Elena Gadekar (@egglena on TikTok)
Growing up, almost every day after school, you could find me in the dance studio, pirouetting my way through rehearsals for Nutcracker and competing in dance competitions. Some people may say I’m being dramatic, but one of the hardest things I’ve had to do is say bye to the ballet world, as it was such a huge part of my identity growing up.
Between high school and college, I took a gap year where I worked at a startup, went to Burning Man with my dad, and even backpacked in Indonesia for three months. After returning, I realized my body wasn't moving the way it used to and it seriously took a toll on my mental health. Fast forward six years and here are five things I’ve discovered along the way while owning my fitness journey and learning how to enjoy it again.
After returning from Indonesia, I was itching to jump into something immediately. In my head, it made sense to try the next closest thing to ballet. Before I could second guess myself, I started a monthly membership at a barre studio—think tiny pulses, isometric holds, and light weights. Walking into my first barre class was terrifying. Could I keep up? Everyone seemed so well-versed in the “choreography.” The first class was definitely the toughest, but I eventually felt more comfortable (read: almost too comfortable). I kept going because it brought such comfort and routine (and trust me, I’m a huge fan of routine), but I later realized my brain was entirely on auto-pilot.
I’m suddenly a second-semester freshman at Columbia and an idea pops into my head. I try to brush it off, but the lightbulb won’t turn off. My brain is telling me to try weightlifting?? Trust me—I was as confused as you are. At first glance, weightlifting is the opposite of ballet (we’ll get into why it’s not), but I looked up to strong women (they seemed unstoppable) and I wanted to give weightlifting a try. The first step was finding someone I could trust to teach me—I wanted to learn with proper form. My very first day in the weight room, I was aglow with excitement— I was lifting a barbell (can you imagine?? me?!?).
Now five years later—I still weightlift, but the initial excitement has definitely worn off. The new PRs are fewer and farther in between. As much as it’s important to continue to push yourself to try new things, it’s important to stick with the “old stuff” and figure out your “Why?” Whenever I show up for myself in the gym—I think about my “why.” My goal is to prioritize the longevity of my training and be able to do it for the rest of my life. I want to be able to walk in a room, try any fitness-based activity, and not be restricted by my strength, mobility, or lack of confidence. Every time I doubt whether I want to continue my strength journey, I remember my why and it keeps me going. What’s your “why?”
So we talked about trying new things. But, *cough cough* the elephant in the room. What about returning to the sport you loved so nearly and dearly growing up? For me, that love was dance. The obvious club to join in college was a dance group. Two weeks into starting college, I saunter into a basement dance studio and the familiar sights and smells of scratched marley and sweat remind me of my past. But the same excitement I felt growing up never returned in the five semesters I danced in college. Part of what made my dance experience so special was literally growing up with my peers, the late-night rehearsals, and the hours on stage together. A couple of hours of weekly rehearsals could not fill the hole in my heart. You really have to ask yourself—“Did you love your sport or did you love how your sport made you feel?” As much as I loved dance, I think I loved everything that dance brought me (movement, community, and long-lasting friendships) more deeply.
Lately—I’ve been trying to find a happy medium. Since I live in NYC, I know the best dance classes are right at my fingertips. For fun, every once in a while—I’ll hop into a ballet class, a contemporary class, or maybe I’ll go WAY out of my comfort zone and take a heels class. I keep the dancer alive in me that way.
As for movement, community, and long-lasting friendships; that’s where #1 and #3 of this article come in. Remember when I said we’ll talk about why weightlifting is not the opposite of ballet—both require discipline and repetition. From my first ballet class to my very last one, I will still be working on my plié. Whether you join a club or intramural sport, play a pick-up game every once in a while, or ditch your sport entirely—ask yourself if, how, and why it brought you joy and it’ll help you figure out how you want your relationship with your sport to progress as you grow older.
Last fall, I was like “Okay girlie, you’ve been weightlifting for five years—time to integrate something new into your life.” V2s, flagging, crimps, topping-out, campusing, flashing—these are all terms I didn’t know six months ago. In October, I decided to start bouldering (which honestly seems to be a very classic post-grad activity to take up, and now I understand why). The bouldering community is so welcoming; everyone is cheering you on, whether you’re on a V1 or a V8. As an adult, it’s hard to own being a beginner. When you’re a kid, everyone expects you to learn, fall, fail, and get back up again. As we get older, for whatever reason, sometimes embarrassment comes from not being good at something you say you do.
Finding a supportive community is a great way to practice being a beginner again. I say “practice” because I believe being comfortable as a beginner is a skill. Bouldering has taught me that I can “do something” without also proclaiming to the world that I’m good at it. Enjoying something and being proficient at it do not have to go hand in hand. My intention when I started at my climbing gym was twofold; a) I wanted to challenge myself and allow myself to not be good at something and b) I wanted to make new friends. From this angle, things have been going great. Every time I’m on the wall, I’m learning and I probably know 20+ more people from when I started. Another bonus from all of this is that I can socialize and workout at the same time, which is fantastic because we all know NYC is $$$.
This next tip is a bit different from the others and applies to all my besties who are getting back into movement after a break from it. The first question I will ask is, “How many days a week do you wanna train?” Then I’m gonna tell you that we don’t need to go from 0 to 100. To this day, I’m constantly trying to reduce the number of days I train because a) it’s not sustainable and b) it always sets me up for disappointment. One of my coaches once said to take how many days you think you want to train and cut it in half. Celebrate the small wins. I used to train six times a week and honestly wasn’t seeing much progress because I was overtraining and not letting my body properly recover.
Today I lift heavy 3x a week and then supplement on the other days with yoga and climbing as I feel like it. My PRs have skyrocketed and my body feels its strongest. While I’m still getting better at taking time for recovery, some things I have noticed that have helped include a) getting more sleep and having more consistent sleep and wake times (trust me, I know how hard this is as a young adult, b) vitamins + collagen, and c) setting aside active recovery days (pretty easy for me since NYC is so walkable). Some things I hope to implement this year include cold exposure and drinking more water (since I’m chronically bad at staying hydrated). How are you planning on prioritizing your recovery this year?
This last tip is maybe one of my favorites and one that I try to remind myself about on a daily basis. Life is a playground. Honor your inner child and play. What did you like to play on the playground growing up? Hot lava monster? Foursquare? Wall ball? Grounders? Three years ago, I started a tradition where I bring my friends together on my birthday to play a childhood game. I have evidence that adults still LOVEEE playing capture the flag and laser tag.
Find the little things that bring you joy in whatever form of movement you partake in. I recently went skiing in Lake Tahoe. I wholeheartedly admit that I’m a solid intermediate skier—I prefer blues over blacks, and I know only enough about skiing to get me down the mountain. On the second day on the slopes, my friend and I did a couple of runs, and I was like wait—you know what—as a kid, I loved skiing without my poles (and honestly because of my lack of technique, they’re not doing much for me anyways). I ditched my poles at the lodge and quite literally never looked back. Skiing without poles was so freeing; I felt like my 5-year-old self again (and bonus—I did some cardio because I had to skate ski across all the flat parts).
If you take anything from this—know that there’s not one correct answer about how to integrate movement back into your life. There are a million ways to spice things up again and it’s all about trial and error. Have the discipline to stick to your goals, but also know when it’s time to move on to the next venture. Have at it (and don’t forget to recover)!! 😊
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I loved reading this!! All these things are so true + real
March 16, 2023