“Leaving so soon?” asked one of the personal trainers as my friend and I were leaving the gym the other morning.
“Um, we’ve been here for an hour,” I shrugged apologetically although I really had no idea what I had to be sorry for.
“Really?” he cocked an eyebrow. “Then you must not have been working very hard.” This stung a little bit since he was the same trainer who had laughed when my friend misjudged the weight on the cable-row and fell over when we’d been lifting weights.
“But I’m all sweaty!” I blurted out and as my friend added defensively, “Well you didn’t see us on the treadmill!”
As we bolted up the stairs, I wondered if he was just trying to drum up business or if he really thought we were slacking – and if it was the latter, did he really expect people to spend more than an hour working out? Because – and as a former exercise addict, I can say this definitively – that’s crazy talk.
In the end I decided it didn’t matter – we wouldn’t have stayed longer even if he’d offered us a free personal training session complete with protein powder speech and heavy ropes (I’m dying to use the ropes but you can’t unless you’re with a trainer!) because both my friend and I were sprinting upstairs to the childcare to rescue our kiddos. Oh the kids were fine, it was more our guilt that propelled us up so quickly. Despite constantly joking about using up all our allotted time with the childcare so we can go soak in the hot tub or have a smoothie or something, we never do it. Because both of us have this mindset that we shouldn’t leave our kids one more minute than necessary.
Guilt is such a great workout.
And so it was that I could totally relate to Ivanka Trump (probably the ONLY time I can say I totally relate to a Trump) when she said in an interview with Shape , “‘When I was in my 20s, I felt guilty if I didn’t exercise – now I feel guilty if I do. It’s time I could be spending with my family.”
Is that not the cutest little squishy baby face ever?!
Ivanka had just been talking about her 16-hour days working as CEO of a shoe company. (Which makes some totally adorable shoes. That I had to check out. Because research.) So when she makes it home to her husband and two kiddos, she’s understandably spent. And yet she still felt like she needed to lose the weight she gained from her pregnancies and take care of her health. It’s the whole oxygen-mask dilemma: You have to take care of yourself to be able to take care of your kids. But kids are (adorable) black holes of need and will suck up every last bit of energy you have until you have nothing left to put on your mask with.
Yet whether or not you have kids, we’re all juggling family, work, hobbies, school and many other priorities. How do you know how much to give to your needs versus how much to give to other people’s needs? How do you strike that balance?
Ivanka’s solution? “We’re modern women! We have to figure out how to make it work, right?”
Of course right. So… how?
I’ve seen as many different solutions as I’ve seen women (and men too – us ladies aren’t the only ones trying to find balance). I found a gym that offered on-site childcare and I take Jelly Bean with me while the other kids are in school. I have one friend who will only work out in the wee hours of the morning, before her kids are up, doing quick runs around the neighborhood. Another friend saves her workouts for when her kids are napping, heading down to the basement to do a DVD. Still another friend hits the gym straight on her way home from work, knowing that if she goes home to grab so much as a towel she’ll never make it back out again. Yet another friend hits Zumba classes on his lunch hour. Another wears a pedometer and takes every little opportunity in her day to add some extra steps on it. Another does workouts with her kids – bike riding, yoga, parks. Ivanka hired a pricey celeb trainer to come to her home and work her out (which is when I stopped relating to her – it had to end some time).
We’ve all found different solutions – there’s no “right” way – but the one thing we all have in common is that all of us make time to exercise on a consistent basis. It may not be every day and workouts often get superseded by last-minute projects or forgotten field trip money. But we all try. And I think that’s important. I’m just going to come out and say it: I think everyone needs to find a way to fit moderate exercise into their lives. (Of course you can do too much. I’ve done that. It sucks. Don’t be me. 3-5 days a week is plenty.) Study after study has shown that regardless of your weight, your fitness level is crucial to your health and well-being. The physical and mental benefits of exercise are immense and not only will they make you feel better but they will help you manage all those other responsibilities better as well.
So why do we feel so guilty about carving out some time for it in our schedules?
The other day at school pickup I was chatting with some other moms, when another woman ran up, still in her gym clothes. She panted, “I’m so late! My yoga class went over!” When another mom pointed out that this happened quite often and asked why she didn’t take a class at a more convenient time she answered, “Because then I’d have to leave my daughter with a sitter – I could never be that selfish!”
Because we’ve been taught that to put ourselves first sometimes is selfish. We’ve told ourselves that we’re the only ones who can do what we do and get it done “just right.” We’ve convinced ourselves that we can do it all and we shouldn’t have to ask for help. We feel like not only do we have to be perfect but we have to make the perfection look effortless. And yet many of us still think that we’re the only ones who struggle.
I won’t say I’ve got it all figured out. I exercise most days and I won’t let my kids infringe on my workout time because it’s very important to me. I need it to feel like me. And yet there is a part of me that feels a little guilty and wonders if I’m being too rigid. My kids are only little once, right?
The other problem is that it’s so hard to talk about this subject without making other people feel judged for their choices. We all have the same 24 hours in the day – so do we take away from family time to exercise? From work? From sleep? From relaxation/fun? What are we willing to sacrifice to stay healthy? And when is it too much? Then there’s the flipside: So many people feel guilty for not working out. My point in bringing this up is to hopefully help people ditch the guilt and start the discussion. We’re all in this together. Life is too short to waste it feeling guilty. (At least about exercise. Feel free to wallow in it if you murdered someone, stole the Hope diamond or watched The Hangover III – you know, stuff that rends the fabric of society.)
In the end, I think this is something we each have to figure out for ourselves – what works for us, for our families and for our health in this stage of life (and recognize that it will all change when we hit that next milestone). So I’d love to hear how you guys find this balance! When do you find time to work out? Do you ever feel guilty about that time or are you able to embrace it happily? What would you have said to that personal trainer?