Three days before I gave birth, I was walking to the park. There’s a small hill on the way, and I thought about how much fun it was to run up hills. And suddenly I started sprinting up it, giant belly and all, with a huge smile on my face that I couldn’t have wiped away if I’d wanted to.

I love to always exercise in that playful kind of way. No goal, no pace, just reconnecting to that 9-year-old playing capture the flag at summer camp.

But that is not how we work out.

Hal Higdon wrote the running plan we chose to train for the Iron Horse Half Marathon. It requires both Ryan and I to work out six days a week, “which is perfect,” I thought, “because it’ll force me to whip this sorry postpartum mess into shape.” A few days ago at the gym, while I struggled through my first five-mile run in months, I watched the CrossFit games on TV, and imagined myself running up stadium steps and carrying heavy weights across a football field with the rest of the golden, muscular goddess-women on the screen. Between the insults I was internally hurling at myself, I thought of how much better I used to be and vowed to get there again.

Then last night (was it during the 2 a.m. feeding? Or 4?) I read this article. This paragraph says it all:

“There is a massive trend in the fitness industry to glorify exercise as an all-out war on the body. I call it the militarization of fitness—all the boot camps, Marine-inspired workouts, ridiculously intense body building routines, and general glorification of pain. Even our recovery and regeneration techniques are prioritized by how painful they are. (Got a knot in your hip flexor? Go roll that sh!t with a baseball!) This trend is a symptom of a much larger disease. We live in a culture obsessed with aggression, and it has found its way into every facet of our lives, even our workouts.”

He’s right – how far and fast we can abuse ourselves determines our worth in our culture. We hear, “No pain, no gain,” and apply it to all areas of our life. We hear these messages every day:

  • “Work is hard. You don’t love it enough. You’ll be happy when you love it more and get promoted. Until then, work longer hours.”
  • “Working out is hard. You’re not strong enough. You’ll be happy when you’re fast and ripped. Until then, try to put yourself in pain and constantly sweat your skin off.”
  • “Relationships are hard. You’re not committed enough. You’ll be happy when you’re physically closer/engaged/married. Until then, try to spend more time and money on the other person.”

And so on.

Don’t get me wrong, some things are hard, and should be hard. Big, important life events require work, and the fruits of your labor are sweet as a result. But we only have one life, and most of us want to be healthy and active throughout it. Should we make every day a difficult experience?

My answer is no, we shouldn’t.

Today, I’ll do my workout with a smile. And when I stop smiling, that’s when I’ll know to back off. I want to complete this race in October having prepared happily, not forcefully. And I want to run the course on that feel-good summer-camp high. That’s my goal, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

We can all do it. Just start today, and if you don’t like it, you can always go back to your personal body-war tomorrow. But just for today, play.

One thought on “Play!

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