Long story short: Going to the gym means you need to know how to laugh at yourself

“I always felt awkward, clumsy and uncoordinated while doing exercise.”

Image credit Tiffany Chan

By: Jennifer Low, Features Editor

Until last semester, I’d never gone to SFU’s gym regularly . . .  actually, I’d never been to the gym regularly, period. I tried going a few times here and there but never felt that it was for me. I was scared of the giant machines I’d never used before and the people that seemed to intuitively know what they were doing.

Even though SFU’s gym access is free for students, I made up many excuses for why I couldn’t take advantage of it. “I’m too busy,” I would tell myself. “I don’t know what I would do there.”  

Deep down, I knew what the real problem was; I just didn’t want to admit that I was too self-conscious to work out at the gym.

Growing up, I had never been very good at sports or gym class, and I always felt awkward, clumsy and uncoordinated while doing exercise. I found it easier to chase the soccer ball back and forth across the field without ever having any intention of kicking the ball. I was terrified of the embarrassment I would have to endure when I sent the ball sailing in the wrong direction, or even worse, when I missed the kick completely.

My primary gym experiences had been one-off times with friends who were missing their regular gym partners. Sometimes I went just so I could cross it off my bucket list. I’d taken to working out at home on the treadmill. Firstly, because I could fit that around my schedule, and secondly, because then I wouldn’t have to work out surrounded by people who would judge me for my apparent lack of athleticism.

I found that I could run an even 20 minutes without feeling the need to stop or being sore the next day. Once I’d made this discovery, I didn’t bother pushing myself any further. I figured that this was as good as it was going to get for me. I never experienced the pleasure of exercising that my friends and family talked about, only the feeling of relief and satisfaction when I’d finally gotten it out of the way.

In January, I found myself suddenly roped into going to the gym once a week with a friend. At first I was timid. I wouldn’t go until she assured me we’d stay on the top floor and that we’d hang out on the treadmills the whole time. I repeatedly told her how uncoordinated, slow, and awkward I was, to preface what I assumed would be a highly embarrassing experience for me.

Instead, I ended up really enjoying my time at the gym that day and every time after. Soon my friend and I were excitedly getting ready for our gym days by scrolling through Pinterest to find workout routines and making workout playlists.  We texted each other funny gifs of baby giraffes struggling to stand after our leg workouts. Slowly, I worked up the courage to move from just treadmills to ellipticals to StairMasters and eventually the hand weights.

The most important thing I learned, the thing that helped me truly have fun going to the gym, was how to laugh at myself. I recall standing at the mirror, trying to lift a set of light hand weights. After a few repetitions, my arms had reduced to limp noodles and I realized I was lowering my shoulder to the weight rather than bringing the weight to my shoulder. Instead of turning tomato red and glancing around to see who was looking, I caught my friend’s eye in the mirror as she stifled a giggle and suddenly we were both laughing — and likely disturbing everyone in sight.

I became accustomed to the fact that going to the gym meant that I would 100% be laughing until my sides ached. Whether it was because of a weirdly named workout routine, tumbling over during an exercise because I’d never had to move that way before, or just learning how to use a StairMaster, my friend and I found everything hilarious.  

I was so worried that others were going to laugh at me for my clumsiness that I didn’t realize that I needed to learn to laugh at it. Once I’d done that, I wasn’t so worried anymore. So what if someone else thought I was uncoordinated? I already knew that and I was going to the gym to work on it.

On my last workout day of the Spring semester, I saw a girl at the gym. She wasn’t dressed in the gym regulars’ uniform of lululemon pants and an athletic top. She was dressed like me: oversized T-shirt, probably borrowed from the pyjama drawer, and baggy yoga pants that went out of style years ago. She repeatedly apologized to everyone around her about her lack of gym expertise and overly expressed how glad she was that her more experienced gym friend was with her to teach her the ropes.

Seeing her, I was reminded of how I had felt the first time I started going to the gym. Stretching on the mat next to her, I noticed her watching curiously as I struggled to simultaneously raise my legs and my arms in sync. As my limbs waved awkwardly in the air, I found myself laughing at my own mistake.

“I only pretend I know what I’m doing,” I told her. She laughed, mentioning that she herself was always super confused at the gym. “At least we’re here,” I told her, “that’s half of the workout!”

Even though we never spoke again after that moment, there was a sense of respect between us. There was an understanding that though neither of us were comfortable with exercising, we were comfortable enough with ourselves to try.