Ask any woman what it is that stops them from going to the gym and most of them will tell you it’s a fear of being useless.
What if people laugh at me? What if I’m shit at it? What if I embarrass myself? This overwhelming worst case scenario mode is so all encompassing that eventually we can’t work out what one thing it is that scares us, we just know: we can’t go the gym.
I go through this all the time.
Sometimes, when I get into it, I’m fabulous. I smash out the sit-ups, I treat the exercise bike like it’s my bitch and I don’t feel shame as I spy my unused gym card burning a hole in my wallet.
But then the rest of the time I find myself avoiding the building like the plague. After a week off I tell myself that another week won’t make a difference. After a month off the denial hits and I tell myself it hasn’t been that long since I last went and six months later I can’t see the point at all; and even if I could, the fear’s hit by then anyway.
And when I finally get there after a long time off, it’s not much better.
I walk in already sweating, in a paralysing panic that other, regular gym goers can smell failure on me. As I make my way to the gym floor I feel imaginary eyes burning a hole into my back. As I start whatever ridiculous exercise I’m attempting I feel insecurity rushing through me in a way that endorphins never have; surely it shouldn’t be this hard? Surely, they’re all laughing at me.
Last week, after a good six months without so much as a squat (other than to alleviate IBS symptoms) I decided it was time to get back in the gym.
In a moment of mad excitement I bought the 12 week ‘get gorgeous’ fitness programme created by Carly Rowena. Nothing else had worked, my mental block was beyond problematic and £30 seemed a small price to pay for motivation that I was in critical need of.
It worked pretty effectively; within 24 hours I was in the gym.
First hurdle: conquered.
It was what happened afterwards that was the problem.
After the first six squat jumps I realised that this was going to be much harder than I had first thought and I was going to need more than that smug sense of self-importance that had come with walking through the front doors to get me through this.
Within ten minutes I was feeling weak, sick and utterly useless. Someone far more muscly than me had stolen my step and I didn’t have the balls to ask for it back, and a machine of a girl next to me had started beating the shit out of the punching bag so vigorously that it kept nudging me in the head during my *mandatory* three minute rest.
Awkwardly shuffling my mat further into the corner (which had ‘OUR CORNERS ARE NOT FOR HIDING’ written unhelpfully on the wall) I continued with the work out, aware that my technique was in shambles and I was now the same colour as the vivid red floor, doing everything in my power to avoid eye contact with everyone.
This wasn’t all in my head anymore: I was by far and away the most useless person in the gym.
(Not helped by the fact that I had read the instructions wrong and had accidentally done the entire week’s programme in one session. We’re talking hundreds of exercises that utterly broke me.)
But I am not a quitter, and I’m certainly not one to throw thirty quid down the drain.
I’ve paid for this. I’ve started, so I’ll finish.
And finish I did. I wobbled down the stairs with all the grace of an elephant attempting the ballet, limped home and sunk so deeply into the sofa I was in danger of becoming a permanent fixture.
And then, when I regained the feeling in my legs, I went back. And then I went back again, and tonight I am going back for the third time.
Useless I may be, but a quitter I am not.
The good thing about being bad at something, is that there will always be room for improvement. The really good thing about being bad at exercise is that you will start to see the improvements fairly quickly.
Nothing will be as hard as your first session.
And while you might not be able to go from jacket potato to runner bean in one week, you can absolutely go from absolutely useless to only a little bit useless in that time.
When I started running I could not run a mile without stopping, so I vowed to keep trying until I could do that. Within two weeks I was running two miles, totally by accident.
As with so many things in life, often it’s just patience and perseverance that you need.
That and the ability to stop giving a shit about what other people are (probably not even) thinking about you.
If it had not been for this programme I would not have gone to the gym in the first place, and had it not been for these instructions I would never have pushed myself like I have over the last couple of weeks.
Terrified of being the most useless in the gym, historically I would do things I knew I could do. I’d only do ten sit ups before taking a break, I wouldn’t do burpees because I knew that I was shit at them and I’d certainly never squat.
I would customise my workout to make me look good, (while I was in there, not in the mirror six weeks later as I desperately searched for the ab I felt like I deserved but absolutely had not earned).
What a waste of time.
No one in that gym gave a shit about me. They were, I suspect, too busy panicking that I was giving a shit about them.
There are some things that are incredibly personal and I absolutely believe exercise to be one of them. For me, it is about self improvement. I want to be strong, I want to be fit and I want to be healthy. And I want that for myself.
So I’m not the best squatter in there?
At least I’m trying.
This fear of being the worst at something, I’m sure, is a hangover from school. Memories of being the last one picked for a sports team or the only one to get a D in your geography exam are not things we’re in a hurry to remember.
But as you grow up you realise that everyone is on a journey and they are going at it at their own pace.
You can’t be useless if you’re trying. Trying is, by definition, the most useful thing you can do.
And really, being bad at something isn’t actually anything to be ashamed of, it’s something we ought to get excited about.
It’s a challenge. And who doesn’t love one of those???