An Exercise in Exercising (and why it doesn’t mean I’m following a trend)

I’ve been working out.

I know. If you cared about other people’s exercise, you’d browse all those gym selfies on Facebook. But humour me. Let’s talk about why I work out.

Working out, it turns out, is kinda trendy. I did not know this in high school. This might be due to the fact that in high school, I lived in a tiny town where the only working out involved school sports. Everyone played, including me. It was an exercise (haha punny) in humility. I spent three hours a day, five days a week working my tail off, enduring physical agony, and looking like a talentless klutz in public. For four years. Why? Partly because I’m stubborn, and partly because I like how I feel when I work out. Even if I had horrible depth perception and couldn’t dig a serve to save my life, I knew I was in great condition. Aerobic exercise releases endorphins and helps prevent depression. I felt good. Confident. Strong. Clumsy, but fit.

Then I came to university and learned working out is trendy. Everyone hits the gym in the morning or runs in the evening. The dining commons is full of athletes with ice taped to their joints and non-athletes in psychedelic running shoes and black running leggings. (Black running leggings are also trendy, which I also didn’t know till I came here.)

Pigeon

Even the pigeons are out jogging. That’s how you know for sure it’s trendy.

But I don’t work out to look trendy. In fact, I avoid the gym because it’s full of people, and I feel self-conscious there. And I can’t work out for pleasure, because I hate it. Some people apparently enjoy exercising. Things like “love the burn!” and Tony Horton saying, “Ah…that hurts…” in a happy voice have convinced me that some people actually do enjoy burning muscles, quivering limbs, and aching lungs.

I do not. I value comfort. (Trust me. I just rearranged my furniture to allow for making tea without getting off the couch.)

I work out because the pain subsides and leaves things I love. I love being able to run from the library to my dorm when it’s cold without stopping halfway for an asthma attack. I love not having tears just below the surface every second of every day. I love having core muscles strong enough for swing dance aerials.

One problem: whatever that stuff is that gets people off the couch before they’ve watched fifteen straight episodes of Criminal Minds…I don’t have that, apparently.

Sunset

Not that I don’t appreciate getting up at the crack of dawn to endure agony, but…I don’t.

I’ve only found one thing that keeps me exercising. It’s what kept me at net jumps in high school, what kept me running two miles every afternoon last summer, and what got me out of bed before seven this morning to do pushups and sadistic killer V-up situps: someone forcing me.

In high school, it was a coach yelling. Last summer, it was my dog sitting by the back door every afternoon when I got home from work, so eager to run that trying to wag his tail made him fall over. Now it’s my family. I have four highly competitive brothers, and they got me started on this thing. Plus-ones. You start with one pushup on New Year’s Day. The next day you add one, and so on, apparently indefinitely. (I asked if I could start over at one in February, and my mother said no…)

I do them morning and night, with a warped idea that maybe doing twice as many now will make it easier later. (Or make me feel less guilty if I eventually poop out despite the threat of derision from my brothers.)

And you know what? For the first few days, it was easy. Fun, even. I felt successful. Now…not so much. It’s a real struggle to give up fifteen minutes of sleep before an 8:00 morning class just so I can die struggle on the floor. It’s terrifying, lying on my face on the ground, bracing my arms and wondering whether today’s the day that my muscles give out before I finish my pushups, or reaching the last few situps and lying, trembling, wondering whether I’ll really make it through three more. But then it’s also beautiful. Finishing, lying in a mass of raspy breathing and shaking muscles and sweat. Recognising that I have a healthy, strong body engineered to do incredible things, to build itself back up stronger when I break it down, to carry me through a lifetime.

So yeah. I work out. Not to be trendy. Not to make my body look good. Not for fun. I work out because when I’m in shape, I feel confident. I feel stronger, healthier, happier.

…and, y’know, because if I don’t, my baby brothers will mock me forever, and I have a duty as a firstborn to maintain my ability to whip them into shape whenever necessary.

feelinggood

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About Elizabeth Syson

While consuming tea and coffee at an alarming rate, I read and write everything I can and pursue my unnatural love of copyediting. My hobbies include learning new instruments and languages, riding horseback, sketching very badly indeed, and periodically recommitting to doing yoga regularly. View all posts by Elizabeth Syson

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