Chinae Alexander is known for her positive attitude, motivational Instagram posts, and overall fitness. But less than 10 years ago, she was only beginning to exercise. Unsure of where (and how) to start, she sought out help at…a library. Here, in her own words, is why that's not as crazy as it might sound.
"Why doesn't my body *feel* better?"
I remember asking myself this question 10 years ago. At the time, I had no knowledge of fitness. In college, I would use the elliptical for 15 minutes, smoke a cigarette outside the rec center, thinking I had just had a killer workout, and that the burrito in my future was hard-earned. Then, in 2009, one of my guy friends was like, “I think I’m gonna start working out and eating better,” and I said, “Oh okay, I’ll do it with you.” So we made a loose bet; it was all too casual, but that day changed my life forever. I didn’t know at the time, but I wasn’t betting against him, I was betting on me. Major life lesson: Always bet on yourself.
I didn’t really know where to start, as I felt very uninterested in going to a workout class. I wasn’t exactly the jumping, shimmying, flailing type at 225 pounds. The idea of dance cardio made me want to crawl in a cave. (It still does, in fact.) I thought back to my childhood; I would go to the gym with my mom while she was working out. She was always lifting weights, the only woman in a sea of men in the weight room. So, I started there.
I remember thinking that even if I didn’t learn from the book, carrying the sheer weight of it home would count as workout number one.
I do most things unconventionally, so naturally my first thought was going to the library. “They have books about fitness there right?” (Please note this was before Youtube was rife with every workout imaginable.) I found Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, and paged through the 20-pound book. It was filled with instructions, photos, and how-tos. It also contained a lot of greased up gents flexing in very small bikini bottoms, but I digress.
I remember thinking that even if I didn’t learn from the book, carrying the sheer weight of it home would count as workout number one. To prepare for a workout, I would take pictures of moves in the book, and then I would go in and try them out, peeking at my phone between sets.
A post shared by CHINAE ALEXANDER (@chinaealexander) on Mar 10, 2018 at 9:47am PST
One day early on, I was standing in front of the mirror with a 3-lb. weight gripped in each hand, practicing proper bicep curl form, and I remember feeling so defeated. In that moment, I felt like the future was too expansive, that figuring out fitness was something so far off from the dumbbells that dangled at my sides. I could never learn everything. I was frustrated, but then after my tantrum, I looked at myself and thought, “Wait, why can’t I?”
I looked at myself and thought, “Wait, why can’t I?”
Asking “Why can’t I?” was one of my worst qualities as a child, but it has become my power since then. Over the course of the next two years, I taught myself how to feel comfortable lifting weights and taking up space in a gym. But more importantly, I taught myself to find joy in the process of becoming myself.
Part of what's enabled me to be consistent with my training is that I find such joy in the learning, in the messing up, in the not knowing it all but seeking answers. I wish I could go back to that day, standing in front of the mirror wielding my three-pounders and whisper in my own ear that the hopelessness would one day transform into the slow-burning inspiration I needed to be here 10 years later.
A post shared by CHINAE ALEXANDER (@chinaealexander) on Jan 25, 2018 at 8:06am PST
Don’t get me wrong, I struggled with motivation. I felt afraid. I lacked confidence. But my weapon to combat those things was knowledge. Walking in the doors of a gym with a brain (and a phone) full of information, I felt empowered. I wasn’t just exercising my core, but my brain. And after the brain, came the soul.
You don’t have to go in and do it perfectly. It’s just about having an extra layer of confidence through information and practice. But the secret sauce is humility. Humility that you don’t know it all, that you might not have every answer…that you need to ask for help. When I was training, I would ask somebody who looked like they knew what they were doing, “Hey, could you just help me figure this out?” Then, I'd have a new piece of knowledge. This helped me get over that bullshit feeling of seeming stupid. Pro-tip: No one thinks as harshly about you as you. We all need help—build your bravery and ask for it.
I felt empowered. I wasn’t just exercising my core, but my brain. And after the brain, came the soul.
By 2016, I had the hang of weightlifting, I had transformed my body, and fitness had become an everyday thing. I could walk into a gym and not blink an eye at a weight room full of dudes. That’s when I knew I had to keep learning and growing, so I faced my fear of group fitness. No, not dance cardio, cycling. Note: I'm still not the jumping, shimmying, flailing type.
A post shared by CHINAE ALEXANDER (@chinaealexander) on Mar 7, 2018 at 1:39pm PST
After my first SoulCycle class—I left so destroyed. I thought, "Oh my god, I’m so bad at this.” But I felt the same spark in my gut that I felt the day I picked up that Schwarzenegger book. So I went, over and over and over. Class wasn’t about burning calories, it was about burning down the ideas I had about myself.
Every year I try to pose a fitness wellness challenge for myself. (Currently, I'm working on yoga, because I've never been a yogi.) It’s not about becoming an expert at anything, it’s about being a forever pupil. I looked around during those early days and it felt as if there were no other people doing what I was doing. I wondered if I was approaching fitness wrong, or whether I should be doing something else. “Should I be on that treadmill or elliptical like all the other women? Should I want to Zumba my heart out? Should I be able to put my feet on my lower back with ease like that cool yoga girl?” All I know is when I stopped questioning myself, and started listening to the feeling of growth and excitement for what I was doing…I felt like ME.
When I stopped questioning myself, and started listening to the feeling of growth and excitement for what I was doing…I felt like ME.
I share this story because I want people to understand that there are a million ways to get to the place they want to go. That fitness doesn’t have to be about the state of your thighs or about undoing whatever you ate last night. You don’t have to love to run, or excel at tree pose, or kill on a bike to be doing it right. Fitness for you doesn’t have to look like it does for me. I lost 70 lbs. weightlifting, but more importantly, I gained confidence from knowledge, from sucking at first, and from creating my own path.
I can't tell you what to do to reach your specific fitness goals, but what I can tell you is that you're worthy of doing the work.
I can't tell you what to do to reach your specific fitness goals, but what I can tell you is that you're worthy of doing the work. Even if that means, as it did for me, being the weird girl carrying around an oversized Arnold Schwarzenegger book and asking random people for help in the gym—because now, my body feels much, much better than it did before I realized knowledge (and dumbbells) equals power.
I’m betting on me, but I'm betting on you, too.
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