Sick of being sick and tired, I decided to make a change. That’s how a lot of personal fitness journey stories start. Not mine.
I was sick and tired -- with a chronic illness no less -- in part because I had pushed myself too hard. I’d logged far too many days of two hour workouts -- one hour of high-intensity cardio and one hour of strength training -- not including the nearly three miles of walking already integrated into my daily commute.
Despite the compliments I received about how great I looked, being so intense wore my immune system down. I was in denial, telling myself, in the vein of the Paleo diet, that our bodies were built to move all day long. Our ancestors probably did it, so we should be too. And I personally wasn’t going to complacently sit around and let my body atrophy like my desk jockey peers.
But then, my body made me stop. I got so sick that I could barely get out of bed … for nearly a year. As I began to heal, my doctor advised me to only exercise at low intensity, without getting my heart rate up, for not much more than half an hour a day. Eventually, I was told I could gradually build up to doing more heart-pumping exercise again.
Due to the illness and a knee problem, I knew I’d need to start slowly. And I knew most of the intense exercise programs that would’ve attracted my attention pre-illness for their quick and effective results were not an option. That meant no Jillian Michaels, no P90X, no Beachbody.
Meet: Cassey Ho. I had heard about a program called Tone It Up through a Facebook group I belong to. Tone It Up provides you with a free workout calendar that tells you exactly how to work out every day, and it includes a combination of cardio and strength moves. That’s exactly what I was looking for as I’d always been baffled by how to get the right mix of cardio, strength training and flexibility in. So I spent hours scouring Tone It Up’s before & after pictures on Instagram and trying to decide if it was right for me.
But, many of the Tone It Up workouts seemed to be high impact, and I was worried about my knee. My physical therapist had recommended Pilates as an appropriate workout for my discombobulating body. And I’ve always had a lot more leg strength compared to a weak core, which I knew Pilates could help with. I also knew it was gentle enough to be a low risk for my immune system. So while reminiscing about how much I enjoyed Windsor Pilates videos in high school, I stumbled upon Blogilates, the creation of Cassey Ho. Like Tone It Up, Blogilates has a free workout calendar with free workout videos. And Ho also got into Pilates by watching Windsor videos in high school.
Better yet, Blogilates has a beginner’s calendar that lets you gradually build your endurance and stamina. After getting injured too many times trying to do Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, I knew I needed to slowly build up to working out regularly again. So I promised myself I would finish the beginner’s calendar, a month of various YouTube videos that amounted to about 30 minutes a day. I decided that I didn’t necessarily have to do them in a month -- if I was too tired or sore and felt like I needed a rest day or two, I would take it. I also promised myself that if it got to a point where I felt like I was overexerting myself again, I’d stop.
My main goal with Blogilates was to stand up straighter. I also wanted to build my core muscles, a weak spot for me that causes me to walk with my torso a bit forward. I chose these as goals because I knew that they ultimately could help me improve something really important I need to work on: my confidence. Because of the illness and the failure that I knew would meet me if I focused only on the external, I decided not to make weight loss or toning up a goal, though I knew they would be likely byproducts. I did, however, decide to measure my progress -- but only by measurements and not by weight.
The first few days were rough. Cassey annoyed me. She was the definition of every girl I hate: way, way too perky. The total opposite of me. And I especially hated how smiley and happy she was while kicking my ass with an insane number of reps. I had always liked that Pilates had low reps per move … but Cassey’s version, which combines Pilates with more classic bodyweight moves (burpees, mountain climbers, etc.) deviates from tradition. In other words, Blogilates was a lot harder than the Pilates I remembered from my youth.
However, the more I worked out with Cassey, the more I started to like her. Her smiles became inspiring instead of irritating. She chooses to smile through the pain. And I started to appreciate her excessive babbling about nails and clothes as a means to distract you from your own pain.
Within less than ten days, I was shocked to see results. I saw a picture of myself and noticed I was standing up much straighter without even trying. The posture (and maybe the toning) in turn made me look leaner, and most importantly, I felt great!
As for the results after 30 days, I was surprised by how my measurements changed. The biggest change was that I lost four inches in my midway -- the area between the waist and the hips and where I personally tend to carry most of my excess weight. I was a little disappointed I hadn’t lost any inches from my waist but my mom pointed out that I didn’t need to. I was also surprised to lose 2-3 inches from my bust. (I wasn’t super confident in the consistency of my measuring ability.) Less concretely, I noticed my normally nonexistent/droopy butt (I have the sagging-in-the-butt jeans problem) suddenly seemed to firm and round up -- something that I never thought was possible! In conjunction with Blogilates, I had also made an attempt to eat more home-cooked meals and focus on eating healthier. I swapped soda for kombucha and fast casual food for Amy’s frozen meals. Anyway, the numbers speak for themselves:
Day 2: 2/23/16 Day 29: 3/30/16 Difference
Upper arm 10 inches 9.5 inches -0.5 inches
Forearm 8.5 inches 8.5 inches no change
Bust 35 inches 32-33 inches -2-3 inches
Chest 28 inches 27-28 inches -1 inch/no change
Waist 26 inches 26 inches no change
Hips 35 inches 34 inches -1 inch
Midway 34.5 inches 30.5 inches -4 inches
Thighs 19.5 inches 19 inches -0.5 inches
Knee 14 inches 13.5 inches -0.5 inches
Calves 13 inches 12.5-13 inches -0.5 inches/no change
But more importantly than the numbers, I became more confident in myself when I met my goal. My change in perception of Cassey from an annoying girly-girl to someone who I see as a mentor signified an internal change. I went from being competitive with other women to wanting to lift them up instead of tearing them down. And most importantly, the beginner’s calendar helped me gradually get back into a regular exercise routine in my post-sick world. I am now able to do the regular Blogilates monthly calendar workouts, and even though they are really hard, I know that I’m not overexerting myself and causing my body to wear down.
I am most proud of pushing myself through a 3-minute pushup challenge, and I hate pushups. As it turns out, my upper body strength is much worse than even my core strength! As corny as it sounds, Cassey helped give me the mental strength to do pushups. In turn, this has translated to helping me have mental strength in other areas of my life.
My only disappointments with Blogilates are:
1. Because Cassey integrates more than just Pilates into her workouts, I’ve had to make several low-impact modifications for my knee injury;
2. Because the calendar is focused on her YouTube videos, I feel guilty exercising inside on nice days and sometimes wish it allowed for doing my own cardio or taking a class at the gym (which Tone It Up allows for).
Now that Blogilates has helped me get stronger and now that it’s summer, I may try switching to Tone It Up temporarily. However, I’m slightly afraid of losing the strength and ability Blogilates has gifted me with and that I won’t feel as connected with its trainers to want to stick with it!