The fitness racket is a long con with no real finish line. You just spend your life trying to find ways to trick yourself into busting your ass, trying to convince yourself that you don’t need a third cheeseburger, or trying to sell yourself on new and creative ways to burn it off after you ate it anyway. Eventually, if you’re devoted enough, you’ll manage to look quite dapper in your casket as you’re lowered down, just to disappoint the worms that were counting on your cheeseburger intake for their own cheat meals.

Basic fitness is just about staying healthy and prolonging your life – but as you strive to add more miles to your run, more plates to your bench, or more reps to your maxes, it’s not about prolonging anything anymore. Pushing from 350 to 375 on the bench isn’t about longevity, it’s about a strange juxtaposition of narcissism and masochism, overlayed in such a way that you somehow start to derive self-worth from the pain. Look at me, you say in your head, I’m a god damned animal.

But then something happens. You lose your job. You break your arm. You get married. You have a baby. Good or bad, life has a habit of getting in the way of fitness – and because fitness is, as I said earlier, a long con, chances are good that it’ll happen again and again. As anyone that follows me on social media may have noticed from my constant posting… for me, the latest challenge has been daddy-duty.

Writing an article about parenting can be surprisingly divisive. As a new parent, I still have strong recollections about skipping past articles about being a new dad, occasionally thinking, “well that looks interesting, but I don’t actually care.” Seasoned parents that have already proven their mettle by keeping their kids alive for years aren’t all that interested in what a new dad has to say either: it’s like being a Staff Sergeant and reading about the Marine Corps from the perspective of a Private.

So maybe it’s best not to think of this as an article about staying fit with a new baby in the house, but rather, it’s a form of commiseration. If you’re currently battling an injury, just moved to a new town or started a new job, maybe you’ve just been buried in work lately and your workouts have tapered off from where they ought to be… I’m with ya. I’ve been here before – and although the trail out of these woods is winding, I can confirm that it will lead you back to where you want to be, as long as you keep moving.

Being a dad may have slowed down my fitness game, but she’s still the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Since my daughter was born, I’ve found myself feeling increasingly guilty about spending too much time working out. I used to split my workouts into two parts of the day: cardio for an hour or so at one point, and lifting for an hour or so at another. Because I work from home, I have a lot of leeway with my schedule, and it helped me to establish a daily routine. With the kiddo in the house, however, I’m lucky if I get 45 minutes to devote to working out… and even that is occasionally cut short by the flickering light and static-filled cries of the baby monitor. As a result, I’ve watched my midsection soften up, my shoulders slump down a bit, and my self esteem droop along with them both.

To the casual observer, I may not seem all that different, but as I get out of the shower and walk past the mirror in my bathroom, I have to admit that I’ve seen a shift. The dad-bod may be “in” according to some websites, but it’s never been my fitness goal.

Now, I may not have been a dad before, but I have been in the fitness game long enough to see these cycles come and go in the past, and not always due to injury.

During Marine Corps Recruit Training, I got sick, but wasn’t willing to go to medical for fear that I’d get dropped to another platoon and be stuck on that terrible island for even longer. By the time I graduated, I had withered down to just 155 pounds. It took me years to bounce back in terms of strength.

PFC Hollings was about the same size as some meals I’ve eaten.

When I got hurt and was retired from the Marine Corps, I had a pretty tough time learning to redefine myself as someone other than Sergeant Hollings – my response was pretty self destructive, and when I did work out, it was always half assed.

Eventually, I bounced back into fighting shape, just in time to find myself simultaneously working full time for a defense contractor and being a full time student in graduate school. My workouts, once again, began to falter, but over time, I found a new rhythm, and managed to claw my way back out of the hole.

Two years ago, when I first chose to pursue writing full time, I was a broke, man shaped pile of stress and Red Bull cans. My workouts fell by the wayside, but once more, I found my way back into the fitness god’s good graces.

These two pictures from last year were taken just a few months apart.

Throughout each of these and maybe a dozen other temporary setbacks, the only things keeping me from transitioning into becoming a permanent fixture on my couch were the sense of dread I felt every time my pants started pressing into my stomach, and an understanding that, just like being in the best shape of your life, being in the worst shape of your life is as temporary as you make it.

Rock bottom can be anywhere you say it is. For some, it’s paramedics cutting a hole in your wall so a forklift can hoist your fat ass into an ambulance. For others, it’s reluctantly buying a new pair of jeans with a slightly looser waistband. What makes it rock bottom, is how it makes you feel. What makes it rock bottom, is the decision to say, “here and no further.”

What makes it rock bottom, is getting back into the fight.

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I realize that spending 45 minutes a day working out might not sound like rock bottom to plenty of people, but at this point in my fitness journey, that’s exactly what I’d call it. For you, it may be completely different – but the way out is the same: discipline, motivation, effort, and maybe a little bit of those supposedly negative things that motivate all of us to push past what we need to do, and toward what we think we can do: narcissism and masochism.

If you like yourself enough to hate yourself sometimes; if you long for the burning pain of progress; if you want to do more than just prolong your life, you want to own it… no matter where you are in your own fitness journey, let today be your rock bottom.

Here and no further.

I’ll see you on the black top.

Images courtesy of the author