when is a workout a workout?
There are a lot of things that changed when I transitioned from living the city life to living in the country last summer. We can no longer just quickly pop-over to the Starbucks down the road to grab a latte. Instead of seeing the stray cat at our apartment every now and again, our wildlife viewing now consists of coyotes and deer and these really giant birds I have yet to identify. There’s no stopping at the health food co-op on my way home from work for a pound of grass-fed, organic ground beef anymore. Amazingly enough, changes like that were super easy for me to get used to. But the big change I’m struggling with? Figuring out when I’m exercising.
It’s sounds silly, doesn’t it? How does someone not know when they’re working out? But the truth is, before we moved here, my entire fitness life was tied to living in the city. Sure, I grew up a country girl, but I never “worked out” before age 18. I was in volleyball and color guard and basketball. I carried firewood and shoveled mulch and climbed trees. It never occurred to me to go hop on a treadmill for 30 minutes because I needed to exercise. Because I didn’t need to. I remember a particularly hellish summer in middle school where I had to go to volleyball practice for four hours in the morning and then come home and clear trees and briars for hours because we were putting in a lake. My life was exercise. Even if I wasn’t “exercising”.
Then I went to college in a city and it took years (years!) for me to understand that, yes, indeed, I needed to exercise my body now. I needed to use the gyms and use the running paths and use the city parks, because there wasn’t much firewood carrying or briar-clearing in the city. It wasn’t until I hit my mid-20s that I really got used to the idea of “working out” in the sense that it was something to check off on my to-do list. It wasn’t something that just happened in the goings-on of my day-to-day life anymore. I had to make a concerted effort to go out and exercise my body.
And that stuck. I got good at it. I got good at carving out an hour to go to the gym with no purpose other than exercising. I got good at heading out to the running trail on Saturday morning just for the sake of exercising. My entire mindset started to form around this concept of fitness. I never considered just living my life when I was a kid to be “fitness”, but this, this buying gadgets and going to the gym and lifting weights and running and getting on cardio equipment and taking a Zumba class, that was definitely “fitness”.
So then I moved back. I moved back home. I moved back to the country. I thought it would be a simple transition because, after all, I grew up here, but I’m slowly realizing that living in the city took hold of me in a lot more ways than I thought. And fitness is one of them. I’m really struggling with a battle between my body and my mind. In my mind what I’m doing isn’t working out because I’m not on a cardio machine or wearing a heart rate monitor or in a gym or at a Zumba class. But my body? My body is sore and tired from just a few hours a week of work outside. And this is just the tip of the seasonal iceberg. It’s going to get harder, it’s going to become more work, it’s going to be hours and hours and hours of hard manual labor. We’re planting a 5,000+ square foot garden this spring. That (plus maintaining the other 9 acres of land) is going to be my gym for the next six months.
Logically, I know that, really, the whole world of fitness is just there as a replacement for the hard, manual labor that our bodies are used to doing from days of old. We sit at desks and sit on couches and sit in our cars, so to counteract that, we need to go to the gym and run on the treadmill and lift weights. And I realize that my lifestyle now is different from that typical lifestyle. My lifestyle is (at least in the spring, summer and fall) my gym. But still, it’s so hard to erase the years worth of conditioning. The conditioning that says, if you don’t “do a workout” you are being lazy. Somehow, even though I spent an hour shoveling compost yesterday, it doesn’t feel like it should “count” as a workout. Which is ridiculous. If 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill counts, than 60 minutes of shoveling rotting food scraps sure as hell does (especially considering how sore I am this morning).
Its interesting, now that I’m in this as an adult, I remember back to my parents. We always has some kind of exercise equipment in the basement, but it would go mostly unused for the vast majority of the time. I remember they’d use it for a few months, and then stop. I always thought it was so weird that they wouldn’t keep up the habit. So I asked them one day. I asked them why they only stick to their workout routine for a few months and they told me—because that’s all the needed. They only “worked out” in the typical, use-the-weight-machine, kinda way during the winter. As soon as spring sprung back up and the work outside started up again, their need (and energy) to workout indoors fell away. It wasn’t that they were being lazy or undedicated, they were just using the exercise equipment to tide their bodies over until the work started again. And that’s how I’m starting to feel about our home gym. I used it a ton this winter. But as the days get warmer and the outside work starts to pile up, our gym is going largely unused.
And I have to let my mind get used to that. It’s okay. It’s okay for my gym to go unused for most of the year. It’s okay for me to not pick up a kettlebell because instead, I’m doing squats to pick up 60 pounds of maple sap. It’s okay to not get on the treadmill because I have to spend 30 minutes chasing after our adorable, but ornery dog who refuses to come when called. It’s okay to not do any push-ups or lunges because I’m doing so much shoveling and raking. It’s okay. It doesn’t make me lazy. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to gain back all the weight I lost. It doesn’t mean I’m going to get weaker. It just means that I’m using those calories I’d burn in the gym to get stuff done around the property, and that’s just as much of a workout as anything I’d do in a gym.