I expected nutrition to be hard. I expected exercise to be easy.
Well…maybe not easy, per se, but certainly easier.
I was very wrong.
I went into the experiment with a plan roughly based on the book Thinner This Year.
I would do two days each week of strength training, two days of cardio, and two days of yoga. Each for at least 45 minutes.
My plan was to do one of each for any length of time in Week 1. This would be mainly to start building the habits rather than to actually receive the benefits of exercise.
Week 2 would be the full six days of exercise, but for any length of time.
Week 3 would be the start of the full six days, 45 minute routine.
The exercise portion of this experiment went so poorly for the first four weeks that I am not even going to break it down by week like I did for nutrition.
It was that bad.
Remember how the change of habits that went along with leaving work for family leave made all of the nutrition changes easier?
It did the exact opposite for exercise.
Losing Old Exercise Habits
My office has a gym in it. My home actually does, as well. (One of the benefits of apartment living.) However, I was never in charge of caring for a baby when I was at the office. I was at home. This made going to the gym problematic.
Staying at home rather than going to work also made my natural amount of walking drop precipitously. Even taking the baby for a walk every day, my steps dropped from 10,000-12,000 per day to 4,000-6,000. That’s a loss of 42,000 steps per week.
Sometimes I went to my hockey games and sometimes I skipped them. The main problem was that nights that I went to hockey usually meant 3-4 hours less sleep that night, which made the next day much harder.
New Exercise Routines?
So my old sources of exercise dropped off. That was to be expected.
So how did I do on my new exercise habits?
Yoga and strength training did not work out. At all.
The baby usually had one long nap in the morning and a bunch of shorter ones. Exercise requires dedicated time. Exercise that doesn’t put baby in motion requires dedicated time while he is asleep. This meant that nap time became a competition between priorities.
I opted to use the long nap every morning as a block of writing time. I know that exercise is important, but I chose to prioritize my writing. This mean that I sometimes only had 15-20 minutes to get set up and complete my exercises. It did not go well.
After two weeks I completely gave up on both yoga and strength training during family leave. If I wanted to get these in I would need more time away from the baby or I would need to prioritize them over writing. Neither were things I wanted at that time.
I dropped both and decided to reevaluate when I went back to work and my scheduled changed again.
I looked for cardio that I could do with the baby and really only came up with jogging. I jogged a lot when I was younger, but ended up with knee pain and hadn’t hit the road in years.
I wanted to make this work, though, so I bought running shoes that were rated highly for bad knees and bought knee braces.
This worked well for the first week. I got up at 6 and took the baby out for a jog so that my wife could sleep in. It felt like a productive start to the day.
However, once my sleep dropped off I stopped waking up early to go running. I did make a conscious effort to take longer walks on days that I did not run, but that didn’t make up for the lost exercise.
I started to pick up again in Week 4, but was quickly foiled by 5 consecutive days of rain in the DC area.
So what did I learn and how will I be better about exercise going forward?
I need to find what works.
If the strength training and yoga were not working, then I should have put more into running. If I changed the expectation from running 2 days a week and doing other things, to running 5 days a week and not doing other things, I would have been more likely to stick to the plan.
However, I also needed a backup plan. With strength training and yoga off the table, running became the only game in town. Rain meant no exercise at all. I need to have some sort of backup plan so that I cannot be completely sidetracked by the weather.
I also need to be better about planning ahead and utilizing a minimum viable exercise routine. If I lay out my workout clothes and shoes the night before and just tell myself that I need to go outside, it’s pretty easy to get started.
If I have to get ready in the morning or I am facing the daunting task of running for 45 minutes when I am exhausted, it’s pretty easy to stay in bed. Even if it means that I start my day with a simple walk around the block it’s better than nothing. At least I am building the habit of getting up in the morning and going outside.
This first attempt failed miserably, but I’m not giving up! I will have to take this knowledge and create a new exercise plan that works for my return to the working world.
Join the Conversation!
Do you have a good exercise routine? What is it? How did you get started? Let us know in the comments!