"I hated exercise. I was the last kid picked for teams in gym class.
Very last, even after kids in arm slings or with chronic respiratory conditions. Track and field days were the worst. So were the days when the gym teacher would pull out a mat and have us do headstands, handstands and cartwheels. I couldn’t do any of that. I’d come in dead last whenever the class had to run around the block. I was also a pretty chubby kid. I would rather curl up with a good book than go play outside.
Even when I lost the weight around seventh grade, I wasn’t very sport-oriented. I was still last picked, for good reason. The opening scene to the Daria cartoon, when she won’t go for the volleyball, is pretty much the animated version of my time in gym class. I signed up for a CPR class so I wouldn’t have to take gym for a few weeks, but I’m still not sure that I could save anyone in distress.
What inspired you to start working out? Oddly, the end of mandatory gym class after freshman year of high school inspired me to work out. I realized that I could exercise on my own terms, at home, without getting teased or hit in the face with a dodgeball by a mean-spirited classmate or having to compete with better athletes who didn’t want me to try and mess up any more than I wanted to try in the first place. I bought a step and the Cher Fitness: A New Attitude VHS tape and started a workout routine. I did that for years. I love her outfits.
What was the turning point when you realized you had transformed from an exercise hater to an exercise lover? I can’t remember a specific turning point. I think once I got through those first few really hard workouts, I knew I couldn’t go back to being so sedentary again.
What are your favorite workouts? I try to attend Captain Quinn’s Fitness Bootcamp in Brooklyn, and I do Bikram yoga, vinyasa yoga and cardio kickboxing. At home, I do Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day Shred ("favorite" is maybe a strong word for this, but I like that the workouts are only 20 minutes long).
When it comes to exercise, are you a pack trainer or a lone wolf? I’m a bit of both. I started out exercising mainly at home, with VHS tapes and then DVDs, and then I would just do the elliptical machine at the gym. I was honestly a little intimidated by the thought of working out with other people in classes. But about four years ago, I started classes at Captain Quinn’s Fitness Boot Camp, and I really like the energy and encouragement the other people in the classes provide, especially when I got to know the regulars. Finding a fun group of people to work out with definitely makes exercise more bearable! It helped me overcome my initial wariness of workout classes in general.
What’s the piece of workout gear that you can’t live without? After many years of service (and abuse), I finally retired my Kleen Kanteen insulated water bottle and now have a Hydro Flask insulated water bottle. No matter what workout I’m doing, it’s usually with me. It’s especially great for hot yoga, because I can have a cool sip of water in the middle of (and after) class!
What songs are on your go-to workout mix? Honestly, “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest is probably my favorite cardio song, though there’s nothing particularly rebellious about the elliptical. I love listening to metal and to industrial music while working out. I wish there was a Spinning class that had a Mötörhead and Ministry soundtrack! I also like putting Brit-pop, like Pulp, on my gym playlists.
What’s your biggest workout obstacle, and how do you overcome it? Just getting to the gym or class or actually doing the fitness DVD is the hardest part for me. I plan to work out every day, knowing that I’ll end up skipping a day or two every week. I used to get up early to work out, getting two difficult things out of the way: Getting going in the morning and exercising.
I also have backup if/then plans for a lot of situations. If there’s train maintenance and I can’t get to yoga, then I’ll work out at home. If I don’t have much time, I’ll do the 20-minute workout. I try to nip possible excuses in the bud. And if I really don’t have the time or the inclination to work out one day, then that’s fine, because I’ll work out the next time I have a chance.
What inspires you to work out? The way I feel after I’ve worked out inspires me. Not the panting, sweaty feeling, but the way I feel in general — physically and mentally stronger.
What do you do when you feel as if you’ve hit a plateau or rut? In classes, the moves are often changed up, but sometimes it’s hard to push yourself to the next level, especially when you know it’s going to be tougher. I try out a new class or a new workout when I feel like I’m in a rut.
"I didn’t hate exercise, but I had hated the exercise that I had been forced to do in phys ed classes."
What’s been the biggest benefit to becoming an exercise lover? I know this sounds like a cliché, but I feel stronger in all aspects of my life. Doing something that I was so terrible at — and learning to enjoy it — has taught me that I can overcome other obstacles. In December 2012, I dislocated a few ribs and thought I would be sidelined for a few months from regular workouts, and that was really frustrating. As it turned out, the ribs had been pushed out of place by tumors, and in February 2013, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The initial six months of chemo didn’t get rid of it, so I had to do additional chemo, radiation and then spend a month in the hospital for a stem cell transplant.
Throughout all of this, I couldn’t work out as much or regularly for about a year-and-a-half. When I could, I did, but there were long stretches of time when I just didn’t have the energy. During that time away though, I really noticed how -- even when I had a blood clot in my lung that left me winded, or the most I could do was drag around my IV pole through the hospital halls — I still felt mentally strong. Working out taught me some important lessons and really helped me push through some of the physically and mentally challenging aspects of treatment. It also taught me patience — something that I really needed when six months of treatment turned into three times that long!
I also needed to tap into that patience after I got out of the hospital and had to start back at square one to build up my strength. I started with a walking DVD at home, since I still had immunity issues, and then built myself up to some strength training, then abs. From there, I started doing more cardio, and now I’m almost back to where I was. In fact, I think I appreciate being able to work out now (even when it’s difficult), because the alternative was no fun.
What advice would you give to someone who hates exercise? It’s tough to find the motivation to do something, especially when you don’t like it. But I really feel like anyone could learn to enjoy working out, as long as you find the right thing. I’m still no good at team sports. I was on a softball team in college, and I would use the mitt to shield my head every time the ball got near me. I would still be last-picked for any team sport. I don’t enjoy running. But I found so many things that I do enjoy doing — the elliptical while listening to music, yoga, boot camp classes. I didn’t hate exercise, but I had hated the exercise that I had been forced to do in phys ed classes.
Just get out there and get moving and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you find something that you like, and you start to experience the physical and mental changes that come along with it.
-- Josie Rubio, 37, Writer, Brooklyn, NY
Photos courtesy of Josie Rubio; @JosieRubio