Caryn Davies: Getting back into shape

Caryn Parmentier Davis, Rowing 2004 & 2008Caryn Parmentier Davies
Olympian, Rowing 2004 & 2008

In the past six months, whenever I told my non-athlete friends that I had to get back into shape, they looked at me like I was crazy.

To them, I was never out of shape. In the years after Beijing I’ve run a marathon, I’ve biked 40 minutes each way to work every day, I’ve spent more time in the gym than probably any other law student here at Columbia.

In general I feel healthy and fit. But trust me, when I got on the rowing machine again it became painfully obvious that I was out of shape. The sport-specific fitness just wasn’t there anymore, and I was feeling the loss.

One of my friends who is also getting back into shape to compete in London 2012 put it succinctly: “You’re going to suffer for a few months, but you’ve just got to push through it and then you’ll be a rockstar.” That was when it occurred to me that my struggles getting back into Olympic shape have a lot in common with those of anyone who is starting a fitness regime for the first time. That is why I am sharing my journey with you.

Fit people will tell you that you should enjoy exercise. I’m here to tell you they’re wrong. Most exercise is not fun, and you will not enjoy it, especially when you’re not used to it. It hurts, and you will suffer. You will feel tired all the time when you start out. But if you can push through that initial phase, then you begin to reap the rewards.

For me, the fun part comes after the exercise. There’s nothing like flopping on the couch after a hard morning workout with a bowl of oatmeal (my favorite breakfast because, as a coach once told me, “oats move boats”) and reveling in the feeling of soreness and exhaustion in my muscles. I love it because I know it means I’m getting stronger.

This makes sense given what we know about sport physiology: you actually get fitter in the period of rest after a workout. In order to get stronger first you must break down your muscles with strenuous activity, and then you must rest while your muscles rebuild themselves to be able handle the activity next time around.

Yes, you are getting fitter while you sit on the couch and watch TV… but only if you stress your body first, and then give it the things it needs to recover. That is why proper nutrition and plenty of rest is so important for athletes, and why I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get in shape.

As for me, I’m exhausted, and I’m going to bed. What better excuse to put myself to bed at 9:30pm than the idea that I will be getting fitter in my sleep?

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