How to Exercise with Friends who are Recovering their Fitness

After several years of inactivity and weight gain, I am Ready to Exercise!

People who struggle with their weight, or who experience psychological or emotional imbalances that interfere with consistent self-care and fitness have probably been here many times: After a period of inactivity, we find ourselves ready and even excited to return to a fitness regimen. We generally also find ourselves with a body that is much less fit and possibly much, much larger than it was the last time we were in an exercise groove. Calling that “discouraging” is an understatement at best.

If you are friends with someone like me, and if you are reasonably fit and your schedule aligns with ours, you may at some point receive a request to exercise with us. We want accountability, companionship, and encouragement to do this thing we’ve probably done or attempted many times before: Getting in Shape. In the past, we may have run marathons, biked across Europe, or hiked to Machu Picchu. We may have played sports for many years, or been dancers when we were younger. But whatever our previous achievements, we now find ourselves at the beginning, and needing support. And if we’re feeling very brave, we may even ask for it.

I recently reached out to a friend who, although I enjoy her company immensely, became my workout partner mostly by virtue of having a schedule similar to mine and belonging to the same gym I do. After a few workouts together, I have realized that she’s the absolute model of everything I have ever needed in a workout partner when I am doing the difficult work of Getting in Shape. I feel so very lucky to have her in my life and especially to have her at the gym with me!

I want to share what she does that I find so helpful, so that any of you reading who find yourselves in her position might be able to better navigate it, or so that anyone currently standing in my XL active wear might get some ideas about how to recognize and ask for what they need to be successful.

To begin with, She’s Flexible About Time. My friend schedules enough time at the gym to allow me to do a longer, slower workout, or to finish a workout that began later than expected. She understands the massive psychological resistance I have to work through just to get there, and so if I’m running late, she simply hops onto a cardio machine and greets me cheerfully when I arrive. Unlike working with a personal trainer, a late start with my friend doesn’t have to mean a shorter workout. She understands that what may be a 45-60 minute experience for an already-fit person could take me up to 90 minutes, and she never rushes me.

Something else she does that is incredibly healing and esteem-building for me is that She Lets Me Lead our Workouts. I’ve exercised with many people, some of whom were professional trainers, who mistakenly equate my being fat or out of shape with an ignorance of how to exercise. But my workout partner understands that I have experienced both Being Fit and Getting Back in Shape many times, and she respects my knowledge of fitness and exercise. She may do higher-intensity activities in between our sets, or get on the stair-climbing machine next to my treadmill during cardio, but she’s also genuinely happy to let me do the workout I already know my body needs, and is even excited about learning from me! Unless you’ve done it, I don’t think you can imagine how intensely validating it is to be the fat one at the gym helping your fit friend with her form and breathing! She even texted me the day after our first workout to say that she was sore in new places, and thanked me for getting her out of her fitness rut! I honestly feel that she’s benefitting from this arrangement as much as I am, rather than holding herself back to let me catch up, and it’s wonderful for me to feel valued for what I have to offer.

In our conversations at the gym, I’ve also observed that She Doesn’t Tell Me How to Think About Myself. She winces a little every now and then when I use the word “fat,” but she doesn’t do that whole “You’re not fat!” thing that women often do to each other. Telling someone what they just said about their experience isn’t true is not a compliment, it’s projection at best and gas lighting at worst. With a BMI of 30.4, I’m straddling the line between “Overweight” and “Obese,” and pretending otherwise is neither helpful nor flattering. When I mention my weight, or the difficulty it’s causing me, she listens and sometimes asks questions, but she doesn’t try to assuage her own discomfort by telling me that my experience or my feelings about it are wrong. What she did say today when I was talking about my flabby arms was, “Well, your tattoos are way too beautiful to cover up, so I’m glad you’re willing to show them off!” Now that’s a compliment!

Finally, and this may seem like a small thing but it can make the difference between success and failure for someone in my position, She Schedules our Next Workout Before She Leaves. She and I have dynamic work/life schedules, and so we can’t simply decide to exercise every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before or after work like many people can. Before we say “goodbye” for the day, we get out our calendars and choose the next time to meet, typically within 2-3 days. If we need to change it later, we can, but having the next workout agreed to and scheduled eliminates the potential barrier for me of having to contact her and go through several rounds of phone- or text-tag to make plans to exercise again. At this stage of my fitness, where everything still feels unduly challenging, it would be all too easy to give in to the temptation of letting it slide for a few days, and then a week or a month, and eventually giving up altogether. The simple act of taking a moment to put it in our calendars removes that temptation and keeps me on track.

Everything my friend does to make me feel excited about going to exercise with her, I think she does intuitively, without even realizing how deeply she’s helping me heal from the issues that prevented me from maintaining my good health and fitness in the first place. She happens to be genuinely patient and accepting on a level that few of us (myself included) ever master without a great deal of inner work and practice. But everything she is doing is also relatively simple to put into practice with just a little self-awareness and effort. For your friend who is fighting their way back to being healthy after an extended period away from exercise, your ability to show up just a little differently for them could be the very thing that gets them through this critical “beginning-again” period and back into a life of comfort and ease in their bodies and in the world.

And that would probably make you both feel fantastic about yourselves.

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All About That Bocce

When Mr. Vega and I moved to Austin last Summer, building a strong social network was (and still is!) a very high priority for us. We’ve read that close friendships prevent depression, extend lifespans, and lessen the likelihood of long periods of unemployment. Oh, also, it’s fun to have friends! Fortunately, Austin has plenty of opportunities to socialize… outdoor films, free music, art walks, fun runs… you name it. One of the activities we happened across was Austin’s inaugural season of Major League Bocce— which sounds more advanced than it is, as beginners are welcome, too! We’d never played bocce before, and we didn’t have a team to join with, so we signed up to be placed with other random folks, and convened in a little park on a hot summer night to see what we’d gotten ourselves into. We were placed with two other couples and one single guy… all of whom had a fair amount of experience playing bocce, but fortunately for us, the learning curve is pretty shallow (mastering the game, however, is another story!). And while the learning curve isn’t steep, the park where we played is We spent the next six weeks chasing our balls as they rolled down the hill into other players’ courts, hollering “Sorry!” and learning how to roll the ball left to make it go to the right. Afterward, we repaired to the local pub for some adult refreshment and conversation. It was a great good time, and we ended up becoming close friends with one of the couples from our team.

We’re constantly looking for ways to be of service in our new community, so when I learned that Special Olympics Texas has a Bocce Competition, we were eager to help out. We had a great time escorting the athletes to their games, keeping score, and cheering them on. Because they had spent eight weeks training for the competition, they actually had more experience than we did, and we picked up a few tips! More than that, we got to see how truly accessible the sport is for people of all age ranges and with a wide range of physical abilities.

We returned to our second season with a renewed enthusiasm for the game, and when we were asked to help out again, we didn’t hesitate. This time it was a special event at a new apartment complex: They have a bocce court on the property, but none of the residents knew how to play, so we spent a pleasant couple of hours on a chilly Fall night showing them the ropes (at least as well as we know them). The neighbors got to know each other better, and we got to drink some free-to-us beer and play our new favorite game!

Season three will find us back on the bocce court, where we’ll team up with some new faces, and deepen our friendships with the folks we already know. I’m also volunteering with the league this season, so I’m looking forward to getting to know people from a different perspective.

Moving to a new city and creating friendships isn’t easy, but organized social events and sports teams provide an opportunity to get to know a group of people who share your interests, and the repeated exposure gives friendships a little time and space in which to grow. And sometimes it’s nice to mix things up a little, even if you’ve lived in the same place for years… you can never have too many friends in your life! Who knows? Trying something new just might open up a part of life you never knew you were missing!

Home (Away from Home)

Austin is finally starting to really feel like home. I’ve worked at my Dream Job twice now, so I’m finding myself in a familiar environment, and our social circle continues to grow. Our second-ever Bocce season began last Thursday, and it was a blast! We’re playing in a new, closer location with a reconfigured team, and one of our old teammates has become the Volunteer-in-Charge. I think relationships are strengthened when people get to experience each other in different ways, and because we’re new here, this is our first time doing that with our new friends.There’s something exciting about seeing them in slightly different roles (and new team colors!). The game was a lot of fun, we happened to win, and we all enjoyed spending some time together afterward at our new host bar.

The next morning, Mr. Vega and I volunteered to run a bocce court for our local Special Olympics Bocce Competition. We got to learn a little more about the game, and see what it looks like when the players aren’t drinking beer! As it happens, one of my interpreting colleagues was there, on duty… We’re starting to feel like real Austinites, running into people we know everywhere we go. Now I know why Texas ladies are always so put-together: you’re bound to be seen by someone you know anytime you leave your house! I, on the other hand, ran out of makeup two weeks ago, and haven’t bothered to buy any more. Whoops.

Saturday found us at  the Austin City Limits Music Festival, an event many locals avoid like the plague (“The traffic! The lines! The tourists!!). We got a ride from a neighbor– How nice is that?!– and had a wonderful day. The weather was perfect, and the lines for beer and bathrooms were short. We got to see some of our favorite bands, and get exposed to a few new ones. There were food carts galore, as well, so we tasted food from some local places we hadn’t gotten around to trying. All in all, it was a fabulous day. And of course, we ran into someone we knew!

Keep Friendship Weird!

Unlike my Better Half, I’m an introvert by nature. I take a long time to reveal personal details about myself, and many of my closest friends and family, unless they have asked directly, are unaware of my spiritual beliefs or my political views. Making friends is a slow, organic process for me. But I’m determined to be brave, because having lots of strong, healthy relationships is essential if we’re going to thrive in our new home.
Some of my closest friendships have unexpected, and even downright weird origins: My best friendship in high school started with a fist fight (well, it started with me running my mouth and her pounding me to a pulp)! As an adult, my close relationships have had more peaceful, but still unusual beginnings: There’s the one who taught a workshop for prospective service providers, and I can’t remember if we met because he was my teacher first, or my client. Another was an acquaintance who confided in me when she was going through an intense breakup, because it was easier for her to talk to someone she didn’t hang out with often. Later, I went through an intense breakup, and called upon her to walk me through the thing she had already survived. And a third who, even though we weren’t very close at the time, quietly showed up at my mother’s rainy Monday morning funeral, in between her work assignments. We’re closer now, I daresay.
So when I got a message last week from someone I used to work with in Southern California, who transferred to the the Pacific Northwest some years ago, telling me that one of her people was moving from there to Austin, I told her to give the lady my number. I don’t work for that company anymore, but our field is made up of a close-knit group of people, regardless of who employs us… we had a nice chat over coffee one morning, and have since traded hair salon information, and gardening tips.
Husband and I are also considering volunteering for a statewide political campaign, and joining a local sports league or two… because you never know where your next best friendship is coming from, and we’re trying to keep our answers to “So, how do you know So-and-So?” question interesting.
Have you ever moved to a new place and gotten to make new friends? What worked (and didn’t!) for you?