Winning the Workout

Ready to “shred this girlie class,” the college-aged bucks snapped their mats into place and amassed the necessary equipment. It was their first time attending the gym’s Core Challenge class, and the two young men glowed with confidence. Thwapping their hands against their muscular arms, bouncing with excess energy, emanating an aura of “I’ve scored enough goals in my time to know that I will own this class”–the two passed the minutes until they could, as was their lifelong habit, dominate the physical challenge.

When the petite instructor moved to her mat, calling out, “Let’s get started with some gentle stretches,” the bucks exchanged a quick glance with each other that said: “Um, yea, gentle stretches bring us water at half-time.”

Four minutes later, stretching was done and gentle had left the building.

Quivering side planks, sustained squats, prolonged balance moves, walking lunges, robot push-ups, all these things hammered home the shouty message of GAME ON.

Not feeling so on, were the young men.

After the lads completed the first few moves, their eyes began spiraling around from ceiling to floor to door. A few moves later, as the forty women surrounding them held their feet in the air and touched medicine balls to the floor, the bucks began opting into the suggested “modifications.” A few minutes beyond that, they retreated to a kind of domination in which their limbs owned the floor by covering it limply.

Asked to engage their bodies in entirely new ways, the guys had devolved into sea stars. With the class not yet half over, the sweaty fellows peeled their arms off the floor and bolted for freedom.
I watched their exodus with bemusement.

I wasn’t glad they couldn’t handle it. In fact, I wished they’d come back again and then again, so they could experience the glacial progress that is measured between the words “I can’t do this at all” and “I can do this two times.” That, of course, is a very adult lesson. Micro-gains are the measurements of advanced age–barely detectable with the crude yard-sticking of a typical 20-year-old.

Rather, I was satisfied that they couldn’t handle the class because comprehending a personal weakness is a significant first step towards developing compassion and humility. What’s more, I loved that they’d been handed their egos on a platter by a fitness instructor who was five feet tall and sporting sweat-proof mascara.

I wanted them to go home and plop themselves onto their beds. Then, as they stared at their shelves of athletic trophies, I wanted them to scissor kick their feet in the air and contemplate how very hard it is to dig deep and find strength—yet they’d seen an entire class of women do just that. I wanted them to understand that, despite their brute force, parts of themselves remained undeveloped. I wanted them to understand that their areas of weakness were spots of monumental strength in the “cute girls” and “old ladies” who finished out the class while they skittered for the exit.

I wanted them to have a radical flash of insight: “Those women couldn’t bench 200 pounds, yet—get this—they are strong as hell. What’s that all about?” I wanted them to recall that insight every time they walked past a well-built woman on the street; instead of thinking “nice rack,” they should marvel, “She looks like an ass-kicker.”

Of course, I can’t wish such lessons into the men’s psyches. I can only cull my own lessons and let the universe teach those guys what it will, when it will. For me, I know this:

Tremendous gratification comes from realizing the broader definitions of “strength”—and that pictures of women should be in the dictionary next to many of them.

I may be a lumpy lady, but I’m strong as hell. I can do things that defeat 20-year-old men. By developing endurance, balance, and muscular definition, I have taken a remote dream and unlocked the power in my body. By showing up and staying, I win my workouts. Every second I don’t give up, I’m scoring my own badass version of a winning goal.

Winning the Workout

Fill Your Head with Positive Voices

Throw some Pink, Taylor Swift, and MIA on your iPod. Crank them. The strength of their voices will surround you and make your body think you’re burning up the dance floor like it’s 2009.

Wear Fun Clothes

You can never overestimate the power of animal-print tights and a neon shirt. On tired, unmotivated days, the colors and patterns on your body are external reminders of how you want to feel inside. Even better, when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you’ll think, “Dayyy-um. I look fine.”

Rely on a Trainer

If you’re new to a gym, make an appointment with a trainer to learn how to use the equipment. If you’re already self-conscious, the last thing you need is to stand at the chest press machine wondering, “How the hell do I move the seat?” Let an expert demystify all the levers and settings. Once you know how everything works, you’ll feel confident enough to bring on the drama like all those massive dudes who grunt and yell loudly “GAAAHHHUUURRKK!” as they slam their weights to the floor.

Tap into the Power of Groupthink

Surrounding yourself with people who share similar goals creates a sense of community. Take a fitness class. Join a running group. Meet up with girlfriends for some gossip on side-by-side elliptical machines. You’ll discover that energy transfers, and on days when you have none, theirs will buoy you.

Celebrate the Wins

Because fitness is a long-term, life-time process, it’s easy to lose perspective. There’s nothing more de-motivating than feeling like you’re trying and trying yet getting nowhere. To counter these feelings, it’s important to take stock periodically and congratulate yourself on even small improvements. You just did 12 reps, instead of 8, with the 15-pound hand weights? Set down those weights, and give yourself a high five. To celebrate bigger achievements, a new pair of boots might be in order.

Act the Part until It Becomes Your Reality

We’ve all heard “Fake it ‘til you make it,” and there’s no better strategy to employ at the gym when you’re fresh out of gusto. Walk into the place like you own it; nod at all the grunting weight-lifters in greeting—like you are their queen, freshly returned from battle. As you work out, continue to toss favors to those around you. If you see someone who seems nervous or unsure, bestow him with a huge smile: the badass seal of approval. Eventually, your spirit will catch up with your attitude.

Remind Yourself of the Rewards

You like to eat. You like to drink. Odds are, you’d like to eat and drink more. If you fire up your jets and hit your workout hard, you earn those rewards. So get on the treadmill and pound out the miles. Sweat hard. Smile at your minions. In the process, you’ll work off the equivalent of a half-rack of ribs or a cold IPA. Later, as you enjoy your treat, you might spot a 20-year-old football player type across the restaurant. Salute him by raising a rib his direction. He’ll be so dazzled by your ass-kicking triceps that he’ll forget to ogle your rack.

What do you do to motivate yourself on days when you feel like running away from the workout?

Image credit: Shutterstock

 

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Jocelyn Pihlaja

Jocelyn has been teaching writing at the college level since 1991. She has a husband who cooks dinner every night, kids who hold up hands requesting "silence" when their reading is interrupted, and a blog, O Mighty Crisis.

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