It sounds silly to say you have a fear of exercise doesn’t it? And it’s not a fear like my fear of spiders, which is not unusual to elicit a scream from me. It’s more of a murky fear, lurking at the back of my subconscious. Telling me I can’t do it, telling me I won’t be good enough. Telling me exercise is something that skinny people do, that I will look ridiculous, that it will be too hard, that it will be painful. Better to not upset the status quo. Just stay where I am, it’s nice and safe there.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with exercise all of my life. It harks back to years of PE in school which I found to be a pretty humiliating process if I’m honest and one I have very few happy memories of. Being picked last for the team, no one ever passing to me when I did play, being forced to run around a track, being the last and everyone else leaving to do something else while I still trudged on (I’m looking at you 1600m). Wearing such short shorts, and in my first years, even knicker shorts that I hated having my body so exposed. Feeling not good enough, inadequate, vulnerable and embarrassed.
As I grew older and left the school environment, exercise was never something I wanted to do voluntarily. Why would I based on my past experiences? The gym looked utterly terrifying and another place perfect for some more humiliation. Then after that, exercise became synonymous with dieting and weight loss. Exercise became about being too fat, not good enough, a punishment for hating the way that my body looked. I used to tell myself that it hurting was good, because the pain would help me get skinnier.
For a period when I was at university I did find joy in swimming and I think that is the longest I have ever consistently exercised in my adult life. I used to go 3 times a week, but when I began work, which including a daily 3-hour commute in total, I found it difficult to fit in and it fell by the wayside.
I trained for a 10k run in my 20s, quite a feat with my exercise adversity, but it was unhealthily linked with my dieting and I didn’t really enjoy it. I only really ran, so I could eat more and so I was back into the cycle of exercise and punishment. So once again I stopped.
And now, I’m 40. I can’t see myself ever stepping inside a gym. Quite frankly from the outside, the whole place looks terrifying. Swimming is too much faff with a young family – especially when managing childcare too. Then there is the whole getting hair dry etc thing. But as I get older and watching my husband’s exercise journey, I can see that not only does exercise have a place in my life, it’s something I need to do for better health and quality of life.
It began with a bit of Pilates, then some Joe Wicks during lockdown and then with a bit of help from my coaching, I started to think about how I might begin to exercise consistently. I ended up signing up for Rebel Fit, I really loved the ethos about being anti-diet culture, and a focus on getting healthy and strong instead. It was a 60 day challenge.
Initially, all I committed to is 10 minutes per day. I could do ten minutes per day, easy, no problem. I started with a little warm-up and 10 minutes of yoga. Then as my body started to get stronger, I added in core and strength exercises building myself up slowly. This actually didn’t take that long, only a couple of weeks before I started to notice a difference in myself.
I have found the jump rope craze on TikTok really fascinating, like dancing with a rope and loved watching it, but I also used to think it was something I would never be able to do. But as I felt myself get stronger, I began to wonder… could I? So 3 weeks into my training I bought myself a proper sports bra and my very first jump rope. At the moment, I can only manage 6 minutes of skipping without dying, but everyone has to start somewhere!
I am now 4 weeks into my journey, so it is still early days. I am mixing yoga, strength and cardio exercises. Time wise this is about for 15-30 minutes per day depending on what time I have available.
The most exciting change is that I have suffered from lower back pain for a long time, since my early 20s and for the most part accepted that this would always be the case. I actually thought it would be a real barrier to exercise and while I do have to be careful and adapt some exercises, what I didn’t expect was the difference it would make to my pain. My back is a lot better than it was, not pain-free, but I am no longer waking up most morning with shooting pains around my hip. So this has been one of the biggest wins for me of my new exercise plan.
I think exercise fear, or perhaps more accurately lack of confidence in your ability to exercise can be a real barrier to people’s fitness. I had to break it down and make a minimum less scary commitment at first, in order to be able to move onto what has become my ultimate goal. But my real goal is to make exercise part of my regular daily life. Even if if some days it’s simply 10 minutes of yoga, that’s ok. I probably will never be a size 10, or even 12 and that is also ok. I want to be a fitter person to enjoy my life more and to be around longer for my children, grandchildren and if I’m really lucky great grandchildren’s futures.