(Why I Work Out)

My Personal Fitness Journey Had Been My Metaphor For Life

Get past that hurdle.

By Vanessa Powell
@vanessalpowell
my personal fitness journey

“Give me everything you got; V, you can do anything for 15 seconds!” the instructor yells as the blaring beat drops, and I flex every muscle in my body, sprinting at a 11.5 speed on the treadmill under the dim red light, as my intense eye contact in the mirror affirms that I got this — I am strong, I am powerful, I can do anything. Holy sh*t. An 11.5. That’s 0.2 up from yesterday’s class. As I walk down my heart rate at a three speed, sweat is spewing off my forehead, my legs are shaking. This 50-minute Barry’s Bootcamp class just made my entire day.

If you can’t tell, I am one of those rare people who actually enjoys working out. My personal fitness journey can be summed up as equal parts mental and physical. Overcoming an obstacle and showing myself how strong I am serves as a metaphor for real-life scenarios. Whether it’s the actual data of an improved speed, hitting a new weight bracket, or the mantras I tell myself in the mirror when I’m moving — I always walk away from a workout feeling better than before. Getting past the hurdle motivates me to take on the day with confidence.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll occasionally have days when I need a rest and skip the gym. But whenever I find myself feeling down, the first thing I notice is that I have not been consistently working out. It keeps my energy levels up, my nutrition healthy, my sleep sufficient, and my mental health in check. Movement has become a nonnegotiable form of therapy in my life. But it has been one hell of a journey to find my niche, and it wasn’t always linear.

The Journey

After being a childhood athlete growing up in Connecticut and juggling more than three sports a year, the whole team dynamic with a coach has stuck with me through adulthood. I still remember the immense impact my childhood coaches had on me. It’s why I prefer community fitness to a personal trainer or stand-alone gym sesh. I’ve tried the latter, but I was never able to stick with it. In fact, I’ve tried just about every style of workout imaginable to arrive on what works for me. I’ve dated hundreds of different workout styles to finally commit to the ones I love… if only actual dating was that clear.

During college, when I didn’t have soccer practice on my daily schedule, my physical fitness and overall health was quick to fluctuate, and I knew I needed to find a new routine. I would go to the gym but didn’t like the idea of working out next to frat guys who I’d be partying with that weekend. So I sought out off-campus alternatives.

That’s when I first fell in love with hot vinyasa yoga. I started off as a timid newbie that hid in the back corner, hoping to hide from whatever mistakes I was already prepared to make. From a great instructor, I quickly learned that there are no mistakes. Simply showing up, breathing through the poses and staying in the hot room meant it was a successful class. Prior to this, I never considered myself to be the yogi type — I blamed it on my short attention span. But the difficulty of the hot room forced me to focus and gave me the challenge I longed for but in a low intensity movement. One class a week turned into four, and after a few months, my new spot in the class was front row center.

I was drawn to overcoming the challenge of each class, the diverse community that had no ties to my personal life, and the life lessons I took away from each sweat sesh. The slow buildup of confidence, strength, and stamina was profoundly empowering to a college student trying to find her way in the world.

After I graduated and moved to New York City, I remembered that everyone was a newbie once, so I took what I learned from hot yoga and applied it in classes all over town to find my new niche. I would raise my hand high when an instructor asked if there were any new students. I wanted to learn it all. Plus, full disclosure: I worked at a fashion and fitness magazine, so the access to trendy new studios was abundant.

You name it, I’ve tried it, thanks to my job and ClassPass. From New York to L.A. (where I moved in 2017), I compared Mark Wahlberg’s F45 circuit training to Training Mate and dabbled in Taryn Toomey’s “The Class,” and then tried out Julianne Hough’s Kinrgy, which taps into breathwork and emotion through movement. I’ve really experienced it all. Through all these various classes, I learned that community and performative leadership motivate me, hold me accountable, and breed connection. There’s something especially empowering about overcoming a difficult challenge together, whether it’s fitness-related or not. Even though everyone is on their own journey, when you have someone next to you bringing the energy, it’s contagious. Plus, when you start to build a relationship with instructors and fellow classmates, these workout classes start to feel like home.

The COVID Effect

When the first wave of COVID hit and businesses were forced to temporarily shut down, my whole life of fitness changed. As someone who always found it difficult to work out alone, I had no other choice. Luckily, being “bored in the house” served as a motivator to seek out a virtual fitness community.

I began daily walks, which turned into runs in Beverly Hills, where I lived at the time. I used Instagram and Spotify as a tool to share my journey, resonate with a community, and discover playlists others were running to. I always enjoyed working out to music, but over COVID, I became particular about it. It was my new way of receiving a mantra when pushing myself through a workout. I timed my own playlists to hit a specific hill when Nicki Minaj’s “Chun-Li” came on.

I also supported instructors who were furloughed with donation-based classes and invested in booty bands for floor strength, a Crossrope jump rope for cardio, and Bala Bangles for my daily walks. It was a difficult start, but the more I incorporated Zoom workouts into my routine, the more I became hooked. I missed my classes but found a sense of community online.

On the flip side, my body experienced true rest, probably for the first time. Over quarantine, I learned the importance of recovery, proper sleep, and the right fuel for a true holistic approach to wellness. It was a turning point in my fitness journey where I learned that a rest day or two is just as important as the workout itself. I was working out less but somehow gaining the aesthetics of muscle definition that I always wanted. Whether it was the stress of being “busy” all the time or not allowing myself a rest day, quarantine really forced me to actually listen to my body and practice the knowledge I consume… not just post quotes about doing it on Instagram.

The Return To Studio

Barry’s Bootcamp was one of the few studios that reopened in Phase One. The franchise came up with “Barry’s Outside.” It literally brought bikes, treadmills, weights and benches into parking lots, garages and rooftops, along with a silent disco-style headphone workout that required face masks, of course. While it wasn’t the same as the red room, it was a lot more fun than the computer screen, so I became a regular no matter what it cost. I was hooked on certain instructors, mostly for their like-minded music interests that motivated me to push harder with each beat drop.

When all classes started to reopen, and Barry’s went back inside, I still felt committed to the studio. It’s a sentimental feeling, walking through the parking lot we used to workout out in, knowing how far we’ve come as a #BarrysFamily. My now weekly rotation of high intensity Barry’s Bootcamp, hot vinyasa yoga, and the occasional boxing or Megaformer Lagree class, along with leisure walks, bike rides, and full-on rest days are where I currently live.

The Future Of Fitness

I once prided myself on working out seven days a week for an aesthetics goal, even if it meant getting a lousy five hours of sleep to make a 6 a.m. class. But now after all these years, and especially after quarantine, I have learned more about what my body needs. I’ll gladly take my eight hours and a rest day. I also care more about fueling my body for a workout with the proper macronutrients for sustained energy. Plus, workouts in general are far more enjoyable when you’re properly fueled — whether it’s fruity carbs for a cardio blast or protein for strength training. I also make a point to stretch, meditate, and massage my body with the proper tools when needed. Prioritizing wellness and longevity over aesthetics has brought me peace.

I’m not here to push my style of working out onto anyone else. My journey certainly has not been linear, but by putting myself out there to try new things, I’ve been able to carve a path I love, and I encourage others to do the same, whether it’s an at-home Peloton bike or simple daily walks. For me, it’s a combination of high energy motivation, loud house music, and a like-minded community that gets me going. If you happen to catch me in a Barry’s class, I’m the girl that sings to herself in the mirror and loudly “whews” after a treadmill sprint (Team No Shame). Something about it brings me back to the crossroads of childhood dance class and soccer practice where my coach was playing tough love with competitive drills.

If you’re searching for your motivation, pay attention to what strikes your interests and just try it. ClassPass is a great tool for that. If you prefer softer music, find an instructor that matches. Tell them you’re new and don’t expect to be good at it. Instructors are there for a reason and every other person in that class was new once too. Stay present in the sensations of your body over the workout, and remember: A little patience for progress and showing up consistently could turn into something you can’t imagine living without.