How I’m Becoming A “Fit” Person In 30 Days (For Zero Dollars)

Here at ol’ TFD HQ, we’ve been talking about doing spring challenges — something for the month of May that will allow us to tackle a project we’ve been avoiding, or sharpen a skill we’ve been meaning to work on for god-knows-how-long. And between Lauren, Holly, and I, each of us are taking on a different kind of challenge (from the athletic to the artistic) to help propel ourselves forward and start the summer on the freshest, most confident possible note. Holly has already written about her plans to de-clutter and organize in tandem with her upcoming move, and I found myself envying such a nice little dovetail: moving to a new place, and shedding everything unnecessary to do it better.

On my end, things are pretty constant, and though I have been pursuing some personal goals (I take twice-weekly private Spanish lessons and put in at least an hour of language practice per day), none of it really lends itself clearly and concisely to a month-long goal. My big trip for Spanish, for example, is bookended by my upcoming trip this summer to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a large group of friends. I plan to write a long post about my language experience this year when all of that is said and done, both from a financial and learning perspective, but there’s nothing within it that I can really neatly chop into a month’s time.

All that said, at the end of May, I’m heading to Miami for five nights with Marc, meaning that I’ll be spending my first extended period in a bathing suit since last summer. And (while I know this has become a problematic thought to express), I do not feel at the height of my confidence, physically. I am a thin person by most measures — currently 130 at 5’6, between size two and six depending on the store and item — so my goal is in no way to lose weight. But I’d be lying if I said I weren’t a rather noodly person, with little muscle mass and even less endurance. For however one defines it, I don’t feel “fit.” I feel “light,” in that I have in many ways mastered my appetite and food needs, and almost never overeat, and I generally have a good amount of energy, but I am not a “fitness” person. I don’t have that inner zest to get cardio each day, I often don’t feel as tired as I should at the end of the day, and I can barely muster ten push-ups (on my knees).

And this past year, I’ve done a few personal challenges to up the amount of daily activity I get, to the point that I am averaging around 8k steps a day currently, without going significantly out of the way. But as I’ve long found that, aside from partner dancing (which is an infrequent-at-best activity in my life), long, brisk walking is the only form of exercise I genuinely enjoy, I realize it is up to me to increase the degree to which it is part of my life. If I am to embrace walking as my primary way to physical fitness, I have to stop treating it as a convenient means to an end and start treating it as its own end. To do that, I have set myself the (somewhat-ambitious) goal of 500,000 steps in a month.

Given that it would require about doubling my current walking level, I’m trying to be realistic about what that will entail, and I can almost certainly say that it will mean many more long, dedicated walks to rack up tens of thousands of steps at once, rather than spreading things out evenly across 16,000-ish steps per day. Some weeks I may end up hitting about that, but I should keep the expectation of getting them in where and when I can, rather than beating myself up if a particular day here or there is packed with work or pouring rain. And given that I am very happy with every other aspect of my “health lifestyle” — I eat well, I cook mostly at home, I am at a healthy weight, I drink a lot of water — the changes will be exclusively in my walking. Hopefully, this will make the differences in me easier to measure and to isolate, and therefore will provide even more of that delicious motivation to continue (once the small joy of getting my yearly pair of white tennis shoes in which to do the bulk of my walking has worn off).

And what are the differences I’m hoping to see? Well, honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I know that physically, I would like to increase my ratio of muscle-to-fat, decreasing my overall noodliness and making me feel more lean and toned. I would also like to feel a serious increase in my stamina and energy — ideally, by the end of the 30 days, I’ll be itching to get my walks in as soon as I can. I’d also like to feel more powerful: I’m not aspiring to suddenly be flipping cars, but I’m someone who really values the increased, tightened connection one feels with their own body when they are in control of it, when they can manifest change within it, and when they can feel an increased responsiveness within it. The times in my life in which I’ve been more active have always felt happier and more full of possibility.

I’ll be starting on Friday, and following up with two posts, one at the 15-day mark and one after the whole thing is said and done. I’ll be tracking various metrics of my physical and mental status, even if I’m not particuarly interested in changing them (I’m not looking to lose weight, but I’ll still track it). I am a bit nervous about the whole process, but as someone who hasn’t truly felt like a “fit” person since I was partner dancing in college, I really, really look forward to once again feeling like a knowledgeable and confident captain of the great, beautiful ship that is a body.

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  • Allyson of Lovely Explorer

    Really interesting! I also love walking but never really saw it as an option for a fitness challenge. I’m not sure that it will actually build the muscle that you’re hoping (but I’m super curious if it does!)

  • I think you would do well to add in even just 5 minutes each day of some strength training, focusing on different areas. Fitnessblender.com has good ones for free on their site. You can sort by time, area of focus, equipment (including none). As we age, it’s important for women to build/retain lean muscle to protect our bone density.

    • chelseafagan

      Thanks for the tip! I will work to incorporate that to my daily stretchin’!

    • GBee

      This! I have been spending ~15 mins each morning lifting weights and doing planks and squats. It’s amazing how quickly your body can put on a little muscle. Previously I had only been running and I feel so much better with the addition of weight training (if you can even call what I do weight training…)

      • GBee

        Also, since your goal is to gain muscle tone, I want to add that while running has slimmed my thighs, I have less definition in my legs than when I was weight training/doing pilates a few years ago. Everyone’s body reacts differently so I’m interested in your results at the end of May!

    • Cat

      I was thinking this too! More walking is great for some fitness goals, but if you really want to feel more fit, toned and powerful, you should definitely add in strength training.

      • Sara

        Yup, the toning isn’t going to happen without some form of strength training. YouTube is great for free videos of that kind of stuff.

    • Court E. Thompson

      Yes! I’m not sure if walking more will actually accomplish the toning goal. At the very least, throw on some ankle and wrist weights for some extra resistance!

  • Sarah

    Have you heard of rucking? It’s walking with a weight on your back (backpack with books). I’m planning to do it to make my walks more challenging.

    • chelseafagan

      Good idea!

    • Great idea!

    • Gem

      If you are looking for muscle I also recommend including hills and stairs in your walks and if possible heading to Huston Valley once or twice a week of a hike. There are plenty of hikes you can get to via the Metro North if you don’t have a car.

  • Sara Lew

    I also enjoy walking (mainly parks and such) and I started incorporating these ankle weights into my outings. I will alternate between wearing them for half the walk, and then taking them off and “repping” them with mini bicep curls for the other half. Seems minor but you can feel it after the first few times!

    https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B013HJOYPM/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

  • Chelsea, as a fellow walker I really loved this post!

    100% you can reach your goal, I promise you it isn’t hard. Every morning I take a 35 minute walk and it clocks in at about 4.2-4.3K steps (I’m 5’9 so it might be a little more for you) and honestly, once you get into the habit it might even become a highlight of your day…especially now that the weather is getting nicer!

    To echo the other comments, I definitely recommend doing even a little bit of strength training in addition to walking. Unless you’re really powering up hills, you probably won’t notice any major changes or new muscles. Looking forward to reading your updates, have fun!

  • Wolf

    I hate all kinds of workout, too. The gym was the worst for me.
    But I found that I enjoy small (1 min at first, 10 min after a few weeks) running intervals in my walks.

  • lateshift

    yes, definitely throw in some pilates! it just uses your own body weight, and it WORKS…I’m another kind of out-of-shape thin person (or at least: not exactly in-shape. Skinny, but not toned.) But whenever I’ve done pilates, I see the difference really, really quickly, and have more stamina just in general…

  • Stef

    Pilates, girl. You see results/toning practically right away if you do it daily!

  • Kara

    “I’m someone who really values the increased, tightened connection one feels with their own body when they are in control of it, when they can manifest change within it, and when they can feel an increased responsiveness within it.”

    I’ve been semi-out of shape for the past few years and this is the feeling I miss the most. I’ve never heard the feeling expressed so well. That sentence alone gave me some motivation!

    • Katrina

      I totally related to this too! One of my favorite things about strength training is feeling strong in my own body and knowing it’s capable of really hard physical exercises.

  • Taryn Goodge

    What I’ve started doing is getting on my bike more. I live in Chicago, and there are some amazing bike trails. I’ve started biking 5 miles a day, 2.5 to the train, 2.5 back, instead of taking the bus that’s right in front of my apartment. It’s a small change, but I definitely am feeling the change vs. spending the time just on public transportation. It’s faster, too!

  • lazuliz

    Try the Geocaching app! It takes you on (free!) mini treasure hunts all throughout different cities. You can get your steps in while on the hunt for a cache.

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