Why Don't You Just Go to the Gym?
“Why don’t you just go to the gym?” That’s the easy answer we sometimes hear from well-meaning friends and loved ones as they try to provide a solution to our problems. Physical movement is wonderful, and our bodies need to keep moving in order to be functional. Exercise is often touted as the magical solution to a myriad of problems, from depression to chronic pain. But it’s much easier said than done, and the struggle toward achieving “fitness” is multi-dimensional. There’s the physical activity that we have do to to become physically fit, but there’s also an emotional struggle to “do the thing.” You must find the motivation required to get out of bed, decide on the right clothes to wear, figure out where you’re going, and get there. That struggle is real, and you haven’t even started to work out yet.
The definition of “fitness” is highly subjective. Are you trying to gain muscle? Do you want to lose weight? Are you looking for a way to energize your body and mind? We live in a culture that places incredible strain on us to conform to certain standards. Men are supposed to be able to lift heavy things. Women can be strong, but they can’t have big muscles. If you’re not soaked in sweat, you didn’t try hard enough. We’re supposed to eat this, not that, drink a heavily disputed amount of water each day, and walk however many steps our bracelets recommend for the day. You have to do all of that, because you have to look good. But you can’t do it because you want to look good, or you’re shallow. Even the reasons for why you do what you do are subject to scrutiny.
We have so much information coming at us for all directions dictating the behaviors we must follow in order to “be fit,” and we don’t even know what that means. It’s no wonder some of us are paralyzed by the thought of just getting started. The gym is a daunting place. Maybe you just don’t belong there — the gym is where people who are already strong and skinny go to get even stronger and skinnier. The gym is where hot girls in sports bras are “asking” to be stared at, and huge guys throwing weights are grunting super loud so we’ll all notice them. There’s Rube Goldberg-esque equipment featuring pulleys and cords and no instructions on how to use them. There’s the free weights, but what size do you have to choose in order to look like you know what you’re doing? There’s the good old treadmill, always reliable. But wait, is it better to use the elliptical? Or the stair climber? Or should I just go for a run outside? Am I even wearing the right shoes for that? There’s so much pressure to feel like if you don’t take the right advice and follow it perfectly every day, you won’t be healthy and you won’t feel good. Not to mention the unattainable standards of beauty that only seem to work for the richest, whitest, most perfectly shaped people with the most free time to spend working out. So if thinking about getting in shape fills you with feelings of guilt, dread, and self-judgement, you are not alone.
We humans are ego-centric creatures. We are constantly worrying about others judging us and about what people think we should be doing with our lives. Most of the things you read about fitness are written with the purpose of taking advantage of that. All that information on the internet is out there not necessarily because it’s good advice, but because they know we’ll click on it. “7 Steps to Loose Your Love Handles” and “10 Ways to Tone Your Core” exist because businesses want to sell us things. If they make us feel bad enough about ourselves, we’ll look for something to buy to make the bad feelings go away.
But the thing is, everyone is so busy worrying about how others view them and how society views them, they don’t have time to worry about what anyone else is doing. No one at the gym is thinking about you as much as you are thinking about you. Yeah, there’s definitely people who judge other people. They do that because they are insecure and they feel like if they put other people down, it will lift them up. But when it comes to the gym, the vast majority of people are there because they want to improve something about themselves, not because they want to laugh about you behind your back.
Do it anyway
So go to the gym. Dress in a hoodie or wear your tiniest sports bra. Sweat through your shirt, and then take it off. Grunt loudly while lifting weights because lifting weights is hard and it makes you grunt. Join a small personal training group and talk to the other people in it. I guarantee they’re all there because they have the same hang-ups as you. Put away the equipment you use and wipe your sweat off the bench when you’re done, and no decent person will have reason to harbor ill will against you. Or don’t go to the gym at all. Walk around your block. Do yoga at home in front of your TV. When you’re done go get a salad and an acai bowl, or a milkshake and a slice of pizza, because either of those things are fine if they make you feel good. The one thing we have to do is move. Move for the joy of what your body can accomplish. Move because it’s a glorious miracle that a sack of bones, muscles, and nerves work so perfectly together. Your movement is your choice, so choose one that feels right for your unique body and do it in a place that makes you happy.