the special power of fitness

I'm a morning workout person - getting my workout done before the rest of my day, often before the sun rises, is among my favorite things. And every single time my alarm goes off in the morning, I curse myself. I love my morning workouts - I just love the feeling of being cozy in bed a little more.

But I still (mostly) get up and get going. And on days I hit snooze one too many times, I try to stay motivated enough to sweat at least a little after work. If you had told me years ago that my favorite feeling would be the particular exhaustion that comes from a really hard workout, I probably would have been floored. And then immediately wanted to know how I went from point a (aimlessly spending 45 minutes on the elliptical whenever the mood struck me) to point B.

Well, today I held a plank for over two minutes for the first time since I broke my hip. It's taken me almost a year to fight my way back to this point, and while my left side is still significantly weaker than my right, I was so excited to watch that timer tick upwards that I almost high-fived the poor guy next to me.

It's been so important for me to continue pushing myself, and continue making fitness a priority, in this year of injury. It's been a dogged fight in every sense of the word : many times, I was so discouraged with the pain I found myself in, or the strength I lost... or suffering a stress fracture when I finally thought I'd grasped that elusive clean bill of health.

Even on my worst, most critical, and most dangerously sad days, a small voice inside my head told me that I would get there. Striving to work out became so much more than breaking a sweat. It kept me sane, it showed me that small achievements were, in fact, worth celebrating, and most of all? It kept me hopeful, no easy task in a year where I decided to throw in the towel on my life on at least ten different, bleak days.

It's been really cool to watch my body heal itself. I wish there was a more graceful way to put that, but it just is plain neat to watch your limbs go from lying limply in a bed to jump, squat, run, kick off from the wall in the pool. It reaffirmed what I've come to believe most strongly about fitness: it is the greatest source of self-esteem and pride I've ever found.

At first, I worked out because I was unhappy with myself. I didn't like my appearance, I hated that my days were largely stationary, and I wanted something new to occupy my free time. But I slowly grew to love it outside of the superficial benefits.

I firmly believe that everyone should take on at least one fitness-related challenge in their lifetime. It will likely be hard, you will likely want to give up numerous times and you will likely doubt yourself along the way. But that final feeling of achievement? It's like nothing else.

It's been truly incredible to go from resenting my body, and being fearful of what I put in it, what I dress it in, and how others see it, to being proud of what it can do. Pre-injury, I notched my athletic achievements with a small nod to myself - you ran a marathon, sweet. Now when's the next one? Post injury, everything became something to be celebrated. I was so proud of my first lunge, my first plank, my first time taking steps without crutches. And I began to slowly see my body through a different lens: not as something I needed to control, but as something amazing I needed to celebrate.

I feel like we women spend so much time and energy being at war with our bodies. We are inundated with messages that what we look like is not enough, that we are "less than." You ran a half marathon? Yeah, you can feel good about yourself for .5 seconds, until you check Instagram and see a glowing post about someone that ran it faster. Feeling good about a pair of jeans? Yeah, but you're still not a sample size. Tried a new workout class and make it all the way through? A fitness blogger just wrote a review about how that class was too easy for her.

ENOUGH. Exhausting, right? I can't pretend to speak for all women - men, too! - but I know a frequent theme of conversation with my girlfriends is that it's tiring to compare yourself, to internalize the expectations society volleys your way and to try to live up to the Instagrams and the ads and the magazine covers.

But the thing about fitness is that your only real competition is yourself. And as soon as you begin to achieve, and begin to see your own progress, some of those voices of comparison start to quiet. That, I think, is the special power of fitness. At the end of the day, it's teaching you to carry yourself with pride. Screw what anyone else thinks, you hit a new weight on your bicep curl today. Go girl.

So today, when I finally pushed past the two minute mark, I took a minute to snap a dorky picture of myself, congratulate myself, and truly appreciate how far my body's come. There are (and probably always will be) days when I wish I was a smaller pants size, or decide I'm never going to don a bikini again and will now be living my life in a muumuu, thank you very much. But as I've continued to challenge myself, to learn my limits, and then to figure out a way to push past them, there are many, many more days when I look in the mirror and I'm proud and thankful for what I see.

It partly took breaking my hip to help me get to a shaky truce between my critical mind and my body, which is just trying to do its best. But now that I'm here, I'm excited for what's next. Everything is a challenge to be faced head-on. New stress fracture and a walking boot? I concentrated on developing a weight lifting routine for the first time in my life, and I have definitely gotten stronger. It's so exciting!

Fitness provides a blueprint for overcoming obstacles. It teaches you to remain focused, committed - and positive. One day, you'll be able to do pull-ups. One day, your hip won't be broken. One day, you'll get to run again without pain. And in the meantime, pause the war on your own body. Because today, it's already pretty freakin' amazing.