I was flipping around on the net tonight and a link on MSN with the title “Gym anxiety: are you too embarrassed to work out?” caught my eye. How could it not? Almost everyone I know who is dealing with weight issues has wrestled with this one. We are told almost every day by almost every person who opens their mouth or writes a book or article that we have to exercise to make a difference in our weight loss and maintenance.
That’s pretty easy for skinny people to do. They put on those cute workout clothes, go to the gym and know how to use the equipment and seem to already know all the choreography in a step class – and aren’t afraid to look at themselves in the mirror. When those of us who are, er, larger come along, it’s hard not to be embarrassed. My legs look like tree stumps and are lumpy with cellulite. My clothes can never be described as “cute” and that’s not their purpose; they are there to cover me and not make me sweat just putting them on.
But the rest of it is baffling. The equipment isn’t all that easy to use. When I try to use some of the weight resistance machines, my body just doesn’t fit in the space allowed for it and getting stuck in the gym equipment isn’t conducive to a successful workout. It makes me eat chocolate on the way home, not feel satisfied with progress. Some of us, including me, have had joint injuries and can’t bend as easily as we would like – so even something as simple as the recumbent bike isn’t always possible. We don’t know until we try. And I feel stupid standing there trying to figure it out and to fit in the machine and make it work. When it doesn’t, I pray no one is looking.
Going to the classes is another nightmare. My gym, which is mildly size-aware, understands that not everyone can jump into an intermediate step class or do kickboxing. We might want to but it’s physically difficult. I feel intimidated when I do steel myself to try and go into a room lined with mirrors and populated by perky little skinny people with hair in ponytails who stand at the front and look at me as though I’m a kind of bug when I show up in the corner of their line of sight.
It’s not all like that. But why can’t there be more classes for older, bigger people who are trying their best to get more active but just feel intimidated and embarrassed by the options now available? As it is, I’ve given up on classes completely. I don’t have the endurance (and now the knee stability) to do kickboxing or step aerobics, however wonderfully cardio they are. I can’t do pilates or yoga because I can’t get down on the floor (because I can’t get UP if I do get down).
So I go and do my little treadmill and hope no one looks at me while I plod my way at what is to them a slow pace. I know in my head that it’s not a comparison, that others are really just working to improve themselves and not to check out the competition. What kind of competition can there be if you’re all on treadmills? Who can go faster? Longer? on a bigger incline? That seems pretty pointless – but I watch them and feel inferior because I just can’t do what they can do. The weight machines, except for the ones I avoid because I get stuck on them, are doable if I can manage the stairs.
Most of the gyms around here are co-ed and that was a total disaster for me. There is No Way that I would try any of this in a gym with men watching me make such an ass of myself. Even though the goal is to just take care of myself and get stronger and healthier, I don’t want men watching me. It’s too vulnerable and exposed and I prefer to be as pretty as my large size can make me if strange men are going to see me. The gym is not that place.
No wonder Curves has become so popular. It’s fast, it’s manageable, and it’s for women only. Women who go feel supported and that leads to success which leads them to come back.
It’s going in the first place that’s the trick.