How Exercise Got Personal: The Hair Tie That Changed The Game

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When I first created an account on Pinterest years ago, I did what everyone else on Pinterest does. I feverishly crafted an online dream board of everything I was going to do to make myself better. The gourmet recipes I would cook. The design ideas to spruce up the house. The life hacks that would make cleaning and organization a breeze. The crafts I would do with my kids (*cough* yeah, right *cough*). And because a better version of me certainly included a svelt body, I made a board for exercise routines. But even the all-powerful state of Pinterest delusion, the one that makes us truly think we will ever come back to those pins and actually DO something with them, couldn’t work it’s voodoo on my fitness goals. Because right off the bat, I named the board, “Exercise…Let Me Get Right On That.” (Sarcasm totally intended.)

And that pretty much sums up my relationship with exercise for the majority of my life. I never “got on that.”

But… *cue the uplifting, heartwarming music they use for big reveals on reality shows* …for almost three years, I’ve been faithfully attending a morning Bootcamp class. *wild applause and maybe a few lumps in a few throats while Jillian Michaels slow claps*jillian michaels

I started out going three days a week, but now I almost always log four or five. I’m better at life when I keep to my workout schedule, and I’m actually upset if I have to skip a day for one reason or another. In fact, I often do everything I can to schedule things around my class. But there’s a part of me that witnesses this over-achieving healthy behavior and ponders, “Who the hell are you? Your Pinterest board and I think you’ve changed.” Then that part of me huffs away and passively-aggressively posts photos on Facebook of her and the Pinterest board hanging out together with the caption,

“Life’s more fun when you’re with people who just get you. #blessed #squadgoals #pushupsareforbras.”

And that part of me has a point. I’ve never been that girl. I mean, not only have I never been one to stick with ANY type of exercise routine for a respectable amount of time, but I certainly have never been one to be so annoying as to actually enjoy it.

I’ve often wondered what it is that made exercising stick for me this time. What flipped the switch? Was I finally just so tired of being tired? Was it the fear of having to get the next size up in jeans? Was I buying into the idea that exercise is a better medicine for anxiety than Xanax? Was turning 40 making me address my own mortality? Was it because I really like wearing spandex leggings and figured I should probably make honest clothing out of them by actually working out?

Yeah, all those things played a part. But they also weren’t new motivators. A desire to better my body and my health (and a love of spandex) was there every other time I joined a gym or tried a workout dvd or bought a set of hand weights with the best of intentions. So what WAS the uncommon denominator? I’m pretty sure I’ve figured it out: A pack of multi-colored hair ties.

Surely a bunch of elastics purchased from a drug store can’t be the best thing my Bootcamp class has to offer. It has to be something else, right? It could be the carefully crafted workout programs that are never ever the same and target muscles I never knew I had. (‘Sup serratus anterior. I’m talkin’ ‘bout you.) It could be all that “sneaky cardio” built into the workout, the kind I don’t realize I’m doing until someone talks me into running a 5k, and gosh darn it if I don’t make it the whole race without stopping to walk once. It could be because for the first time in my life, I have actual arm muscles that still catch me off guard…so much so that sometimes after getting out of the shower, I stop in front of the mirror dripping wet and flex a little to watch the light reflect off of the definition in my shoulders. (Not even embarrassed to admit that. Okay, a little embarrassed.) It could be all those things, but it’s not. That last one might be a pretty close contender, though…because sometimes I can be as shallow as I am deep.  

The best thing about Bootcamp really is this pack of hair ties.

Every day I show up to class, and every day, sitting in a clear plastic tub along with bandaids, pens, release forms, a BMI calculator, and a bunch of other unremarkable stuff, is a pack of multicolored hair ties. The first time I noticed the rainbow rubber bands, I think I made a joke about them to my trainer, CJ. You see, that plastic tub is actually his office. It contains the essential things he needs to run his Bootcamp business in a corner he rents of an indoor soccer space. He can pull that tub out every morning, then easily store it away in a closet so that the space can be used later for little kids’ soccer games or summer camp classes. But CJ doesn’t need hair ties to run his business (unless he’s planning a new finger strengthening regiment, which I wouldn’t put past him). And he doesn’t need them for his own closely cropped hair.

He has those hair ties there for his Bootcampers. Just in case. Just in case one of us rushes out the door to make it to class on time and forgets to pull back her hair. Just in case someone’s elastic snaps while trying “Around the World Glute Bridge Marches.” Just in case we start talking about our favorite 80’s movies during core day, and one of us decides she wants to sport a side pony right then and there.

Once I realized that’s what the out-of-place item in the tub was for, I finally got a clue as to why THIS time was different. It wasn’t Colonel Mustard in the billiard room with the candlestick. It was Trainer CJ, on the soccer field, with the multicolored hair ties.

Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly the hair ties that make the difference. It’s the fact that they are even there in the first place.

Those hair ties represent the depths to which CJ goes to put the “personal” in “personal trainer.”

All those other times I tried to get fit, I was just another gym member walking in and scanning my card…an abstract, faceless customer on the other side of a television screen trying to keep up with some celebrity trainer…a girl alone in her room staring at a resistance band and Googling things like “recommended number of bicep curl reps” and “is drinking wine really equivalent to an hour in the gym?” and “do they still sell Thighmasters?”

But with CJ, I’m someone who is known, who is valued, and whose hair might be in her face distracting her from doing mountain climbers. So he’s going to do something about that, and about any and everything else we might need to flourish.

Not only does he think about what exercise moves will push us to new fitness levels, he thinks about how to teach us what we need to feed our bodies to keep us truly healthy. When one of us has an injury or is hitting some type of plateau, he not only gives recommendations, but he also researches answers on his own time and sends an email with his findings faster than it takes to get an appointment with a doctor. When you’re struggling with your diet and you can’t quite lose those last ten pounds, he tells you to take pictures of your food and send them to him every.single.day so he can make recommendations for optimal results (which I can only imagine is like if his Instagram feed was only photos of people’s food, but worse because he has to actually comment on all of them). He organizes happy hours and holiday parties because he cares about us even when we’re NOT working out. He rarely takes a day off, and when he does, he entrusts us with only someone he’d trust his own life with: his brother. He knows about our lives, our kids, our spouses, our jobs, our passions, and he knows about certain people’s extreme distaste for onions. He helps you decorate for baby showers when a Bootcamper is pregnant and plays along when we tell him he needs to put a diaper on a Cabbage Patch Kid while wearing a blindfold. He signs up to run ungodly trail races with you when you want to prove something to yourself, but you don’t want to do it alone. He lets people make workout playlists for their birthdays. He will go to goat yoga with you on his one and only day off during the week. He buys a copy of your children’s book, even though he doesn’t have any children. He not only pushes you to lift a heavier weight or get lower in a squat, but does the same when he sees you slacking in life, squandering your talents or not living up to your personal potential. He constantly strives to better himself for us, and in doing so, inspires us to be better ourselves. And he always, always makes sure we have what we need, whether it’s an adjustment to our form, a new pull-up bar, the recipe for a green shake, a Monday morning breakdown of the latest episode of The Walking Dead, the kick in the pants to work harder, the grace to slow down and recover, or a simple, colorful tie to pull back our hair.

The perfect marriage of fitness and community. And booze.

And THAT is exactly why I have finally found an exercise program I want to stick with, and one that brings me joy. It should have been enough to want to do it for myself all those other times. But honestly, it wasn’t, as sad as that is for me to admit. Maybe it was because I knew I had people who loved me regardless of a little extra chub. Maybe it was because my arms seemed to be better at lifting Cheez-Its to my mouth than doing pushups. Or maybe it was because I’m so good at storytelling, and the story I had always told myself and believed to be true was that I wasn’t, and couldn’t, be that girl. For whatever reason, I needed to realize that someone else was making my health his priority before I also made it mine, someone who didn’t even need to rank it among his priorities in the first place. And he wasn’t just making it a priority because it was his job or it paid the bills. Because if that’s all he really cared about, he would never be worried about something as trivial as whether I might be in need of a rubber band for my hair.

As for my “Exercise…Let Me Get Right On That” Pinterest board, I think I’m going to go delete the handful of things on there and simply pin a photo of a pack of Scünci No-Slip Grip multi-colored hair ties.

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