It’s easy to look at fitness trainers and think we’ve always been fit and healthy; but this is often not the case, and many of us have had to overcome hurdles and obstacles just like anyone else.
I ask clients all the time to define their WHY. What is the driving force behind their motivation to become fit and change their life?
Internal motivation is EVERYTHING when you’re starting a fitness or wellness program; you’ll need to be able to draw from that motivation on the days when you feel like giving up, skipping your workout, or eating an entire box of frosted donuts in one sitting.
So I thought it only fitting to share my “why.”
Discovering fitness changed my entire life; sometimes it even feels like it’s saved my life, and has continued to over the years.
My first experience with fitness was born of teenage self-loathing. Yes, that sounds very dramatic, but let’s keep in mind as a teenager, everything is a BIG DEAL.
So, my entire teenage career, (because being a teenager is a career, right?!), I was part of an intensive dance program. I don’t really know how I got into this program, because I really wasn’t that good. I had flat feet and so-so turnout.
Anyone who’s danced seriously knows that there is a hierarchy in dance classes. At the top are the BEST DANCERS. Even if they are not nice people outside of the ballet studio, they have the highest ranking inside. The less talented you are, the lower you are on the hierarchy. Let’s just say I wasn’t very high. Never mind that outside of dance you might have lots of friends, and be a straight A student; if you are not shaped properly, if you are clumsy, awkward, and slower to learn the choreography, in the dance studio, in my experience, your outside accomplishments don’t matter.
In my dance classes, I often felt I wasn’t good enough. You might wonder why I kept dancing, since it created a toxic environment for my self-esteem, and the only answer I really have is that I didn’t even think that was an option. I had started this journey, and I was going to finish it. Plus, I liked the dancing, especially the jazz and contemporary classes. Anywhoo. We had dance classes 5 days a week, and sometimes on weekends.
And while you’d think all this dancing would mean I was in killer shape, I wasn’t.
I had strong calves, and glutes, but I lacked overall core strength and tone. I was a teen, and not overly concerned with healthy eating, so I ate whatever junk I wanted. Besides dance, I didn’t do any other exercise.
So around the age of 15, I started to develop a pot belly, while the rest of me remained skinny. In case you’re not familiar with the layout of a dance studio, you’re in a room surrounded by mirrors. I could see the changes in my body, and so could everyone else.
The other girls started making fun of me.
They called me pot belly, asked if I was pregnant, poked me in the stomach. I don’t remember the exact insults this many years later, but I do remember the way they made me feel, which was pretty horrible. Thank goodness this was 90s, long before the days of online bullying.
Even still, I’d go home from dance and cry, poke myself in the stomach, unable to figure out why my body looked so terrible. I started engaging in destructive behaviours. I’d barely eat, going an entire day just eating an apple or a piece of toast. Or I’d throw up after eating. Yet my pot-belly remained (now of course I know that starving oneself actually slows down metabolism so I was making the problem worse).
After months of feeling sorry for myself, I was flipping through the TV one day and saw a workout program. It was very low tech; basically a lady in her living room doing 80s inspired hi-lo aerobics. Lots of knee-ups and hamstring curls. She was very friendly and encouraging, and as I watched her, I thought this was something I should do. I started slowly, because despite being a dancer, I was not aerobically fit.
Do 10 minutes one day. Try for 12 minutes the next. I started videotaping the shows and getting up early to fit in a 30 minute workout before school.
Then one day, I saw an ad on TSN for the Caribbean workout. Very fit looking instructors taught classes on the beach, by the pool in the (duh) Caribbean. These workouts were much harder than the hi-lo cardio workouts I’d been doing, but looked much more fun. I used weights. I taped all the shows and started to do them back-to-back, and building up from 30 minutes to 45 minutes of interval training a day. I listened intently to the nutrition, health and fitness tips the TV trainers gave.
I learned why it was important to do strength training as well as cardio and why mobility training was just as vital as strengthening.
I learned a lot about what it really meant to be healthy. This was before the internet, or Instagram. Information about getting healthy wasn’t as ready available as it is now, so a lot of the information was news to me.
My pot belly became toned. I actually knew what it felt like to be strong. I had muscles in my arms! Suddenly I wasn’t the gangly girl with the stomach that stuck out. The girls in dance class stopped commenting on my body. It is ridiculous that my worth as a person went up just because I toned up, but there it was. My newfound muscles also meant that my dance technique improved. I was a new girl. Confident. Strong. Happy with the way I looked.
Fitness had become a part of my life. I worked out regularly, and did those Caribbean workout videos even after I went away to university at McGill (ask any of my former roommates; they will verify this!). THEN, wait for it, I discovered the instructors on the show LIVED and taught fitness classes in Montreal where I lived! What?! So of course I took their classes with the enthusiasm and excitement of a star-struck super fan. I loved every minute of it and was probably their most. enthusiastic. student. I also realized that if they could become fitness instructors, then so could I.
My motivation to start a fitness program stemmed from wanting to change my body’s outward appearance.
There is more to the story, my journey into healthy eating, and how becoming a fitness instructor saved my life. Anther story for another day.
And that’s my WHY.
I discovered that exercise can change your entire life, and it has, and continues to change mine for the better.
I recommend to all my new clients before they start to do these 3 things:
My why has changed over the years. Now it’s about being healthy for my children, and being able to be active with them, play soccer with them, and stay strong as I age. Once you identify your internal motivation, it will always be there to guide you, push you and help you remember WHY you started on this journey.