The title of this post references a popular gym franchise motto, but it’s not about them. It’s about gym culture in general. I’d been percolating some feelings for the last 2 weeks, as I’ve started to add more hours at the gym I worked at, pre-pandemic, and I’m starting to see a lot of people I haven’t seen for 12-14 months. It’s lovely to see them – I love the gym I work at because it’s like a big family, or a giant neighborhood. On the other hand, I can see how some toxic ideas about self-image and worth have sliced into many hearts.
At this point, I can note about 10 cases where people (about 80% of them women) skulked into the gym, pulled at their baggy t-shirts to cover more of themselves, looked ill at ease, and then said to me,”I’ve really let myself go” or “I gained the pandemic 15” or “I’m here because I can’t stand the way I look”. Others come to work out much later than they usually would have, or on different days. Some spend TWO HOURS on cardio every time I see them, and do not seem to be having the slightest bit of enjoyment from it. It breaks my heart.
I don’t care how long it takes, I’m going to help people fix their brains about this. There are certain things people need to understand:
- Spandex/lycra/whatever is NOT a privilege – you wear it if you like it. Anyone who feels like they get to tell people what weight class gets to wear certain articles of gym attire can just STFU.
- Shorts are not a privilege either. You want to wear shorts? Wear shorts.
- If you make yourself feel bad about your body, there are tools and techniques to help break that kind of thinking.
- If, on the other hand, you make other people feel bad, chances are that’s because you also feel bad about your body, so fix that shit and don’t pass it on to others. Nobody put you in charge of other people’s bodies.
- The gym is NOT a place where you have to fit a specific body type to exercise. It might look like that. But it isn’t. And the majority of people there are supportive of other folks’ exercise goals, so don’t let “other people” stop you from working out, if that’s what you want to do.
- The biggest critic at the gym is the one you see in the mirror every day of your life. Mindfulness is a helpful tactic to getting the most positive experience out of your workout. ( A suggested mindfulness practice for working out is below)
How to ground your emotions and engage with your body at the gym:
- Notice sensations in detail: if you’re doing an arm or leg exercise, note exactly what you feel inside the muscles used. Then, note how the ends of the working limb feel (hand & shoulder, or foot & hip), and see if you notice a difference between one side or the other. If you’re doing a core/back/chest exercise, note which side of your body feels more tight, and which side feels looser.
- Then, notice what these muscles feel like after you stop the exercise or put the weight/band down.
- If you find yourself getting worried about a sensation*, stop and feel curious about why you’re starting to get worried about it. Generally, you’ll find that as soon as you engage your sense of curiosity, the worry feelings will decrease on their own.
- If you have a habit of criticizing your own appearance in gym mirrors, try replacing that activity with a moment of gratitude for your body, for carrying you through life & bringing you here to the gym to do these exercises. Actually say something to yourself like, “thank you, body, for every breath and heartbeat, because that’s how I have gotten to this moment. I appreciate everything you do to keep me going.”
- Ok, look – I know some of these sound dumb. You might feel dumb trying them. I did. But as soon as I did them, I tore around looking for people to share them with, because they’re just that good. And they’re free. Anyone can do them. So, try them before you condemn them – they’re worth it!
(* please note, and this is fairly obvious – sensations that are truly serious are not included in grounding exercise #3. You know the difference between a muscle cramp vs. a swollen appendix, etc. We’re NOT talking about anything emergent or dangerous to you. Just run-of-the-mill sensations.)
So, I hope this post may help a bit in getting former gym-goers who are feeling self-conscious to channel their inner Lizzo, and love your damn selves. Just a little bit each day goes a long way. And nobody at the gym who’s worth listening to is gonna give you a hard time, only broken people would do that.
So, to the lovely new gym member who said ,” No judgement, right?”, I say, “You not only are right, you have stumbled onto the most important aspect of fitness & health: NO JUDGEMENT. But definitely much curiosity & and much love.”
Happy 4th of July, and I love you all.