Start From The Bottom

I am compelled by blog history to write something about my current exercise regimen and the state of my fitness more generally.

But First, A Recap!

You may recall that last year was a bit of a strange one for me. I started out the year with hefty ambitions: I intended to complete a 100-day running streak while simultaneously working my way through the P90X program. What happened instead was that I ran for 65 consecutive days before pulling a calf muscle, bailed out of P90X due to excessive back pain, and had to spend the last half of the year only biking, not running at all, in order to allow myself to heal.

The smug take on all of this would be to say that I bit off more than I could chew. Some would say that it was a horrible idea to ever run and do P90X at the same time. Others would say that it was foolish and reckless to attempt 100 consecutive days of running. Most would certainly agree that doing both at the same time was a terrible idea. But I maintained at the time that, with enough self-awareness, this would all be perfectly fine. And today? Even after everything I went through last year, I still maintain that it was neither the running streak, the P90X, nor the combination of the two that ultimately did me in.

So what was it?

My thinking circa April 2017 was that I had some underlying weaknesses in my body that were aggravating me while exercising and causing injury. Over time, and with a lot of rest and careful rehabilitation, I came to realize that the major culprit was weak abdominal muscles, especially my lower abs. Improving my flexibility didn’t actually help. Relying on the bicycle and setting the running shoes aside only helped alleviate the most immediate pains. What really got the ball rolling was when I started doing dedicated abdominal muscle exercises – very slowly, very gently. I started far beneath my “ability level” (except that it wasn’t), and started building my abdominal muscles from the ground up.

Suddenly, I found that I could run again. But I didn’t just go back to running. I started very slowly and adjusted my stride, taking care to use more of my quadricep muscles and avoid straining my hip joints too much. I started with two or three miles, then gradually built back up. I continued my abdominal muscle exercises and expanded to full-body calisthenics. Things finally started getting better.

And Then, A Test

Finally, I started feeling stronger again. I was scrolling mindlessly through Facebook and noticed that Tony Horton, creator of P90X, was inviting people to join a Facebook group to start up a fresh cycle of the original P90X program starting January 1st, 2018. It proved to be just the push I needed to get back on track. I joined the group. I started the program.

And, incredibly, I committed to maintaining a daily running regimen on top of P90X. I was doing it all over again. (But this time, no 100-day running streak.)

Today was the first day of my being six weeks into the program. Last week, I ran 6 miles almost every day, and even went for a 10-mile long run on Saturday. I feel stronger than ever. In fact, once again, I feel like a superhero.

But this year, I feel different. After putting in the work to strengthen my lower abdominal muscles and taking extra care to do my exercises with proper form – especially during the initial weeks of P90X – my body now feels better able to handle what I’m doing. I still believe I have the same lower-ab weakness, but it is less pronounced and getting better every day. The result is that when I do P90X workouts today, I believe I can actually get more out of them. My posture has improved, and I can hold my legs, hips, and back in the correct place in order to successfully complete the workouts. My running speed is nearly up to what it “should be,” too, and I don’t feel so uneasy on my feet anymore.

In short, when you do things properly, you get much more out of them. This week marks the halfway point of the program, and the end is in my sights. If you had asked me last summer whether I’d be completing 10-mile runs by February, I would have told you, “No chance.” But here I am.

The Message For You

So much for my obligatory self-update. I’m not just writing stuff about myself to an audience of Russian bots. I mean, I’m doing that, but that’s not all I’m doing. I’m also trying to present lessons to those few people who ever-so-occasionally read my blog. There is a lesson here, and you, too, probably need to learn it.

The lesson is simply this: You have weaknesses, and if you don’t get the better of them, they will get the better of you. Furthermore, as frustrating as it might feel to you, correcting a weakness means going back to the drawing board. Nobody wants to be the skinny guy in the corner of the gym doing arm-circles when everyone else is benching their bodyweight. But you have to be the skinny guy doing those arm circles before you can ever be the P90X guy. Nobody wants to be the rickety cyclist panting to keep up with the big boys, but if you want your back to heal and your body to be ready for the next phase, you have to put in the time as a novice first.

This happens again and again in all aspects of life. Maybe you just started a new job; you have to spend some time being a know-nothing rookie before you can be a top performer. Maybe you play the guitar and you just discovered that your picking technique is preventing you from playing as fast as you want to. You have to go back to Square One, set the metronome to 60 bpm, and start from the bottom again, with the right technique this time. Maybe your relationship has gone far off course. You have to work with what you have, start every day, taking small steps to improve your daily interaction and rapport, in order to one day reap the benefits of a great relationship again.

But when you put in that kind of work, humble yourself, and do things right by starting from the beginning again, you will return stronger than ever before. Keep that humility, keep that work ethic, keep that conscientiousness. You can do it. We all can.

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