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The Truth About My Fitness Challenge

by jenny sansouci on March 26, 2014

Wow. So, it’s taken me a few weeks to write this post. If you’ve been paying attention at all around Healthy Crush land, you know I did a 30 Day Fitness Challenge in February. The goal was to have a breakthrough in fitness, which for me, meant pushing my boundaries and trying new workouts that were previously out of my comfort zone.

I committed to working out every day for 30 days for at least 45 minutes — walking didn’t count — and trying at least 8 new workouts over the course of the month.

I completed the challenge successfully, but I expected my post-challenge recap to be much different than this. I started writing this recap immediately after the challenge was over and I had big plans to get it up immediately. But obviously I wasn’t meant to finish it until now. I needed to experience what I’ve experienced over the past few weeks before I could fully give you a recap. (I’m so dramatic I know, but this is serrrrrious stuff)!

Before I get into my learnings from the challenge, I need to give a huge shout out to my “fitness concierge”, Jamie Graber. She scoured the city for workouts she thought I should try, texting me exactly which classes to book and which teachers, and reminding me what time I needed to be there. She also accompanied me on almost every single workout (and listened to me psychoanalyze myself every day in various locker rooms around the city). Such a champ, I’m so grateful. She’s super in the know about workouts around NYC, so get in touch with her if you need a fitness routine refresh.

So, ok, what REALLY happened during my fitness challenge?

Let’s cover the good stuff first.

I ended up trying 10 new workouts I’d never tried before. It was really, really fun. I spent almost the entire month just working out and instagramming it all. Fitness classes and instagram, not a bad career. ๐Ÿ™‚

Check out my favorite workouts here.

It was always possible for me to honor my commitment to the challenge. The main thing I learned is that it’s really not that difficult to fit in 45 minutes of exercise. Even on the days when I had commitments all day long, I went to a 7am yoga class or got out for an evening jog. Now after trying all of these workouts (especially after trying Crossfit), I know that it’s even possible to get a workout in even if you only have 10 minutes. Really, it’s true. If you don’t think you have time to exercise, try doing 15 squats, 10 pushups, and 10 situps – alternating those things over and over without stopping for 10 minutes straight. Then report back and tell me it wasn’t a workout.

Weights/high intensity training changes my body in a different way than any other exercise has. All I was doing before this challenge was jogging and yoga – which are both awesome, and I know you can absolutely build strength from both – but my body began changing in a different way when I incorporated different weight training and high intensity exercises. I always dismissed those types of workouts, but I really could see and feel a difference quite quickly.

Getting stronger physically makes me feel stronger in life. Within the last 2 years, I had at least 3 different energy healers tell me that I needed to build up my physical strength in order to heal some emotional “stuff” that was chilling in my body. Whether that’s true or not (or why I kept finding myself in the presence of so many energy healers…), who cares, but that topic kept coming up, and now I’m starting to understand why. Feeling physically stronger, even just a little bit, makes me feel more invincible and strong in other situations.

My body can do more than I think it can. Before this, I had an idea in my head that 1 yoga class or a light jog was all I needed to do to get the fitness results I wanted. After trying other fitness classes, bootcamps, etc, I realized I’m capable of more than that on most days. It didn’t take long to change my mindset around fitness.

Finding teachers I love being instructed by is the key. Most of the time, I will admit, I prefer male fitness instructors. I already knew this about myself, but it was confirmed once again during the challenge. I just get more amped up when there’s a cute guy telling me what to do. Some people think it’s something I need to “look at” about myself, but hey, I say, who cares? Whatever gets me motivated to get out of bed in the morning and work out, I’ll take it. ๐Ÿ™‚

OK. Now let’s get to the reality of the situation. It’s important for me to share this, even though it’s been hard to admit and even harder to get myself to sit down and write it.

The truth about the challenge?

I went a little psycho.

And I got really, really sick.

I pushed myself really hard during this challenge. Some days I went to 3 workout classes in one day. It was intense and extreme. Near the end of the challenge, I started to feel fatigued, exhausted on some days, but I kept going anyway.

Towards the end of the challenge when I started to feel fatigued and tired, I began playing with different dietary changes to see how it would affect my workouts and my energy. I got obsessed with researching the perfect diet to optimize every workout, and I found myself stressing out over things like the “optimal window of time” to consume protein after a workout, becoming “fat adapted,” getting my body into “ketosis” as quickly as possible, and making sure I didn’t put one morsel of sugar into my body, not even fruit.

At the same time that I was changing my diet, I was reading the 4-Hour Body every night as a bedtime story, taking cold showers every day, and started taking supplements (the PAGG stack, to be specific). I was pretty sure that I was invincible.

I had this “brilliant plan” that I was going to try all of these things at once and then write an e-book about how to effectively hack your body composition in 2 weeks. I got so excited about this idea that I really didn’t even pay attention to how I was feeling. I didn’t consider the option of it not working out perfectly, I just powered through like a crazy person. (After Landmark, I was like, I can do anyyyythingggg!)

All of a sudden, with all of these changes at once…I crashed. I woke up one day and couldn’t even walk from my bedroom to the kitchen without collapsing on the couch. My entire body ached, I had flu-like symptoms and my energy was zero. My immune system was like, DUDE!!!!!! WTF are you doing?! I couldn’t even walk down the stairs of my apartment to buy garlic at the bodega downstairs.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing any of the above things I mentioned, in fact, I think there is great validity and benefits to all of it. But I pushed through so many things with my mind that I didn’t pay attention to how my body was feeling.

After the challenge when I posted on instagram about being sick, I got an email from a professional athlete.

“You just went through an enormous amount of physical activity the last few weeks. ย Even as a professional athlete I couldn’t do what you did. My body won’t let me. It took guts and determination to keep going like you did. Just keep in mind your body may be asking for a break to recover from the adventure you put it through.”

Oh, damn.

I went to Nicaragua shortly after the challenge was over and I serendipitously met a guy named Jason who specializes in functional rehab. I told him what happened to me. He wasn’t surprised at all that I got so sick.

I asked him to contribute something for this blog. He said…

“While you may become a little immunosuppressed for several hours after physical training, the immune system returns to an even stronger level post-training. This cycle can be interrupted, however, when an athlete subjects his or herself to overtraining.

Not allowing your body the proper recovery time before resuming intense physical activity can lead to chronic fatigue, breakdown of your bodyโ€™s tissues, and becoming more injury-prone.

Therefore, itโ€™s important to develop a body awareness. Remember that you’re training to build yourself up not break yourself down.ย  Scaling workouts properly, learning your bodyโ€™s response to fatigue levels and checking your ego at the door will allow you to avoid that pesty cough that never seems to completely go away. Journaling your workout is ultimately the best way to understand this process.”

Read more from Jason on how to listen to pain.

As a result of my challenge, I’ve been recovering for weeks and haven’t felt 100% since. Pushing to the extreme caused me to actually have to take more time away from exercise than I ever have before. Not my intended result for this challenge.

The challenge really reminded me of my addictive nature, and that I often find myself going to extremes in order to learn unexpected lessons.

The final verdict, and my lesson?

Push past your personal edge. Find your boundaries and test them. But if you want to make sustainable change, it’s important to balance your mind’s determination and dedication with listening to your body and your energy levels. Be willing to change course if something’s not working.

I can be superwoman sometimes….but if I want to function powerfully in life, I really have to slow it down a bit, too.

So that’s the truth. Thanks to everyone who followed along with my challenge. I got a lot of out of the experience, and now I’m on the quest to balance awesome badass workouts with even more badass periods of rest and recovery.

I’m working on developing a more sustainable fitness plan. If you have experience with this type of thing, please, chime in. I’m a work in progress. ๐Ÿ™‚

xx




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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali March 27, 2014 at 8:58 am

You obvs inspired me when you took on a 30-day challenge (#unmessable), or when you took a freezing cold shower on days when it was FREEZING outside, but you inspired me the most when you shared what is to be human, to attempt to balance perfection, goals and do-ing with reality and feelings. That makes you a total warrior in my eyes:) THANK YOU.

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jenny sansouci April 9, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Haha! Yeah. I am hoping that my crazy antics will help other people avoid doing things to this crazy extreme, but that may be wishful thinking. We’re all crazy martians running around like chickens with our heads cut off on this little planet called Earth. Right?

You inspire ME.

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Tricia April 9, 2014 at 8:21 pm

I was actually worried about you on your 30 day fitness journey. I loved seeing you commit to it and trying new things but when you started taking multiple classes and towards the end of the month.. I was like is she trying to kill herself? I did wonder if you were superhuman that you weren’t hurting from it. Glad that you powered through, and that you learned about rest and recuperation. And thank you for sharing it all!

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jenny sansouci April 9, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Thanks, Tricia. I know. I honestly didn’t even think about it. It was weird. I just thought I could do anything I committed to doing and I wanted to have integrity with my word. Landmarkkkkkk!!!!

But my body wanted a say in the matter. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Laura Scredon April 10, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Thank you for this post, and for being so honest.

I followed you on the challenge, and I tried to keep up but couldn’t. I was wondering how you were able to do it, but I just thought that you were in better shape than me. Which, maybe you are in better shape than me, but we’re all different — bio-individuality!

This is a great reminder to not compare myself to others and to continue to listen to my body — it knows what I need.

Great info, as always.

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jenny sansouci April 10, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Thanks for reading! Yes…listen to your body first and foremost. It won’t lie!

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Elizabeth Mauro April 10, 2014 at 3:23 pm

First of all, “the good, the bad, and the totally psycho” made me legit laugh out loud! I can totally relate to taking things to the extreme! I have always had those obsessive tendencies! Thanks for being so open and honest! I appreciate your authenticity! ๐Ÿ™‚

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jenny sansouci April 10, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Haha! Thanks. Working on it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Jen M April 10, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Hi Jenny,
Thank you, thank you for this post! Your 30 day fitness challenge inspired me to create an April challenge for myself. I knew that I could not reach the intense level of your challenge, and honestly I really didn’t want to, so I re-framed it as a 30 day movement challenge. The movement could include running, pilates, yoga, walking, really any exercise but it needs to be time and an activity that my mind and body are completely dedicated to (so not just walking at work, or taking the stairs, etc). Obviously, your fitness challenge was inspirational, but here I am 10 days into my movement challenge and this post is even more inspiring. I am adding an extra element of checking in with how I feel after my “movement” of the day. Thank you for sharing, and for writing always.

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jenny sansouci April 10, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Nice, Jen! Glad you are doing a challenge (I love challenges, clearly) but super awesome that you’re adding in a “check in” element. That’s the missing piece in most of my challenges – I leave no room for changing things if they aren’t working. Silly Jenny. Live and learn. ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck w/ your workouts!

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Raphaella April 10, 2014 at 3:35 pm

I know the feeling where you work yourself to the bone – obsessive intrusive thoughts that keep you going. As a medical intern I was working 36 hour shifts every 5th day and would go to an hour personal training shift post call with no sleep! On a day off I’d get up at five to train, even though my body was crying for sleep. I worked myself so sick that I thought I’d have to give up my internship. The amount of trauma i was exposed to (south african trauma units in the townships are cray cray) with my obsessive lifestyle wasn’t contributing to my over all well being. it wasn’t until I actually got help – combination of therapy (tapping with eft) trauma release (tre) and an incredible OT- I realized what it meant to be healthy. I’m still in a process of nourishing and nurturing myself but learning to listen to my body and resting has been my biggest blessing. Not restricting food groups but eating big beautiful meals made of whole foods – just listening to my body, exercising when I feel like it not cos I have to. Internship completed and now working in the community I am happy – helping others but mostly looking after myself. Take care friend – nothing is more important than making sure that you yourself feel good!

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Erin April 10, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Very brave of you to write and reflect this. That’s amazing personal growth. There are no mistakes in this life.

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Lianne April 10, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Thanks for your honesty about this. It’s so easy to go crazy with exercise and diet plans, but a lot harder to know when to call it quits!

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Kim April 10, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Love your blogs Jenny! I’m a big fan (and a fellow health coach). I was blown away by your 30 day challenge and loved seeing your Instagram posts. Equally blow away by your honesty and lesson learned. I always learn something for you! Thanks for doing what you do!

๐Ÿ™‚

Kim

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Caitlin April 10, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Nice post Jenny. I can so relate! I was like this for 2 straight years when training for gymnastics in college. It was physically exhausting, but more so mentally; I was just constantly thinking about it and adjusting my workouts and diet. When gymnastics ended I vowed to only exercise for pleasure and to never own a scale again. I still avoid things like “challenges”, because I know I am too psycho to handle it! I had a personal trainer for a few years and that worked great; it took all the thought and planning (and obsessing) out of my hands. I highly recommend it for obsessive people like me!

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Blaze April 11, 2014 at 1:04 am

Thank you so much for your honesty! You rock! xo

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Andrea April 11, 2014 at 10:44 am

Great post. Thanks for sharing! Body awareness is so important. It’s great that you tested yourself like that. It sounds like you learned so much from it.

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Alycia April 13, 2014 at 10:17 am

I experienced something similar to this. I had some time on my hands and decided to go to hot yoga 10 days in a row. Even though some people are constantly there, it is not meant for everyone especially with what I was pushing my body to do. I ended up getting a shoulder injury and started taking it easy in class after that. I feel like I need to push myself still or I will always be scared I will get injured again. Its a battle between your mind and body. #healthybalance

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