So Relatable: An Interview with Chrissy Hennessey

Although Chrissy Hennessey and I have never met on person, we’ve been internet friends for at least 15 years. I’ve been following her adventures since Blogger was the biggest thing in internet content. I don’t really remember how I stumbled across her old blog, but regardless, I’ve watched her run marathons, move across the country, get an MFA, and balance having a day job with a writing career while maintaining a consistent movement practice. Chrissy is also the author of So Relatable, which has the distinct honor of being the only Substack newsletter that lands in my inbox. If you want to learn more about writing, creativity, balance, and snacks, check it out.

As a writer, I’ve always been drawn to long-form interviews. When I was thinking about who I’d like to include for this blog, Chrissy was my immediate first choice. Since at least 2008, I’ve read her chronicles of roller derby, running marathons, and yoga classes. (I’m also pretty sure she was into kettlebells before they were cool.) I really admire the way she manages to do her 40-hour job while making room for creativity and movement. Read on to learn more about Chrissy’s favorite ways to work out, the benefits of the YMCA, and of course, snacks. (My text is in bold, and Chrissy’s responses are in standard font.)

What is your current favorite form of movement?

Right now I’m really enjoying group classes at the YMCA, specifically strength/HIIT classes. Like most people, I have a lot going on at work and in my personal life, so I love just showing up and letting the instructor tell me what to do. I absolutely love one new class in particular called “Bells, Boats and Ropes,” which involves moving through stations that include a rowing machine, kettlebells, and battle ropes. It’s fast paced, keeps me engaged, and works out every single muscle. 

You mentioned you once had to take remedial gym. Are you comfortable sharing that experience?

Ha, of course! In elementary school, we had to do the President’s Physical Fitness Test (the wonderful podcast Maintenance Phase has a great episode about why this test is problematic at best.) One year, I just didn’t feel like it and refused to take part. While everyone else did sit ups, I laid on my back. Instead of running a mile, I strolled around the track. I scored so low that I ended up in remedial gym, which met once a week and was clearly created for children with actual physical issues and limitations. I, on the other hand, was just lazy. I don’t remember much about it, so it didn’t appear to scar me in any way, but it makes a good story. 

What was the first form of exercise/movement that interested you? What about it was so compelling?

In my early 20s, I moved to Texas and joined a roller derby league (despite not actually knowing how to skate) and that was the first time I really fell in love with movement. We started each practice with drills, and suddenly sit ups and push ups were for a purpose – to be better players – rather than for aesthetics. Growing up, I’d never considered myself an athlete or cared about team sports, so roller derby was a new world in many ways. I worked really hard and eventually became a really fast skater, which was a revelation. I could be good at something physical??? Who knew! 

You’ve written extensively about balancing a day job with your writing life. How do you make time for a consistent movement practice in the mix?

I go through seasons with exercise and movement. Sometimes I’m great at prioritizing it, other times it’s not the most important thing on my list. Right now I’m in a really good routine – I’m not training for anything or trying to achieve a physical goal. I’m just aiming for daily movement and that makes me feel strong, healthy, and happy. Maybe that’s a really tough Sculpt class at the YMCA, maybe it’s a 3 mile run because the weather is perfect, maybe it’s a slow walk with my geriatic dog because I’m tired from a long day. That said, having a regular schedule is key. When 7am rolls around, I know it’s time to do something physical. That’s my default right now, and it’s great to have one less decision to make. 

What is the biggest positive impact that your workout habits have on the rest of your life?

My mental health, by far! I’m prone to anxiety and working out is the one time of the day where I get to turn off my brain and tune into my body. This is another reason I love instructor-led classes – the less I have to think, the better. 

Do you believe there’s something about working out that specifically helps your creative life?

I’m a writer (personally and professionally). It’s nearly impossible for me to be creative and productive if I’m anxious, if my hips are so tight it’s hard to sit in a chair, if I didn’t sleep well the night before. Working out doesn’t solve all these problems, but it clears away a lot of the mental and physical distractions that keep me from doing my best, most creative work.  

What has been your biggest frustration and/or setback in your fitness life?

Working full time. Just kidding! (Except not…) At its best, fitness is something you do for yourself, not for anyone else. Unfortunately, that can make it really hard to prioritize. It can feel like the last thing on your to-do list, or the first thing to go when you get busy or tired or too many people need something from you. I turned 40 this year, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that the only way to be the best partner, friend, sister, aunt, writer, colleague, etc., is to take care of myself first. That outlook makes it much easier to carve out time for regular workouts, even if it means saying no or making other sacrifices. 

What has been your biggest joy and/or accomplishment in your fitness life?

In my 20s, I was an extremely average but very dedicated runner, and I ran two full marathons. Those races are probably my biggest physical accomplishments, though I wouldn’t really describe them as joyful. My biggest joy is really the boring, everyday stuff – realizing I’m ready to up my weights, that moment in yoga when I feel my whole body unclench, riding my bike home from the YMCA full of endorphins, and simply existing in a body that feels strong, limber, and capable. 

You’re a big advocate for the YMCA. What makes the Y such a special place?

I truly believe the YMCA is the people’s gym. It’s a place to work out, but it’s also a true community center. People from every economic class and background use the YMCA, they have every amenity that matters (including free childcare!), they offer financial assistance and sliding scale memberships, and it’s just a really welcoming, inclusive space. Is the YMCA perfect? No, definitely not. The yoga classes can be a little chaotic, especially when you’re trying to relax in savasana and you can hear the Zumba music from downstairs. But it’s worth it. I feel like I belong at the YMCA, and that sense of community is one of the reasons I keep going back. 

What is your biggest tip for maintaining a workout habit while on a budget?

Have I mentioned the YMCA?! But also, if you are truly trying to workout for free, I have a few suggestions. During the pandemic, when the YMCA was closed, YouTube kept me fit and sane. (This is not an exaggeration.) Specifically, I love Heather Robertson for strength and HIIT workouts, and Yoga with Adriene for daily yoga. Also, walking is a great, totally free workout that offers so many incredible benefits – it doesn’t get the attention it deserves! 

Bonus: What is your favorite post-workout snack (or meal)?

I usually workout in the morning, before I’ve eaten. (These are not fasted workouts, I’m just not hungry that early.) When I get home, I love to make a big egg sandwich on sprouted toast, with some sharp cheddar cheese, a handful of microgreens, and a veggie sausage. A few years ago, I realized that protein exists (huge news for someone who’s been vegetarian for 23 years) and now I try to be mindful about getting a good dose at every meal. 

Thanks to Chrissy for being my inaugural interview subject! For more from her, be sure to subscribe to So Relatable over on Substack. Thanks for reading!

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