resistance Training, Fitness Foundations, Aging and Exercise, and Skeletal Mechanics.
She is a former NCAA DI volleyball athlete and loves to exercise outdoors. Monique is certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), and is an Exercise is Medicine Level 3 credentialed provider. Monique works for a major health system in Idaho.
Her goal is to pursue health and overall wellbeing through evidence-based practice. Physical wellness comes in many forms, and she seeks to celebrate where you are, and challenge you to be better!