I Got Quarantine Fit And Lived to Tell the Tale
A story of self-monitoring and yelling at my virtual instructor
By Carina Hetherton, Bad Ass Biatch
Alright SNABA fam let’s get right down to it. I just turned 27 (party emoji) and let’s face it, I ain’t getting any younger. Nor, by association, can I reliably believe that my metabolism will forever have my back. So after the first two weeks of the Covid-19 shut down, realizing that the most activity I was getting in a day was picking up the toys my parrot had taken to launching off the mantle and walking to and from the coffee maker, I decided that perhaps, now, with all the time in the world, I couldn’t fall back on the age-old excuse of having no time to work out. I submitted my forgot password request. I logged back into the virtual gym account I had fallen prey to last summer from a sunny, chipper, happy looking Instagram trainer who looked like she had her life together, and decided that this time, I wasn’t going to fail at following through with the commitment to exercise once a day. I wanted to challenge myself to do this right and do this better than last time. Exercise was going to be an antecedent intervention, a replacement behaviour, and an act of self-monitoring to make a lifestyle change I could be proud of.
Disclaimer #1: I am not actively advertising for any fitness program. I accidentally succumbed to a popular online workout forum and found that it actually really worked for both my lifestyle and physical capacity. Don’t start any kind of regime without researching it or consulting your family physician.
Disclaimer#2: This is a really weird time to be a human and there’s a tonne of pressure on certain social media outlets to do a bunch of things and accomplish even more during this time of being home and trying your best. Please remember that you are already doing your best, and are under no obligation to be anything other than as okay as you can muster on any given day. Don’t force yourself into anything because you think you have to, do it because it feels right for you.
1. Antecedent Interventions:
Antecedent interventions are generally used to reconceptualize an individual’s conditions to support a behaviour before it occurs. In my case, as a person who has developed some challenges around her bedtime routine, setting up a consistent activity could help decrease my screen time and simultaneously create an evocative effect to increase the value of my MO of going to bed. While a lot of research shows that working out in the morning helps to wake you up and get you focused, I have often found that I would achieve about half an hour to an hour of feeling more awake than average and find myself in a koala situation of being either dead tired or starving by the time I got out of the shower. If, however, I exercised in the evening or at night, the big wave of post-shower tired often became enough to completely wear me out before bed and help me get to sleep faster. This is a big one for knowing your body and how it reacts to things, but it definitely helped me get to sleep faster and sleep deeper throughout the night. I also found it helped me reign in some of my portion control at dinner knowing that exercising on an over-full stomach is not a recipe for success. I didn’t change my diet at all during the course of this program, as I was trying to safeguard for confounding variables, but listening to what I felt my body needed became a great act of self-care. The more your body does the things it needs to be healthy, the more it craves things that are healthy. I was a chronic breakfast skipper (much to my boyfriend’s chagrin) and have learned with regular exercise, I can most definitely eat more than 2 cups of coffee before noon. Also, knowing I had half an hour worth of exercise to budget into my night changed the way I planned my day. I allotted my time better, made some active steps towards keeping my room a little neater to create better space to move, and modified my homework schedule to make it work. The instructor in the video mentioned at one point that 30 minutes is only 2% of your day. How the hell have I not been giving myself a proper, useful, good-for-me 2% for so long?
2. Replacement Behaviour
Learning how to exercise safely and properly with my roommate was a big step in my recovery all those years ago when I was first getting diagnosed with anxiety and made some negligent lifestyle choices that left me very underweight and struggling to function. It gave me a sense of control and made me feel like I was being proactive instead of letting negativity and doubt run the show.
During this pandemic, I left my old job before I could go on EI, to join a new job, where after 2 weeks of trying to shadow telehealth sessions and train myself online as best I could, got transferred to front line support in an assisted living residential home for adults with autism, which was about an hour away from home one way in a town I’d never been to, all while trying to finish my master’s degree and keep my family (all of whom including myself fall into the vulnerable category) safe from whatever the world is dishing out. This, of course, coupled with spending my birthday away from all my friends, not seeing my boyfriend for what is now two months, and realizing quite quickly that my family functions best in short doses of togetherness, can cultivate a high-pressure mentality and a weird sense of time, space, self, and stress. I worked very hard to engage in good self-talk and check in on myself, reach out to friends and be a good human, but the big nasty tightness in my chest was a little harder to do away with. I live in Canada, it snowed in May. The bullshit meter can get pretty high around here.
Ever get to a point where you just want to scream, cry, or do something reckless to gain some release? For me, the best way to push all that energy was to quite literally push the weights. It gave me an outlet to externalize the feelings, lay it all out on the mat and burn off all the heavy and all the frustrated and lonely the world was trying to heave at me. Some days it worked, some days I just wore myself out enough to go to bed, but at the end of the day, the effort was enough to focus on something singular, be present, and check out of Coronaville for 30 minutes. And that, in and of itself, was enough.
I think the biggest thing I did wrong the first time I tried to do one of these programs was over-analyze my progress. My first attempt had a colour coded chart for how I rated the difficulty of each day’s regime with a little section for notes/excuses why I didn’t exercise that day to justify things one way or another. I like using things like that in journals to create a sense of control over things that scare me, or things that have the potential to hurt me and make me vulnerable. I hadn’t even realized the extent to which this would do the same thing, nevermind how much the response effort of analyzing my outcome would decrease the reinforcing value of having a chart to fill in. On my second attempt at this I figured screw the chart, let’s just focus purely on action completion, and let THAT be reinforcing in and of itself. Not just the relief of being able to take a damn shower or sit my sorry ass down, but to actually feel glad that I worked through all the hard stuff. As much as I thought the coach for this set would be aversive with her loud voice and her cheesy catch phrases, I couldn’t have predicted how many of them I would end up internalizing as rules and motivation to get through challenging sets.
And then she dropped the great big truth bomb that resonated with my little ABA heart erratically thrumming through hell’s cardio workout: “It’s not about perfect, it’s about effort”.
Suddenly this chirpy feisty-pants in neon spandex who seems inhumanly capable of talking and cracking jokes during a cardio set became my best friend for 30 minutes and I knew I could trust her, trust myself, and trust that the process could be worth it if I actually went all-in. This was validation of successive approximations, and that my good enough was actually good enough.
I could take the modification on things that I knew I physically struggled with. I could take the advanced form of some exercises I knew I had the capacity to do. I could tell things I really struggled with in week 1 were a lot easier in week 2 and 3. Instead of worrying about rating scales I was actually looking forward to getting busy and noticing the value of the work. I followed this instructor on Instagram and flagged a few more of her programs for future use. I’m currently working through a weight lifting and hiit double whammy with a different coach who I’ve learned to love to hate over the course of each set and have quite possibly called him every name in the book, but in a similar way, I’m more excited about being able to say “whew, wow, I can’t believe I managed that” and know that I did the best I could. The weights got easier, the movements got more manageable, and I actually felt better.
I also really really learned the value of rest. Understanding my body’s limits is one thing, but knowing when to take a day off, especially off-schedule on the workout calendar, became vital. I feel more confident, more resilient, and more like myself.
4. Social significance
With social distancing effectively making my 20 minute commute to my boyfriend a long distance relationship, we decided to get quarantine fit together. My partner and I have been working hard to motivate each other and keep each other accountable for the workout we said we would do. We also started a plank and push up exercise challenge with each other (which we do over video chat sometimes, my push-ups are embarrassing to watch) in the spirit of taking it further. It’s been a fun way to keep things interesting and have a common goal of feeling super hot for when we can one day go to the beach together. This experiment has been a great confidence building practice for both of us. We notice each other’s results a lot sooner than we notice our own, and it’s been interesting to try to see ourselves in the same lens our partner does. It’s definitely brought us closer together while keeping a minimum of 6 feet apart.
Quarantine is hard, being away from our people is hard, exercise is hard, and adjusting to new routines is hard. You can do it. We’re in it together.
Trust in yourself and your people; we’re more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.