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Exercising mental strength during a tough workout

POSTED: April 9, 2017 11:31 p.m.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert/

Some people enjoy running, such as Carmen Rasmussen Herbert's two boys. Carmen wishes she could say she felt the same.

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There are few things in life I feel I hate more than exercising.

I’ve tried to figure out why this has been the case over the years. I come from an extremely active family. My mom has always woken up before 6 a.m. every single morning from the time she was in college to get her workout in. She is nothing but diligent, even on vacation. My older sister somehow also scored on the I-love-working-out genes, and never misses a day, whether it be running, biking or gym-classing. They both look amazing.

My little brother Robby inherited my dad’s genes — he is more of a binge-exerciser. He can go days without doing anything and then suddenly decide to run a marathon or compete in an Ironman or bike race, all of which he has done many times. He didn’t hit 100 pounds until he was a junior in high school, and I still wonder if my brother weighs close to that (joking, Rob, I know you’re a huge 120).

My younger sister was a figure skater growing up and is naturally trim and muscular. She doesn’t have to do much to look like she trains for hours.

And then there’s me. I am active — I chase kids, walk/jog our dog, push a heavy two-person stroller around Thanksgiving Point Ashton gardens at least once a week, and do workout at least three times a week. But as far as getting up every day and looking forward to breaking a sweat, I don’t — at all. Two years ago, I trained for a half marathon and waited and waited and waited for those so-called endorphins to kick in. I liked the feeling of doing something hard and staying in shape. I hated the feeling of actually doing it.

Last week, my sister, who is eight months pregnant, told me about a workout class for moms where you can bring your kids and let them go crazy while you get your exercise in, and asked me to try it with her. For some reason I said yes.

I walked into the gym with my four boys and let them loose while I found a spot by my sister. It was a high intensity integral training (HIIT) class, which is supposed to burn the maximum amount of calories in a minimum amount of time, which is great, as long as you’re OK with lots of under-the-breath cursing and crying while you push your body to the absolute limit.

About one minute in I realized how silly it was to think my kids would actually be fine running free for an hour. It was a closed-off gym with lots of toys and other kids to play with, but of course, they wanted to play in the halls. One child there kept turning off the lights while we were squat-jumping and just as I was looking around the room to see which mother was going to go tell her child to kindly stop, I realized the child was mine. I didn’t say anything. Another mother beat me to it, anyway.

When we started doing push-ups, my 1-year-old decided he had had it, and wanted me to pick him up.

“Mammee! Hold you!” He stood on my fingers while I tried to finish my set (half on my knees, I’ll admit) and I had to bite my tongue to keep my under-the-breath curse words “under the breath.” I looked over at my very pregnant sister who was doing standard push-ups like a boss right into the back-end of her 1-year-old who had positioned himself in a backwards stink bug position directly under her nose. I couldn’t help but let out a laugh as I watched her squint her eyes and hold her breath every time she came into contact with his diaper. I wondered if the happy endorphins had kicked in for her yet.

After several grueling HIIT sets we moved on to the last part of the workout, which was strengthening our gluteus maximus…es. I walked over to the carpeted portion of the gym, for my knees and other people’s ears. As I raised my leg in the air high above my head, I felt the stretch and pull and ache of my muscles and it suddenly brought back vivid memories of when I gave birth. My breath came in shallow pants and just when I thought, “I can’t do it,” our instructor yelled, “Keep going! You are strong!”

Tears sprang to my eyes and I had a sudden burst of energy. I finished the set on both sides and then lay there quietly sobbing into the floor in a child’s pose.

Dramatic much? I know. But hearing those words "you are strong" brought back memories of when I did feel strong and accomplished something I originally thought I couldn’t do. I looked around at all these women who were trying to do something good for their bodies, with their little ones running around them; little ones that they so bravely and strongly brought into the world, and who were the reasons we were all there working out in the first place.

I want to show my kids that the things that are the hardest for us to do are usually what will make us the strongest. I hope that eventually I can learn to love what all that painful stretching does for me, both mentally and physically, because it’s shaping me into something tougher and more resilient, better equipped to face bigger challenges and take on heavier loads. Our bodies are pretty incredible, but our spirits are even more so. I am constantly amazed at what we can actually do when we put our minds to it.

Keep going. You are strong.
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