Lifting 101

A little progress each day adds up to big results.

I read a really sad statistic recently on my walk home from the gym. According to FitRated, 65% of women avoid the place I had just left for fear of being judged, compared to 36% of men with the same worries. The list of numbers persisted; 55% of women feel judged for not looking fit enough, with a further 49% worried about the clothes they chose to wear.

Ashley Borden, a certified gym strength and conditioning coach makes a valid point. She said, “Fear of judgment comes from exactly that: fear.” The fear that everyone in the gym will stop and stare when you walk in; the fear that if you picked up the wrong weight and couldn’t lift it, people would talk about you and judge you.

I’m here to break down those myths and fears around the gym. I know that I don’t seem particularly relatable as a track athlete, but I wasn’t born lifting weights and don’t spend my life super-hyped to work out every day (despite my Instagram stories!). These aren’t fitness tips to get you squatting deeper or lifting heavier. These are tips to make you feel at home in a place I call home.

1. No One Cares About You

Okay, this probably isn’t the nicest way to begin, but in many respects, this is true. Many of us think that when we enter the gym all eyes are on us. The truth is, everyone at the gym is too focused on themselves and their workout to even take a glance. Once you start, you’ll realize that the only person that is concerned about what you look like and what you’re doing is you. So walk in, head held high with the knowledge that in two minutes, you will be so focused on your own workout that you won’t be looking at anybody walking through those doors too. You deserve to be in there as much as anyone else.

2. People Care a Lot About You

That being said, gym people aren’t cold-hearted slabs of stone (although their muscles may suggest otherwise). People want to help you out – to help you spot when you’re worried about how heavy your weights are and tell you how to use equipment that you’re a little unsure about it. We have all walked into a gym for the first time, the tenth time, the fiftieth. Don’t let your ego get in the way of reaching out or just smiling to someone as you hand them your weights.

3. Think About What Your Body Can Do, Not What it Looks Like

When I was in the depths of my eating disorder, I distinctly remember my coach saying one line to me as I could no longer squat my usual weight.

Anyone can lose weight. Not anyone can do what you can do.

Sometimes we become too infatuated with what our bodies look like or what we are trying to emulate that we forget just what they are able to do. Our bodies are incredibly functional and incredibly adaptable.

That also means that some days they react differently. We may be a little bloated one day, and feel a little out of shape the next. But what truly matters is what our bodies can do. When you’re in the gym, re-teach yourself what to value. Get excited to see your squats improve. Feel proud to work through the pain of the final bench press. Results aren’t just weight loss or muscle gain. Our bodies are great because of the amazing feats they can do.

4. It’s Okay to Follow

We are always told to lead the pack, never to follow it. However, sometimes with working out, it’s nicer to feel like you’re part of something. My favorite thing in the world is doing my long run with a friend, letting myself work with their energy. Not only do I not have the option to opt out then, but I never want to. Even if it isn’t a run, but a yoga class a friend recommended, just getting out there and out of your comfort zone is worthy of some heavy duty snaps.

People always find it funny that I love SoulCycle, the cult spin class that sees you dancing and pumping iron to Lady Gaga with five pound dumbbells whilst your legs spin at 100 rates per minute. I know. It’s not super professional or “on brand” for an athlete. But all of us need to remember that exercise is also there to be enjoyed and balanced. Just because you work hard does not mean it shouldn’t be fun. Hardcore only works for so long.

5. Find Ways to Motivate Yourself

I hate rainy days. I feel a little too emotional, I don’t really want to go outside and the last thing I want to do is run to the gym. I’m aware of these feelings, as they are reoccurring.

However, I have my methods. I put on an outfit that makes me feel strong and powerful, I tell myself that once I’m done I can get coffee from my favorite coffee shop, and I write myself a note in my diary to read after my workout. These are the things that I know work for me and I am not ashamed to use them. Sometimes it may be calling a friend to come with me or even just a minute reflection to remind myself why I get up every day and get outside.

6. Be Kind to Yourself

Once you’re in a groove it becomes easy not to want to stop. Or even when you want to stop, not to let yourself. The gym or any workout is great but like anything, there are obsessions and extremes. Listen to your body and your mind. Take time to focus on other things; your friends, walking outside, reading. Working out isn’t just about what you’re doing, but how you feel. Exercise is simply a tool to boost your mental and physical health, so try and make sure it’s doing just that.

The gym is great. But it is not everything and never should be. Exercise is there to complement your life, not to become it.

Sophia Parvizi-Wayne is an international athlete and mental health campaigner that is breaking down stigmas one word at a time. Currently a junior at Duke University, you can probably find her on a yoga mat or on her laptop, writing her next piece for you.

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