We lie to you. We do. We fitness professionals.
We don’t always mean to. Sometimes it’s because we’ve fallen in love with exercise. And as often happens when we’re in love, we see what we want to see and ignore the rest. Love is blind, as the saying goes. And like an awesome girl with a shady boyfriend we desperately want our friends to like, we often gloss over what sucks about exercise and present it as it feels to us, and not how it feels to most people.
We describe exercise classes as invigorating, refer to sweating as sparkling and cheerily lead “beginner” workout sessions at an intensity-level the average person would more accurately describe as “vomit-inducing.”
The truth about exercise, even when it’s done at an appropriate intensity, is that it’s uncomfortable. It just is. Your heart and breathing rates increase, your muscles burn and sometimes shake and your body temperature rises and you sweat. It is the antithesis of comfortable.
So, we don’t say those things on our websites, or in our class descriptions. They don’t look good on t-shirts or water bottles, you guys. And honestly, for a lot of fitness professionals while those things I describe above happen to us, we kind of like it.
I know, I know.
Here is where I confess my own participation in all of this. I mostly love it when my muscles are shaky and I finish a workout as a sweaty mess. But I recognize that isn’t normal. And I wonder whether we (the collective we, that is) are doing a disservice to people by not always acknowledging that.
I suspect we are.
The reality is that as a trainer you can (and at our studio, we do) try to mitigate the discomfort. We plan breaks into each workout; we encourage you to drink water; we try to mix in less intense exercises with the higher intensity stuff; we play fun music and chat with you to distract you; we do everything we can do to make the experience a positive one so that you walk out the door feeling empowered and with an increased confidence and appreciation for your body.
But I’ve been to the other kind of class. And if that was my intro to exercise, I would have thought there was something wrong with me. For feeling tired and shaky instead of energized and invigorated. For feeling awkward and clumsy instead of empowered and strong. For wanting to go lie down in the fetal position rather than take on my day with confidence and joy.
Because no one, not the instructor or the class description, told me it might feel bad. And I get it–that’s a terrible sales strategy for one thing. (The endorphins coursing through our veins from all that exercise, combined with that whole love analogy I made earlier, are other factors.)
However, it is counter-productive. Because whatever fun words we use to describe exercise, at some point that person is going to take our class or sign-up for a session and the truth of it, whatever that is for them, will come out.
Maybe they’ll love it. Great.
Maybe they’ll hate it but sign a silent agreement with themselves to gut it out until they lose those 30 pounds and then peace out. Not so great.
But maybe something worse will happen. Maybe they’ll think we’re delusional because their experience in no way resembled what was marketed to them and decide never to come back. Or maybe they’ll internalize it. Maybe they’ll think something is fundamentally wrong with them because they don’t feel all of the wonderful things they were promised. Maybe they’ll decide they just aren’t meant for exercise.
And that would be the very worst outcome, in my view.
So, what’s the solution? Well, maybe there’s some kind of middle ground we strike in our communication between what we hope you will feel and the range of experiences people can have on the path to that outcome…
But that’s really a fitness industry conversation. I guess what I’m trying to say to you here, friends, is this:
- It’s okay if you take a barre class and feel like the exercises could be used to extract state secrets from you, if you had any.
- It’s totally fine if the only thought that gives you joy during a circuit training session is imagining punching the instructor somewhere it will hurt. (Just to be clear, actually hitting them would be very bad. And possibly a felony.)
- You’re normal if your conclusion about Pilates is that you will never feel okay about a workout that requires you to spend that much time with your feet inches from your face.
- You don’t need to feel ashamed if your favorite part of a yoga session is that pose where you lie down with your eyes closed and nap.
It’s “normal” to feel all of those things, or their opposites.
It’s okay to love exercise. I hope you mostly love it.
It’s okay to think it sucks. Some days I think it sucks.
What isn’t okay is for fitness professionals to be disingenuous. Or to fail to acknowledge the struggle that exercise often is. Or to forget that our relationship with exercise is a committed, loving partnership, while for many of our clients it’s a first date with someone they met online. They may get married one day, but it may not be today or tomorrow or next month.
So, if this post is nothing else, it is written acknowledgement from me of all of that. For whatever that’s worth.