Back in January, I told you all about my four-and-a-half year gym hiatus. In the same post, I explained that I was making a big change to my fitness routine: I was kicking it up to the next level. I joined a new gym that described their routine as “…an eight-week fitness program that combines cardio kickboxing and strength training to give you a workout that guarantees results.”

I started my membership at the new gym on January 2nd, with the stretch goal of going five days a week. It didn’t take long before I was hooked. Not only was it easy-peasy to get to class Monday through Friday, I started going on Saturdays too.

It’s been 4-1/2 months now since I started my new regimen, and at the risk of being “that girl who won’t shut up about her gym,” I want to share what’s changed for the better as a result.

Getting up early—really, really early—isn’t so bad after all

I originally signed up for the 6:00am class, which meant getting up at 5:40am every day. It actually wasn’t much of a change; I already set my alarm for 5:45am on weekdays… but I snoozed it over and over until 6:15am, and sometimes later.

The first week was a little rough, but I hit my stride by week two. By the eighth week, I barely needed an alarm at all. My body wakes me up at 5:40am now, whether I want to be awake or not.

Between eight-week sessions, there are a few “off weeks” where the gym has fewer class times; my normal 6:00am class isn’t offered. If I want to work out, I have to go at 5:00am or in the evening. I hate giving up time with my kids, so 5:00am it was.

Surprisingly, I hardly feel a difference between getting up at 4:40am and 5:40am. Plus, when I go to 5:00am class, I have an extra hour to get ready for work, and don’t have to rush around like a madwoman. I can get to work by 8:00am, which means I can take a short lunch and leave at 4:30pm—awesome. Best of all, when I sneak quietly back into the house at 6:00am after my workout, Peanut and Squeak are almost always still asleep. I haven’t missed a single minute of kiddo time.

So now it’s official: I’m a 5:00am girl, though I will still go to 6:00am some days. I go to bed earlier, and that gives me a lot less time to write blogs. But I’m finding ways to squeeze ’em in.

Who’d a thunk it? Lydia, aka Master of the Snooze Button, is getting up in the very wee hours to work out, five days a week. Crazy.

My body is totally capable of physical activity in the morning

I used to think my body didn’t respond before 10:00am to physical demands. I had good reason to think so: when I used to play in Saturday volleyball tournaments, I struggled to shake off the cobwebs in morning matches.

Apparently my body just needed to get used to it. Now it’s no big thing, and in fact, I prefer working out in the morning. It gives me energy all day long (more on that later) and kick-starts my metabolism for the day. Woop!

I’m shoppin’ for tank tops

My workout clothes when I started this program were pretty homogenous: capris and a Dri-fit T-shirt. Notice that I said “T-shirt” and not “tank top.” There’s a reason for that.

Many people think that if you’re thin, you must love your body. But even thinner people are usually unhappy with some part of their body. For me, it’s my arms. I’ve always hated them, even more so since having kids.

They were long, bony, and just gross-looking. When I dropped weight while nursing my kids, the inches seemed to disappear from my arms first, and far too many. I got a lot of concerned comments about them, especially from my family, who aren’t afraid to call out something when they see it: “Lydia, your arms are really skinny, are you eating?!”

A few weeks after starting at the gym, we had a Theme Day: “Suns Out, Guns Out.” Wear your tank tops, the announcement board said. But I didn’t own a single one.

At the end of my first 8-week session, I got to see my “before and after” photos (I’ve included my before-and-after photos from December 29th to May 11 at the end of this post, if you’re brave enough to look at ’em). The difference wasn’t dramatic by any means, but my arms had gotten bigger and more defined, and my shoulders had gained obvious muscle, too. I was excited. And ready to go shopping.

Since January, my tank top collection has gone to eleven. No, seriously. I’ve gone from zero tank tops to eleven, with no signs of stopping.

Push-ups ON MY TOES, YOU GUYS

The first week at my new gym, I struggled to do a single push-up—despite doing them on my knees. After class, I pulled one of the trainers aside and asked them what I was doing wrong. I had to be screwing something up. They were so hard.

Turns out I wasn’t doing anything wrong at all. I was just that weak, particularly in my shoulders. How embarrassing. But 4 months later, push-ups on my knees are easy-peasy, and I can do a good chunk of them on my toes!

(In case that doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, I feel the need to point out that push-ups are harder for tall people with long arms, due to the laws of physics and a different center of gravity. Seriously, they are!)

Gym friends

I’m a pretty outgoing person, but I struggle making new friends. I’m making a conscious effort to strike up conversations and cultivate friendships at the gym. I’ve met a couple of gals that I’ve friended on Facebook (obvs the sign that your friend has gone from “meh” to “for realz”…right?), and I’m learning more names every week.

Sleepy McSleeperson

One unexpected perk of working out: I sleep better. I fall asleep fast and I wake up very little at night. I hit the hay and BOOM—it’s morning. It’s restful sleep since I’m not tossing and turning. Squeak does still wake up once or twice a week in the middle of the night, and I go in and hold his hand for 30 seconds and sneak back out. But for the most part, I’m getting better sleep than I’ve had in YEARS.

That said, I am going to bed earlier than I ever did. My goal most nights is to be in bed, lights out by 9:00pm. It’s hard sometimes, especially if Squeak is fighting his 8:00pm bedtime. It’s not unusual for him to stay up until 9:00pm or later, playing with toys, kicking his wall, or yelling for me to come and fix his “blank-ent.” Scoundrel.

Happy McHapperson (i.e., more stable moods)

My husband is probably going to read this and say, “Pfft, you’re still moody to me!” But that’s not what I’m talking about when I speak of moods.

As a chronic depressive, I have to stay closely tuned to my moods, and keep watch for signs that my depression is affecting me. Usually every three-four months I’ll notice a major dip in my happiness: feeling weepy, paranoid that others are talking about me, irritable, and overall just not like myself.

Since I started my new workout regimen, my mood has been wonderfully stable. No dips whatsoever. My therapist gave me a big high-five; she’s constantly preaching about the positive effects of exercise on mood, but few clients really listen to her advice.

I didn’t start working out more often so I could have fewer depressed spells, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the best side effect ever.

Hanky panky

A girl who feels good about herself and her body is more confident whether her clothes are on or off. And my husband thinks my new muscles are sexy. ‘Nuff said.

Bring it. I can take it. (Also known as “General Bad-assery”)

I’ve lifted half of a swing set, two giant bins of kitty litter, and two bags of softener salt over the last couple weeks. Could I have lifted these things before I started working out? Possibly. But the confidence I’ve gained from my new routine has made it a no-brainer for me to try. Got something heavy to carry? I’m your gal. Itching for an arm wrestling match? Come on over here, I’m up for the challenge.

I feel like I can take on—and dominate—anything life throws at me. That’s a great feeling.

Energy during the day

These days, I’m a LOT more energetic at work. It’s best when I exercise before work, but even on days that I don’t work out until after the workday is done, I still feel more awake. (Good lord, how many times can I use the word ‘work’ in one sentence?!)

That said, I get tired after 6:00pm, probably because of my early wake-up call, but in general, I have more energy than I did before. Which is handy when chasing toddlers around.

Volleyball court domination: endurance and smackin’ balls

Just 3 weeks into my workout regimen, I could tell a big difference on the volleyball court. Middle blocker, the position I play, is very demanding on your heart and lungs. On a typical rally (a period of time when the ball is in play), you’ll jump at the net to block the ball, then run back to the 10-foot line, where you’ll either do a three-step approach and jump to hit the ball OR you’ll shuffle to the side and cover your teammate who’s hitting. Then you run back to your position at the middle of the net to prepare for the next block. Rinse, and repeat. The longer the rally, the longer this continues. No breaks.

For years, I’ve been sucking major wind after long rallies, bent over like a senior citizen. I’d signal to my teammates to go slow serving so I could catch my breath. But I don’t have to do that anymore. My endurance has improved, and on top of that big perk, my newfound shoulder muscles mean that my attacks are a lot harder. It feels good to be 37 years old and hitting the ball harder than I did at 33. Thanks also go to my teammate and captain, Julie, who is always my biggest cheerleader, and to my teammate Karen, who made my day/week/month when she smacked me on the booty and said, “Wow Lydia, your butt is getting harder these days!” 🙂

Accountability for my calories

My gym takes the concept of accountability one step further by asking everyone to keep a food journal. You don’t have to do it, but it sure helps your results. You fill it out in the My Fitness Pal mobile app, then print it out and turn it in weekly for feedback from a trainer. I only journaled two weeks in my first session, but this session I turned in a journal every week. I learned that I’m not getting enough protein (I was eating less than 100g) and I could stand to back off the cookies and ice cream.

Since I’m not trying to lose weight though, an occasional treat is okay (though I probably eat more treats than I should).

Food journaling has taught me to be more cognizant of my calories in a given day. After 8 weeks of food journals, I know what 1700 calories looks like, and what 2200 calories looks like. Even if I don’t keep a journal every day, I now have a much better idea how to keep my calories reasonable. My Fitness Pal FTW.

Role modeling (boozin’ at the gym)

When I go to 6:00am class, I return home shortly after 7:00am. By then the kids are usually awake. Squeak is already in his high chair, enjoying a leisurely bowl of cereal. When I walk in he shouts, “Mommy, you’re home! You’re not boozin’ anymore!”

I smile and kiss his little blonde head. “Yes, I’m home from the gym, buddy.”

You see, my husband thinks its funny to tell my kids that I’m “boozing at the bar” when I’m away from home, but not at work. (I haven’t had to explain this to any teachers yet… but when I do, it’s going to be interesting.)

Despite my husband’s idiocy, even if they think I’m boozing, my kids still see me walk in the door every morning drenched in sweat. They see me exercise on Saturdays, because I often take them with me and let them play in the gym daycare (it’s included in my membership—how awesome is that?!). They’re going to grow up seeing me and Nathan make exercise a priority, and that makes me happy.

Being “That Girl” who talks incessantly about working out

I promised when I started this venture that I wouldn’t yammer on about working out in my Facebook posts. And I’ve stuck to that promise. True, I’ve posted when the gym was holding trial classes for new members, and when I completed 50 burpees, I posted a teeny little “I’m really proud of this thing I did” status.

It’s difficult to keep quiet. I really, really wish I could talk to everyone about it. Not because I am smug or think my gym is the best one ever, but because I feel better than I have in years, and I want everyone else to feel amazing, too.

I feel better mentally and physically, and I look better too. Who wouldn’t want that for their friends and family?

I wasn’t planning to share my before and after pictures here, but after I had the “After” photo taken this morning, the gym owner texted me to ask if she could share it on the gym’s Facebook page. I was a little nervous (a picture of me in a sports bra, with no makeup, shared with thousands of people?! Ack!), but more than that, I was honored that she felt I was worthy of a before-and-after feature. It’s a testament to my hard work.

I’m not going to “Aw shucks, it was really not that big of a deal” this time. Because you know what? I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I made a change that has improved my mind, body, well-being, and life overall. Here’s to a new routine.

Cheers.

[Scroll down for my before-and-after pictures!]

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Addendum: THE BEST SURPRISE EVER

The day after posting this blog, I went to my gym’s end-of-session party, where we all say “Food journal, my ass!” and enjoy some beer and food. The gym gives awards at the party: four Trainer’s Picks and two Overall Best Transformation awards. A hundred or so people gathered around as the trainers gave their choices and the owner introduced two Best Overall Transformation winners.

The first BOT award went to a tall, lanky fella who had apparently killed it on his food journal and had fantastic results over the session. The second winner was, in the words of the owner, “Not our typical transformation winner,” because this person had actually gained weight—six to seven pounds of muscle.

“We’re all at different places in the journey,” he explained, and he went on to say that this person had really doubted whether the gym was worth the money before starting. “She even wrote about these doubts publicly,” he said.

My heart almost jumped out of my chest. I turned to my friend and whispered, “Oh, SHIT. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”

And then I started crying. I could barely hold it together until he finished his speech. (I wish I could remember what he said, but I was shaking and my heart was pounding. My ears weren’t really absorbing much, but I remember him saying that I worked hard every day and was a riot in the process. Awwww!).

“We couldn’t be happier to present this award for NLXF Best Overall Transformation to Lydia,” he said. And then I really burst into tears.

In shock. Happy shock, but still… so much shock.

I was so surprised. Because best overall transformation doesn’t typically go to someone who’s gained weight, it goes to people who LOSE large amounts of it! Scrawny me, with my toothpick arms…? Must be a mistake, surely. But it wasn’t. One of the trainers told me later that my award was the one they all agreed on, without any discussion. “A slam dunk,” she said. I was so flattered and happy. I couldn’t stop grinning all night. I’m still grinning.

I won $250 cash and a free 8-week session, which I gave to my husband. Why? Because I found something I love and am passionate about, and I want to share it with the people I love and care about. He says after the session is up that he won’t continue as a member because of the cost, but I told him to keep an open mind. You never know.

Some stats for the before & after photos:

  • Before weight: 133.6 lbs.   After weight:   139.8 lbs. (See? The scale is sometimes totally irrelevant.)
  • Arms before:  10″    Arms after:  10.5″
  • Hips before:  39″   Hips after:   37″
  • Thighs before:   22″   Thighs after:   22.5″
  • Posture before:  Gross. I had no idea it was that bad.  Posture after:  Abs FTW!

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