Rebuilding the Habit
By Drew YoungeDyke
This Michigan Outside column was originally published in the August 2019 issue of Woods'N'Water News.
The evidence was unmistakable. When my colleague at the National Wildlife Federation, Aaron Kindle, showed me the photo he took at the Outdoor Writers Association of America conference while I was shooting trap at our steel shot demo, the size large Hunt To Eat t-shirt I was wearing stretched tight over the spare tire I had burned off two years ago; now it was back.
In early 2015, I was in the worst shape of my life at age 35. At 5’8” I weighed 230 pounds and ate the standard American diet of fried food, bread, and sugary drinks, and stretched out X-large t-shirts. Two years later, I was down to 175, in the best shape of my adult life, eating clean, competing in the national championships for Train To Hunt, won a 5K race, and size medium t-shirts fit just right. Right now, I’m somewhere in between but the trajectory is trending in the wrong direction. I need to do what I did back in 2015 and rebuild the fitness habits that helped me get in my best shape since high school. I know how to do this. I’ve done it before.
It can happen subtly; your five workouts a week become three, then two, then you miss an entire week. For me it wasn’t subtle at all: When my son Noah was born in February, the around-the-clock attention he deserved left me with little time or energy to focus on my fitness goals. It was a win if I was able to clock in a short three-mile trail run two days a week, while I had been running six to twelve mile distances three to four days a week training for an ultramarathon before he was born (I later skipped the ultramarathon for trout camp). I sputtered along trying to keep my workouts up, but then two multi-day work conferences in June left me feeling weak, old, and tired.
Where to start, though? Since 2015 I’ve done multiple workout programs, from trail-running and ultramarathon prep to CrossFit and Train To Hunt. CrossFit is varied in itself, so within a CrossFit box (what the gym is called) athletes cycle through multiple different fitness programs utilizing the core movements – the idea is to keep it constantly varied. The two CrossFit boxes I trained at – Spartan CrossFit in East Lansing and CrossFit Treetown in Ann Arbor – are certainly responsible for getting me into that peak shape two years ago, and if I had the budget I would go right back right now. But with my son, any money I would otherwise put into a CrossFit membership is going to diapers, wipes, formula, onesies, books, and learning development toys. However, I have a basic set of weights in my garage gym setup that those years of CrossFit have taught me how to use.
Before I can even think about launching into a programmed workout plan, though, I have to get myself back into the habit of just working out. Before my son was born, I had a compulsion to work out. If I didn’t get my run in, I didn’t feel right. I’ve lost that, and that’s why I weigh 200 pounds and size large t-shirts are getting tight. “Dadbod” happens for a reason. That compulsion to work out has to be regained, the habit rebuilt. Back in early 2015, I started this fitness habit by working out every day. At first it was trail runs, since I hated to run before that. I ran one mile one day, then the next, then the next. I gradually increased my distance, but for two straight weeks I ran every single day. I allowed only a single rest day each week after that for another two weeks, and by then I was hooked.
It generally takes at least a month for something to become a habit, and after that first month, I didn’t just make myself run: I had to run. Scientific American lists four factors that can help form habits, and in addition to lasting a month, they suggest making it social, picking the right timing to start, and setting a goal.
My goal is to work out every day in the month of July. I know that if I do, I will have rebuilt the habit that will carry me forward. Workouts can be anything: a three mile trail run, doing the workout of the day from the CrossFit website in my garage gym, running two miles to work and two miles back, going for a bike ride, taking a hike with my son in the backpack or front carrier, or paddling the river – with a fly rod.
While Scientific American suggests things like group runs to make working out social, I don’t really like to run in a group unless it’s a race. However, I’ve enlisted my wife in the effort, and her support is crucial because she makes sure I can take at least a half hour to work out each day while she watches our son, and I return the favor to allow her the time to go to her Pure Barre fitness classes. I also enlist my Instagram (@michiganoutside) followers to hold me accountable by posting a photo from each day’s workout. If a day goes by without a workout post, I want to hear about it.
July was the perfect month to start, because the weather isn’t generally a barrier to any of the outdoor workouts I do, and if I keep it up I’ll be back in prime shape for the fall hunting seasons, like busting through thick upland cover for grouse and still hunting Pigeon River Country hills for deer. August would be a great month to start, too, for the same reason.
Getting in shape, for me, is about so much more than how a t-shirt fits. The birth of my son has filled my daydreams with us running trails together, hiking into backcountry fly fishing camp, and teaching him how to still hunt public land hills when he’s much, much older, just how my dad taught me. To do any of that, I need to maintain my fitness level to keep up with him as he grows up. I have to teach him how to live a healthy lifestyle. And I have to rebuild my fitness habit. Starting now.
Drew YoungeDyke is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer and a Director of Conservation Partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation, a board member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and a member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association.
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