Working On It, Week Four: Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

I’ve been thinking about buying one of those physical activity-tracking wristbands, such as a Fitbit. Have you ever worn one? Apparently a third of people stop using theirs within six months, which I think is my main concern? I lose interest in things super fast. Also, it seems like they might be an item that’s easy to misplace or break. If you have any experiences to share then I’d be pretty excited about that, thank you.

This week I’ve been wholly focussed on returning to my health and wellness kick after being ill, which hasn’t been easy. “It’s not easy” – me, about so many things this week. My fitness level declines super quick after taking time out. Overall, though, my body is starting to feel great! I’m feel a little stronger and healthier and more accountable for wellness. It’s delightful.

I decided that it’s time to focus on stepping further outside my comfort zone and trying new and slightly more challenging things. My exercise routine has started feeling cruisey. Walking uphill for an hour is good exercise and a huge improvement on couch-sitting but it’s pretty boring and I feel like I’m barely breaking a sweat anymore. So, in my effort to push myself a little harder and further, here’s what has / hasn’t been working:

Working: 30 day fitness challenges

Last week I mentioned that I was starting the 30 Day Ab Challenge. If you decided to join me, how’s it going? (And if you missed last week’s article and you want to join in, it’s not too late! This is the app).

I’ve been contemplating working on core strength for a few months now; not so much to transform into Sally Six-Pack but rather because of how it delivers a whole heap of benefits to an ageing body such as increased bone mass, stamina and focus. Plus I recently witnessed my pal Anne Marie tackle some 30-day strength challenges like a champ and it was truly inspiring. It made me feel like maybe I could kick ass at it too.

(Unfortunately I can’t kick anything because I can barely move. LOL! More on that in a sec.)

So, the good parts: hands down the 30 day deadline; it’s perfect for my short attention span and makes the commitment of trying something new feel less daunting and more achievable. I do have this feeling that as a clueless amateur, maybe I shouldn’t be following an unsupervised ‘one fits all’ program that increases intensity without taking into consideration my specific fitness levels. (I decided to still proceed but with caution and listening to my body).

I’m loving how there are only four ab exercises to master, and every fourth day is a rest day (at least on the ‘Beginner 1’ level. I also appreciate the illustrated instructions on how to do the exercises but I’ve mostly been use them as a reminder; I found that YouTube videos give clearer instructions.

Ab challenge

The not as good parts: it so difficult! At least for me and my weak core. My first day included 5 leg raises, an exercise invented by satan, and ended with an inhumane 24 second plank. Days 2-4 ached a lot.

The targets have been escalating a little too quickly for my non-existent core to deal and so I’ve been cheating a lot. On Day 3 I did the sit-ups on my bed because when I tried to lower my torso onto the floor my abs were just like NOPE. On Day 4, I woke up still aching but this time there was blood involved and so I raced to my doctor, convinced that I’d torn an ab, or something. (Everything was chill, though, the only issue was me not fully understanding how the contraceptive pill works).

Now it’s Day 5 and things are far less sore and dramatic. In fact I’m feeling really motivated to continue and my abs are starting to feel tight, like they might be getting stronger. Right now I feel like I can actually do this, become a person who has strong core muscles.

How did you go?


Not working (yet): Bravery

What exercises get you going? A few years ago I tried boxing and loved it, although sadly there are too many barriers for me to pick it up again right now. So I’m trying to open my mind to other non-treadmill workouts that will offer a similar challenges and diversity. Some of you have already given me great suggestions in previous columns, like martial arts and roller derby, that I’ve been filing away for the coming months. (I think yoga will be the first one I try).

I’ve mentioned my extreme fear of group fitness classes once or twice now and it’s still a thing that I’m trying to work up the guts to conquer. It doesn’t help that the classes all have ambiguous names like “BODYJAM” and “HHILT,” which don’t paint a clear picture as to what’s involved and which fitness level it’s aimed at. I’m too much of a scaredy cat to ask the staff because I know that once I have answers, I’ll be out of excuses. So for now, I’m just casually lurking in the doorways of exercise studios, trying to psych myself up to walk through. It’s a process. I think I’ll get there soon, though.


Not working (yet): Swimming

Last month I got this wild idea that swimming at the gym pool would be a super fun way to get fit, never mind that it’s been roughly fifteen years since my last attempt and I recall being pretty shit.

Regardless, I was highly motivated and enthusiastic. I ordered and returned various swimsuits online until I found one offering my preferred level of skin coverage and then waited until late-night, when the gym pool was near-empty, to make my maiden voyage.

I choked, literally and figuratively, because swimming is apparently not like riding a bike. I dog paddled for about 15 minutes until a child jumped into my lane and started showing me up with his legit swim strokes.

I’m still feeling motivated to keep trying but also debating my approach. I could try to learn the proper strokes but also, dog paddling kinda feels like a valid workout? Fifteen minutes of flailing around left me fucking exhausted. Does pool etiquette dictate that you need to use an Olympic certified swim stroke? Is it cool to side-eye 10-year-olds who out-lap me in the slow lane or will that get me kicked out? Are they even supposed to be there unsupervised at midnight? Get off my lawn.

Tell me about your unspoken rules, gym swimmers.

What have you been up to this week? Tell me everything. Have you joined the Autostraddle Working On It social group? We’ve been having some good discussions on there, come on in.

Coming up next week: Hydration and meditation!

Crystal is a 33-year-old Australian living in Chicago. Founding member, does HR stuff, writes now and then.

Crystal has written 329 articles for us.


  1. I used to have an UP24, and thought it was GREAT. I even wrote a thing about it for a friend’s website:

    But you’re right, a few months after I wrote the thing about how much I loved it, it broke and I didn’t replace it. What I will say though, is that it was the perfect gateway drug for working out and getting fitter, and I would still absolutely recommend!

    Really getting in to the 30 day challenges too! I use the website version the YouTube vids for the stuff I wasn’t sure about were super helpful, and I’m finding that printing out the 30 day chart keeps me on track better than having it in my phone — it’s also super satisfying physically crossing off each day.

  2. I know you have an aversion to group fitness classes, but water fitness class are great. You don’t have to know how to swim, you can be where your feet touch the floor. And since most of your body is underwater no one can see that your kicks are off. :-)

    I know people look at it as “old-lady-excercise”, but it’s low impact yet high resistance. You get a good work out. And no little kid is gonna show you up.

    On a side note; I work at an Ivy League school and they require the undergrads to pass a swim test before they can graduate.

  3. I’ve just downloaded the app, I’ve never done a fitness challenge before! Looking forward to going you all.

    I didn’t go to the gym for a week as a friend was staying, but I went yesterday evening and today and I’m feeling good about it. I’ve never given myself any fitness goals before but I’m aiming to be able to use the shoulder press machine to lift 30kg by Christmas (I have no idea if this is vastly over or underestimating my strength/how long it takes to build muscle but I thought it would be nice to give myself some sort of challenge? Not sure if it will work yet.)

  4. YES to the Fitbit.

    I’ve had mine now for almost two years and I love it. For me, it’s a great visual reminder that I need to get up and do something active, even if it’s just a simple walk around the neighborhood. Also, let me add that Fitbit has FANTASTIC customer service. After the first year and a half of wearing my Fitbit everyday the band started to rip and they were able to send me a new one within just a few days!

  5. How did I not see this post until now? Oh well, I guess I’m late to the party.

    I just got back from the gym. I took a class taught by the owner of the gym, which is always super cool and intense. I feel you on the planks- I did 3 30-second planks in class today. I want to scream at everyone that I have a lot more weight to hold up, but my body is getting stronger, and it’s not as difficult to do planks as it was a few months ago.

    I don’t swim. I actually never learned how. In NYC, pools are few and far between, and my gym doesn’t have a pool, so it’s never been a thing for me. My dad used to swim for exercise. It’s supposed to be the perfect combination of cardio and strength training. Not gonna lie, I’ve always wanted to take a water aerobics class with all the old ladies.

  6. Wow, if everyone else is doing the ab challenge: I will too!

    I made it to the gym 3 times last week, but somehow I didn’t go three days in a row at the end of the week/weekend and that made it hard to get back. Usually I go in the morning, but yesterday I went in the evening and that was fine.

    Next week is my vacation and I’m not sure how that’ll interfere with my exercising. On the one hand I can run on the beach! On the other hand I could just lounge on the beach. But I’m packing my running shoes, so I better run!

  7. So, I’ve had a jawbone up which is one of those activity tracker situations since September last year and I enjoy it. I went from working in an environment where I was on my feet all day to a desk job. It does help motivate me to take the stairs, or go on a lunchtime walk. The things I like about it include the “idle alert” where it vibrates to remind me that I’ve been sitting on my arse for too long.

    I’ve also been trying to meditate in the mornings! I have the smiling mind app for my phone which is pretty good. They have guided meditations that go from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes?

  8. I learned to swim embarrassingly late, and when I first started doing laps in college the life guards were always on the edge of their seats waiting for the inevitable moment where they’d have to throw me a noodle. But eventually I got the hang of breast stroke, and then, feeling more adventurous, I started experimenting with freestyle. I read up on the internet (like a nerd) and I watched other lap swimmers, and I wound up learning a lot of the technique this way. It took me a good year of regular swimming to be passable, but it was worth it!

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