(me in 2006 vs. today)
Shaun T’s latest crazy at-home workout program, Insanity Max:30, launched last December and I ordered it on a whim.
I had no idea what I was in for.
This is a 60 day program divided into two months, and I just finished month one. In the last week I’ve been noticing that yes, I’ve gained a lot of muscle, but there’s also a very deep and profound shift happening inside of me that’s making me feel vulnerable yet empowered at the same time. For the first time in my life, I’m starting to feel like an athlete both physically and mentally. I’m gaining a sense of confidence in all that I do, and I’m slowly starting to embrace the sides of myself I’ve kept hidden and suppressed for so long because they are connected to feelings of inadequacy and shame. Well, I’m experiencing this overpowering compulsion to finally unleash my heart and story, and so that’s what I want to talk about today.
It's official. Shaun T and his crazy workout program are changing my life.
Settle in, grab a latte (or glass of wine, since as I type this it's 5 o'clock on#winenotwednesday), and come along for the ride.
Growing up, I was a sedentary bookworm. My dad is a competitive runner, so I was used to waking up at the buttcrack of dawn on Saturday mornings in the summer to drive to some obscure town in the middle of Illinois and watch him compete (and win). For a few years in early elementary school, my siblings and I even did a kids’ race series hosted by his running club and a local hospital. I associate this brief phase with memories of struggling around a quarter mile track on hot and humid summer evenings, amassing a fluttering collection of brightly colored participation ribbons, drinking icy half frozen plastic cups of hospital juice, and eating delicious cookies at the finish line. The snickerdoodles were my favorite. I hated running.
I always ended up walking the mile in PE class, while my classmates whizzed by and lapped me. I easily earned straight A’s all the way through 12th grade, with the exception of gym class. Sports just weren’t my thing, and I didn’t think I cared. I was happiest when I could get lost in a book for hours. I loved drawing, making paper dolls with my sister, and creating maps and imaginary worlds for our toys and stuffed animals. I felt inspired and free tromping around in the woods behind our house with the neighbor girls, embarking on made up quests and adventures.
In 5th grade, we did an assignment where we wrote our own “Got Milk?” ads. We were supposed to tell a story about something we love to do, and how milk helps us do it (yeah, it was the 90’s). Everyone in the class talked about their favorite sport, because 5th grade was the first year we were able to participate in extracurricular activities, but I didn’t do any sports, so I talked about how I loved to read. This sounds really inconsequential, but that was the first time I remember ever feeling shame for not being “like the other kids.”
I made it through junior high and into high school with minor psycho/emotional damage considering the trials of adolescence, and in high school settled into my clique of talented honors students. I had lots of friends, and many of them are still in my life to this day. I was definitely happy, but I was always obsessed with how I looked and stressed about not feeling “pretty” or “skinny” enough, although I never considered that I could do anything to change how I felt except spending extra time putting makeup on in the mornings.
THE TURNING POINT
I very slowly and gradually discovered Pilates, workout DVDs, and power walking which turned into jogging. By the time I entered college, “working out” was something I did occasionally when I was motivated to hit the gym, but I was more interested in figuring out what I was doing, making friends, being accepted, and surviving Cell Bio. I was far from your typical party girl, but I did go out and partake in the drinking/Taco Bell combo occasionally, as well as the unlimited Whitey’s ice cream that was served in the cafeteria. (If you’re from the Quad Cities, you know what I’m talking about…). Our campus at Augustana is built into the Mississippi River Valley so it’s extremely hilly and I was more active than I’d ever been before, but I also ended up gaining the typical Freshman 15 and continued to obsess about my body image and weight.
(Me in the center, spring of my freshman year, 2006)
(The fam! Summer 2006.)
I hit a tipping point while I was home for Christmas break during my sophomore year. I distinctly remember stepping on my parents’ scale and seeing 149 flash back at me. I’m 5’6” so I wasn't "overweight" by any means, but it felt and looked unhealthy to me. I was extremely unhappy in my own skin and knew that I needed to do something about it, so as soon as I got back to school I started slowly and gradually working out more often and paying attention to what I ate. I ended up making friends with some girls on the XC and track team and we became roommates junior year, while I was also dating Ben. He was a pole vaulter, so I ended up hanging out with the track people a lot. Augie is a D3 school, so even though our track team was one of the best in the division, really anyone could join and participate and guess what? This girl who walked the mile her entire life ended up running collegiate XC and track.
(Spring 2008. I love this photo! I look fierce, right? But notice how no one is cheering me on, because my relay team was always the last on the track and didn't matter...)
I liked the team aspect and practices, but what I never admitted to anyone was how much of an imposter I felt. I wasn't ready to completely redefine myself as a college athlete among all these REAL athletes who had been doing sports their whole lives, and my body wasn’t used to running every single day so I ended up injuring myself every season. The overtraining never allowed me to really improve my endurance or times, so I always finished in the last few places at every meet. This experience was probably ultimately good for me in the "school of hard knocks" way, but it was my first taste of complete and utter failure, and it made me feel so small and alone, like I was letting myself down as well as the team, my coach, Ben, and my dad. Every time I finished last, or next to last, or couldn't keep up at practice, it was a reminder that I wasn't good enough.
On the upside, the benefit of all that running was that my pounds melted away, and even though I never completely overcame my negative body-image issues, I did feel beautiful and loved seeing baby muscles develop in my legs and abs. Health and fitness has been a major part of my life ever since then.
WHERE I’M AT TODAY
It took me up until just one year ago to "come out" of my secret fitness closet and publicly admit that I was into healthy living. Since then I've completely embraced my new identity and have even made it into a career. Working out is a regular part of my life and I feel completely comfortable at the gym, or heading out for a 3-4 mile run. It’s ironic, but I’m now a lot faster than I ever was in college even though I’m not training for speed and only run occasionally for fun. I don’t need any motivation because I work out for the way it makes me feel and I’m definitely in great shape. HOWEVER. I am afraid to really push myself or set particular fitness goals, because I’m still dealing with that damn athlete imposter syndrome. Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I am still working on accepting myself.
Every time I come closer to surpassing my own limits I end up falling back into my “comfort zone,” and living in a comfy plateau because I’ve finally reached my happy weight and am completely confident with my body. This is fine, until I start to feel a nagging voice in the back of my head saying “you can do more.” Every day I tell the women in my accountability Bootcamps that they’re worth it. They deserve happiness and confidence. They push themselves every single day and are so driven.
So I bought Insanity Max:30 because I finally decided that I needed to start pushing myself too and I wanted to see what I’m truly capable of when I face my biggest fears and harshest critic--myself.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM SHAUN T
Ok first of all, I had no idea how incredible Shaun T is as a person. The premise of Max:30 is that you push yourself to your limits. Here's a sneak peek of the workouts if you're interested--the moves aren't complicated and you only use your bodyweight, but they are relentless.
It’s easy to “hold back” when you’re working out because our instincts want us to be able to endure and save our energy, but Shaun T pushes against those instincts.
Every time I press play on a Max:30 workout I feel that same gut fear/excitement/terror/determination I used to experience right before a track meet or XC race. I know that I’m going to have to push myself to my physical AND mental limits, and I know it’s going to not only be physically painful but also emotionally painful if I let my mind win. When I'm in the middle of the workout I'm going to feel that same desperate and trapped feeling, almost like an animal trapped in a corner with no way out. The only way out is through.
YOU VS. YOU
Each workout is a fight between your body and mind. The old you against the new you that you’re working to uncover. Sometimes you let your body win, when you’ve pushed to your physical limit. You have to be able to recognize where that limit is so you don’t injure yourself. It’s a lot easier to succumb to the mind, though. You can start the warm-up determined to push through and be strong, but when that second minute of squat jumps comes, it’s easy to lose focus and instinctively give up.
When I let my mental instincts win, I feel the same disappointment I used to feel when I gave up in a XC practice or race. It’s a feeling of shame. Of failure. of letting myself down.
Every single day when I put in that DVD, I’m forcing myself to face the potential of feeling the deepest level of self doubt and shame that I can experience.
Every single day I have to overcome those old doubts and fears, and force myself to dig a little deeper.
Some days I’m focused, alert, mentally sharp enough to truly push myself to my physical limits and on those days I emerge victorious, feeling like I can do ANYTHING I want, capable of making all my secret dreams come true.
Most days I let myself down. But I keep going.
IT’S OK TO FAIL
The whole premise of Max:30 is that you push yourself to failure. You leave nothing behind and give it your all straight from the warm-up, because the whole POINT is to reach your limit and have to stop. You record your “max out time” every day, the minute and second that you first need to take a breather and rest. Every week you repeat the same workouts and you try to beat your previous max out time. It’s easy to get competitive with yourself, and extremely tempting to hold back a little so you can beat your time. But that’s cheating yourself of growth. Some weeks I add 2 minutes to my Max Out time, some weeks I’m sore or tired or mentally drained and I max out even sooner than I did before.
But ultimately your time doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you are fighting to give it your all.
“Every time I shoot a video, I fill my soul up with every struggle I’ve ever had, because I have to tap into mysle fto get you to understand. Like, that’s why I’m there for you. Thats why I tell people: I’m your biggest fan.” (Shaun T, interviewed for Men's Health)
You can’t control all aspects of your life, but you can control your body, your mind, and how you react to the world. Shaun is teaching me that if I can dig deep with my body, I can do that with my life.
I know for certain that I’ve been holding myself back ever since I quit my job last summer to “chase my dreams.” I’ve been battling with an insane and paralyzing amount of inner resistance, and I’ve been trying to work through it ever since. I know that I need to figure out WHY I’m holding myself back, and what exactly I’m afraid of, and I’m still not entirely sure.
When I read the Shaun T interview in this month's issue of Men’s Health (of course I had to pick up a copy when I saw he was on the cover!), there was a paragraph at the end of the article that made me literally gasp.
“Why do we hold back? Is it because we’re lazy? Or because we fear that if we crank it up, we won’t be able to sustain it? That we will, inevitably, disappoint ourselves?”
Yes, yes, and yes.
WHAT INSANITY MAX:30 HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE
This might sound cheesy, but if you dare to commit to the program I think you’ll understand what I’m starting to realize. Insanity Max:30 is a metaphor for life.
Leave nothing behind.
You can't pace yourself--even when you don't know what's coming next, you need to push as hard as you can. It's not about if you fail, it's about when, and failure is the whole point because it's a signal that you did your best. No regrets.
The physical results of this program don't come for free, but they're more of a bonus side effect and just HAPPEN when you start to take action every single day to test your limits. Hmm, kind of like life.
This isn't the most impressive physical transformation you'll see floating around the internet, but I didn't intend to lose weight with this program. My goals were to gain muscle, lean down, and see what I'm capable of. Considering that there were two solid weeks of holiday dinners, cookies, and the equivalent of at least 5 bottles of wine in between these two photos I'm pretty impressed and I've definitely put on a significant amount of muscle! I'm drinking Shakeology every single day, I've been eating 100% clean (no processed foods or added sugar) since January 3rd, but I'm eating a lot and allowing myself wine on Wednesdays and weekends.
I've never felt better, on the inside and out.
I AM WORTHY. I am an athlete.
I am beautiful, strong, and perfectly imperfect. It’s ok to feel vulnerable, and we all struggle with feelings of shame and inadequacy.
I am taking a stand once and for all. I refuse to let myself be a barrier to my own potential.
I can’t believe I’m even posting all of this, but I know that my story will help inspire other women (you?) to take a chance on yourself. We have to acknowledge our deepest fears in order to break free and rise from them.
No matter where you are right now, what you’ve overcome, or what you’re still battling, know for certain that you are not alone in this fight. Do the best you can do, and know that you are enough.