I do not enjoy what one would consider conventional means of exercise. I don’t like going to the gym. I hate running. Swimming in chlorine dries me out. Yoga can be very hit or miss. And don’t even get me started on how uncomfortable organized sports make me feel.
But it’s important to challenge oneself, so that’s precisely what I did.
Knowing that there are many benefits from working out, I decided to do the recommended amount of exercise for three weeks.
I chose to follow the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control’s (CDC) guidelines for the amount of physical activity needed for “even greater health benefits.” The CDC recommends “five hours (300 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 days days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).”
The first step was finding a physical activity that I could enjoy doing. Luckily, I walk dogs by day, and scooping up 3 to 5 dogs and then driving them to the closest hiking trail perfectly covered the 5 hours of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity.” But how would I get the muscle-strengthening activities down when I hate the gym?
Though at first I wanted to try something new, I eventually realized the only way I was going to get my strength in was with an activity I hadn’t really done for almost two years: indoor rock climbing.
I initially sought out climbing as a regular hobby a year after I graduated college in 2013. For about a year I climbed at a gym in Philadelphia, and it was awesome. I made friends, I got fit, and I had something to do besides binge-watch too much television (though I did binge-watch a little bit).
When I moved out to Los Angeles almost two years ago, I didn’t have the time to maintain this hobby. Which is why my little experiment was the perfect way to reintroduce myself to climbing.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a gym and aren’t overtaken by a fear of heights, I highly recommend checking out a climbing gym. There are few things more empowering than scaling a challenging wall — maybe with a few falls — and finally making it to the top.
Additionally, many climbing gyms, like mine, have yoga and core classes, as well as workout facilities if you want to mix things up.
For my experiment, I decided to get my two days of muscle-strengthening at the gym.
One weekend per week, I would meet my pal Martha for a few hours of top-roping. Then, on the weekend, I would stop in for a yoga class followed by a little bouldering. This low-key activity is a form of climbing where you are not tied in, but the walls are not as high as a top-roping wall.
I have to be honest — sometimes it was really, really hard to drag myself out of my apartment to a place where I would have to be active, but my desire to finish the experiment kept me going.
The first thing I noticed was that, by the end of the night, I was exhausted. 9 p.m. rolled around, and I was counting down the minutes to bedtime. But though I was tired, I wasn’t miserable. This week, I slept all the way through the night, which I rarely experience.
But sleep wasn’t the only exciting aspect of this experiment. I was overjoyed to find out that when I actually liked the exercise I was engaging in, it was actually fun to work out. For example, when I’m walking dogs, it’s a relaxing activity. And of course there are the health benefits — I can just feel my butt muscles tightening as I stride up steps.
I’m aware not everyone can get their exercise in while they get paid, but walking vigorously is a thing you can do once a day regardless. Instead of driving to that hip bar or restaurant, I will now make it a point to walk.
While I enjoyed the tiredness of Week 1, during Week 2 I did NOT appreciate it. My sleepiness reached new heights. I could barely keep my eyes open and was chugging coffee left and right (aka spending way too much time in the bathroom). I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I was drinking unending amounts of water, eating the normal healthy stuff I usually eat (with the occasional bag of Cheetos or scoop of ice cream), and getting a solid 8 hours of sleep.
Then it hit me. Eating what I usually ate wasn’t going to cut it for my new heavy-duty, all-the-time exercise. I began to add more protein to my diet, like mushrooms, tofu, trail mix, and Barilla Protein Plus pasta.
According the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology by way of Livestrong, “women need around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day.” So basically, if you weigh about 145 pounds, you should be eating about 50 grams of protein a day. Which unfortunately for me means less ice cream and more actual foods. Oh well.
I expected to see the results of all my hard work in the form of chiseled abs or something of that sort, but things didn’t quite work out that way. I still weighed the steady 145 pounds I’ve weighed since I developed breasts and hips after high school (late bloomers FTW), and despite the burning pain I felt in my arms after climbing, my muscles didn’t seem to be getting bigger.
According to a Women’s Health Magazine interview with Erik Kawamoto, a strength and conditioning specialist and owner of JKConditionings, you should give it about 4 to 8 weeks before you begin to see results.
My disappointment in lack of development aside, I was also beginning to undergo a separate body issue. One morning I woke up with wrist pain. I tried climbing on my newly painful wrist, but that only lasted less than an hour. Wrists are nothing to mess around with, so after my first failed climbing attempt, I hopped immediately onto Amazon Prime and got a brace.
As soon as I got it, I went back to the gym, and had fantastic results. Even while hanging on a bouldering route, not sure what to do next, my wrist was feeling fine while braced up.
The main thing I learned is that while working out does improve your life and health, there’s also a tad more that goes into it. Mainly that you also have to take care of yourself if you’re going to be putting your body through a lot of athletic activity. Which I guess makes sense, but as I said, I really, really hate working out, so this wasn’t entirely something I was aware of beforehand.
I also learned that taking the time out of your day to exercise is worth it.
It might not seem like it when you’re sitting comfortably on the couch, but the energy that comes with a good workout is worth the struggle. Besides, about eight weeks in, maybe you’ll be looking fly. It really can’t hurt to find out.