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On Fitness and Exhaustion

Yesterday morning I went to my first cycling class at the YMCA. It was amazing. And hard. And fun. And pretty sweaty, too. And did I mention hard? I think I could actually feel the individual strands of my leg muscles contracting and releasing. I’ve heard stories of the intensity of the infamous cycling class before, but since our Y is fairly small and the Saturday morning selections slim, I decided to give it a try. (And, honestly, I was a bit curious to see if I could withstand the class.) I’m happy to say: I can’t wait to go back again tomorrow!

Cycling class is pretty straight forward. You hop on a stationary bike and adjust resistance and speed as the instructor dictates. I’ve heard that some instructors “simulate” an outdoor riding experience by saying things like, “you’re on a steep hill now… now you can see the top of the hill… etc. Our instructor’s directions were more like, “Alright, turn it up another gear. Let’s climb for 5 minutes! Now add one more gear, stand up and sprint for 4 minutes!” Then on to more climbs, and more sprints, over and over, all the while increasing our gears. I swear, it was like she was inexhaustible. I’m pretty sure my fellow 8 a.m. cyclists were all at least twice my age, but seeing them pedaling away in unison with their super toned, bike shorts-clad legs was good motivation to get myself moving. And to keep going all the way into old age!

I must be honest, though. In between all the instructions to increase resistance and use our abs to hold our bodies centered above the bike, we were receiving a good bit of encouragement to continue pushing through. Statements like “Earn your recovery!” and “Give me 101%; this is your last chance to give it everything!” (although we did end up with quite a few “last chances”…) and a lot of “Come on!” interspersed throughout. In fact, our instructor even led us to believe at one point that we  only had to get through 3 more sprints, only to then tell us to increase resistance and get ready for another 2 rounds of sprints. She said she didn’t want us holding back, thinking we needed to save our energy for the next round. And you know what–we all found it in us to keep going!

It made me think of a quote I heard a while back from a professional runner who said that if at the end of his run, he still had more energy, he knew he didn’t run hard enough. I’ve been thinking about what it would look like to adopt this outlook on life in general. Ending each day on empty, actually relying on the night’s rest to fuel up for the next morning. There are certainly days where I fall into bed at night feeling accomplished and satisfied knowing I made good use of the time I was given. But some days. . . not so much.

According to the Strength Finders assessment, one of my top strengths is that I am an “achiever.” They describe this trait as one who has “a constant need for achievement. You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself. And by “every day” you mean every single day — workdays, weekends, vacations. No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied. . . Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical. It might not even be focused. But it will always be with you. As an Achiever you must learn to live with this whisper of discontent. It does have its benefits. It brings you the energy you need to work long hours without burning out. It is the jolt you can always count on to get you started on new tasks, new challenges. It is the power supply that causes you to set the pace and define the levels of productivity for your work group. It is the theme that keeps you moving.”

I can definitely see this to be true in myself, particularly in the fact that I cannot stand it if I spend an entire day lying around and not accomplishing anything. But there is a difference in idle busy work, done just for the sake of doing something, and intentional, focused, hard work that empties your mental and physical energy reserves. One produces burn-out, and the other can produce a rhythm that feeds and fuels itself. The thing I’m still learning about rhythms is that they require down time, too. I’m a work in progress, trying to figure out how to balance the two.

In any case, this week–I’m going to try to give it all, every day. In cycling class, in work, in relationships, in learning.

And this is just a wild guess, but I think I’m going to sleep like a baby every night, too.

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2 thoughts on “On Fitness and Exhaustion

  1. Pingback: One Month Review | A Year in Learning

  2. Pingback: Adulting | A Year in Learning

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