Making Exercise Stop Sucking

Working out sucks, am I right?

Really, it’s pretty awful. You’re sweaty, everything hurts, and it’s hard. Why do people do this? Those crazy Beautiful People who spend all their times in gyms are probably so mean because they work out too much.

At least, that’s what I used to think. And to be honest, it’s still the way I feel a lot of the time. Learning to change your attitude to exercise is hard, particularly when you’ve felt one way about it your entire life.

Another reason people seem to avoid exercise is because of the kind of judgement that tends to come along with that culture. If you’re overweight and you’ve ever walked into a gym, you’ve probably experienced it in one way or another. People looking at you with a sort of patronizing encouragement, or disdain. For may years, I imagined what those people were thinking when they looked at me.

Well done, Fat Person. Well done for stepping into a gym. You’ve probably never seen one before. You’ll be on your way to being a nice, normal Thin Person soon. 

Ugh, what is she doing here? Why don’t you get out so I can go back to grunting needlessly loudly while I lift weights?

Whether or not people really think this way, it’s definitely weird to be one of the non-fit people in a gym. In a gym there are those who have made it, and those who are starting. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of in between, which is perhaps why the gym branch Planet Fitness is so popular, given their whole ‘judgement-free zone,’ angle. It’s a clever marketing technique to get people like me, who have always felt uncomfortable at gyms.

But I don’t think it was just the gym discomfort that was preventing me from exercising more; it was a lack of joy in the matter. I realize how hippy-dippy that sounds, even as I write it, but if I have discovered one thing, it’s that you have to find a kind of exercise that you like. I’ve never liked running on treadmills or sweating on elliptical machines, but even when I hated riding a bike…I liked riding a bike.

It was really scary, the first time I got on a back since I was a child, and it was scary when I was learning as a child too. I was never athletically inclined, more likely to spend time reading books, watching movies, or doing art of some kind than I was to play sport or run around outside. I also excelled naturally at some things, and so the things I found difficult I tended to abandon.

And yet here I was, almost twenty years later, literally getting back on the bike. I wobbled around and couldn’t totally remember how to change gears, but beneath the white-hot fear I was feeling coursing through my body and causing my knuckle skin to stretch as I held on to borrowed handlebars for dear life, there was a joy too. The air smelled amazing, and the wind whipping around my face was refreshing, and yeah, I thought, I could do this again.

And so I did. And for me, that was the key. It took me years of huffing around and trying different things before I realized that, not particularly shockingly, you are much more likely to keep up with a form of exercise that you genuinely enjoy. While I had enjoyed exercise before, cycling had a few advantages. I love vinyasa flow yoga, and still go to classes, although not on a regular basis. It’s great for strength and flexibility, but not so good for cardio, not to mention that classes can get expensive. I also did Tae Kwon Do when I was a teenager, but after a particularly nasty knee-sprain I had trouble going back, and was constantly re-injuring myself. Cycling was low-impact enough to spare my poor knee, and it gave me the cardio workout that yoga didn’t, and aside from the cost of a bike (which at the time was nothing – I was borrowing a friend’s) it’s free!

The other thing I realized about cycling is that it has a purpose, and that was something I enjoyed. I would get so bored when I used to go to gyms, sweating away to my workout-mix which was never quite enough to make me want to keep running on this mat to know where. Cycling gets you places! I’ve realized that productive exercise really appeals to me. I can get on my bike and take a beautiful trip, and get myself from point A to point B, and that works for me so much more than working out at a gym. It means that exercise becomes part of my life, and isn’t something I have to fit in, but genuinely something I can integrate to my daily routine. My commute is my workout. Going to hang out with my friends is my workout.

Unfortunately I’m not commuting every day at the moment. It’s been partially weather motivated, and partially because I’m still on my way to obtaining the fitness level I need. My commute ends up being about 7 miles each way, and so far I’m pretty happy with a few times a week, and confident in the fact that I am working it up to more.

There’s another thing to combat, when it comes to changing the way I view exercise, and that’s the fact that it’s hard. It’s hard not to view working out as a ‘punishment’ and other things – food, wine, rest, as ‘rewards.’ That is not to say that those things are not important, but it was hard to realize that exercise is its own reward. It was so easy to say, “I had a hard day, I don’t have to work out today. I’m upset today, I can’t face working out.”

This doesn’t have to be the way things are. Self-care is important, and I absolutely recognize that. I’m not saying that pushing yourself beyond your physical or emotional limitations is a good thing – but maybe pushing against them a little is okay. Testing yourself. You may end up finding more joy than you expected.

PhillyI didn’t get a chance to bike this weekend. My boyfriend and I went out of town for the holiday, and ended up taking a walk in the woods instead, followed by a walking mural tour of Philadelphia. It was hard, we both have blisters, but it was a lot of fun, and just a testimant to how much fitter I’ve gotten since I started my journey with cycling.

It’s hard not to see exercise as the enemy, or as something you have to get through in order to do the things that you really like. If someone were to ask my advice on how to get over that, I’d say I’m still working on it, but finding the joy and the beauty in it is so important. Cycling isn’t for everyone, but for me, it gets me in touch with the prettier things that I often pass by and don’t have time to observe during the day. Riding alongside the river to work wakes me up better than a cup of coffee, and walking until I got blisters gave me a amazing day. I’m not advocating for exercising until injury, or pushing past limits, I’m advocating for finding the joy in something that until recently, seemed hard and joyless.





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