psy·chot·ic leop·ard sīˈkädik/ˈlepərd/ noun · anything that is funky, interesting, beautiful, niche, useful, and grabs one's attention

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The Evolution of a Gym Rat:  Instagram Envy, and How I Made Fitness A Top Priority

Posted by Lisa Johnson on


Under the guise of business, I began dipping into the waters of Instagram for the past year, and observed that anyone with posts related to exercise, workouts or hard bodies, seems to get LOADS of likes.  Why do people pay so much attention to everyone else’s progress?  Is it really motivating to see how far others have succeeded?

In elementary school, I was a gymnast. My best friend used to tease me because I wore sweatpants to school four days a week, and owned one pair of patchwork dungarees with a parrot on back pocket (boy, do I wish I still had those).  I thought I looked best in my clingy maroon gym pants with the side stripes; they were certainly more comfortable than the Sergio Valentes everyone else wore in the early eighties.  Plus, I had gymnastics practice for three hours every day, and didn’t feel like changing outfits.

That was the era of my most disciplined fitness routine, and I loved the sport, up until it was time to compete.  Then I hated being the center of attention, and the more pressure placed on me to,  the more occurrences there were of twisted wrists and ankles hours before needing to showcase skills. Eventually, I realized that the anxiety wasn’t worth it:  at eleven, I was too old to just do gymnastics for fun, so I gave it up, as well as all sports.  For the next couple of decades, I would join the occasional yoga class, go for a run when I felt like it, and build biceps through book sale lifting.  Who needed a gym to stay in shape?

And then, I got hurt.  We had taken a family trip to Florida, and I had inadvertently scheduled a book pickup the same day we arrived back in New York.  I felt like I didn’t want to cancel, so went immediately from the airport to the woman’s house, where I proceeded to lift forty wine cartons of books into the back of the SUV as quickly as possible.  Maybe it was the repeated twisting movements, but my back started killing me that evening, and it didn’t go away, even after a week, and forced me to cancel the taekwondo classes I’d been taking with my son (who ended up getting his black belt), as basic forms continued to aggravate my back, even after a several month hiatus.

Was I just getting old?  Me, who had been naturally strong my whole life, ended up in physical therapy, feeling like a total wuss.  Surrounded by athletes with real sports injuries, and elderly people in chronic pain, there I lay on a table, motionless under some completely useless vibration machine that felt like a farce.  

Insurance caused me to switch therapists, and I got lucky, ending up up with an excellent PT whose hands on attitude introduced me to weight machines.  When therapy ended, he suggested I go to a gym to continue the routines and build up my core muscles to strengthen my back and avoid a similar shituation.

At the time, we had a family membership at the local Y, which only my ex-husband rarely took advantage of, so at least I felt better by starting to get our money’s worth.  Three times a week, I dutifully worked the machines, bored out of my mind, and then, through some amazing luck and alluringly loud hip hop music, ended up in an incredible cardio fitness class.

For the first time in decades, I found exercise that I actually loved again.  There was no need to test to another level, and no audience except my classmates who themselves were sweating away and just trying to keep up.  Instead of the dreaded monotony of the same workout routines, I felt like I was meeting friends at a dance party on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Last night, my son wanted try out a new power workout class at the Y with me; we’d heard the instructor was excellent. Unfortunately, while not listening to me to wear a coat in the 12 degree weather (he is sixteen, so of course), he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk into the building, and the aftermath of blood and gore caused us to cancel our plans.  It had been days of sedentary, mid-winter lack of activity, but we had to get him home.  Still, I wanted that workout.  

As our house is small, with no space for a treadmill or any real exercise equipment, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Heading down to the unheated basement still in my coat, I grabbed the remote and turned on Netflix while jogging in place, and then proceeded to watch the first episode of “Easy” while running in place for the next half an hour.  Primitive, but it did the trick.  Checking the Misfit counter on my shoe, and discovered that I had actually exceeded the daily step requirements!  I was elated, and now felt like I could, with a free conscience, have two bowls of cookies and cream churn style ice cream.

I am embarrassed at the snobby attitude I used to have toward people who actually made it a priority to routinely take care of their bodies. I hate to admit it, but I guess I may need to officially consider myself a gym rat.

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