Going Strong is Romper’s column on motherhood and moving your body by personal trainer Courtney Wyckoff, founder of MommaStrong.
I recently got swept away by a Nike ad with real moms exercising like real humans. I even shed a tear or two, validated by the representation of soft bodies and basic fitness. And then, rather suddenly, the last few frames shifted to a montage of professional athletes lifting heavy weights while pregnant and running marathons with their toddlers cheering them on. We push past our limits, the narrator whispered fiercely.
I felt conflicted. It was as if this short ad had grabbed all my crappy thoughts about my shortcomings as a mom and spit them out as aspirational: You could work a little harder and do all the things a little bit better. I began to think, you know what, us moms can do anything. I could wake up earlier and start running. I could adventure more in nature. I could do yoga with my kids. And my kids could totally be chill enough for all that to happen.
I just need to try harder. Do better.
And then, I caught myself. The truth is that most days there is nothing I want more than to try harder and do better, especially when it comes to exercise, to enter some imaginary zone where endorphins and muscles meet. And let’s be real, I think this desire also comes from the fantasy that it would certainly require enough alone time all to myself.
But that’s like wishing I had kids who go to bed without a fuss so I can wake up at 5 a.m. to work out. Or wishing for green juices and new recipes for meals I actually cook. Or wishing I could go take this class or that class or journal or meditate.
Working within my limits right now is enough.
As always, when all this wishing ebbs, the slap of reality flows in. My daily grind as a mom is an assortment of demands on my body and mind, many of which I have zero control over. My life, as it is lived, doesn’t add up to a Nike ad, and that perpetual, seductive message that strong mothers can have it all and do it all.
It is here that I remind myself that I am a person with limits and these limits will shift throughout my life. This simple truth creates some space in the container of motherhood for me, as if its walls are suddenly breathing instead of tightening. It becomes clear that working within my limits right now is enough.
When I do small amounts of exercise on a daily-ish basis, I gain sustainable access to the things that eventually add up to true health and true wellness. I feel my blood flow. I feel my mood shift. I feel my glutes wake up. I make an effort, for a brief moment, to bring my focus to just this one tiny but heroic task.
The discovery here is that a workout becomes a practice of resiliency, self-forgiveness, and acceptance. It doesn’t beg me to be something I’m not or something I can’t be right now. It doesn’t define fitness in a measurable way, but it leads me to fitness I can use in my everyday life.
In this way, my daily workouts have been a best friend to me. The sort of friend who doesn’t need me to be shiny, who doesn’t tell me, Hey, you can’t workout in pajamas (because I basically always do). The sort of friend who is OK with a crappy mood. The sort of friend who tells me to show up rather than shut down. And the sort of friend who looks back over the years and says, Dang, you have been so brave.
If there’s a superhero story for me, I think that it happens every night just before I go to sleep, when the house is oh, so quiet. It’s there that I remember that I have recorded over 2,000 short but mighty daily workouts for my company MommaStrong. That my aches and pains which plagued me for years are now gone. That I show up for myself even when it is not convenient. That my kids know me to be playful. And that I have been brave in my life so far.
So, here’s to winning ugly and working within our limits. There’s freedom here and the sort of strength that has me feeling good enough most of the time in this messy human body of mine.