On (Finally) Finding My Way at the Gym

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sweaty girl

I’m not a natural athlete. I don’t usually like exercise, and I’m not usually good at it. I’m very self-conscious, have bad spatial awareness, and dislike any competition that I don’t stand a chance at winning. However, there are lots of things we hated as children that we embrace as adults … sometimes because we want to, and sometimes because we know we should. For me, exercise usually fell into the latter category. After college, I met my exercise “requirements” with yoga and running. I like them because they feel meditative and because I can do them alone. They’re perfect for me — except when they aren’t.

I’ve always disliked working out, but a few years ago, I was struggling more than normal. Russell, my now-husband whose loves in life include me and a martial art called jiu jitsu (not necessarily in that order), wanted me to come to his gym. He thought I was bored with what I was doing and needed more of a challenge. Russell thinks the answer to most of life’s challenges is jiu jitsu, so I brushed off his advice. At least, I tried to.

I was too intimidated to try jiu jitsu, but there was a strip mall gym near my job called I Love Kickboxing.com that intrigued me. By “intrigued me,” I mean I thought it looked silly and I liked to make fun of it. (“Dot com” is part of the name! They play Kesha songs while you work out! The boxing gloves have hearts on them!) But that silliness also made it less intimidating. I was still terrified to begin — but not as terrified as I was to go to the “real” martial arts gym.

As it turns out, I Love Kickboxing (dot com!) became a sort of gateway. After my subscription ran out, I started taking kickboxing classes at Russell’s gym. After a few months of that, I did finally try jiu jitsu. And when I stopped training a couple of months before our wedding (bruising is a part of your first year in jiu jitsu, and I didn’t want it to be a part of my wedding pictures), I took up swimming, learning yet another sport that was entirely new to me. (I swam a lot as a kid, but I’d never learned the strokes.) Recently, I made a joke to one of my coworkers about my not being an athlete, and he THOUGHT I WAS KIDDING. That probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it felt huge to me. He thought going to the gym was a normal part of my life … and I realized that it actually is.

I tried to think of good advice for how to start an exercise plan that works, but I’ve tried so many that don’t work, so I don’t feel qualified to do that. I guess my advice is to be willing to try something outside your comfort zone, but don’t go so far out of it that you won’t keep going. I wouldn’t have gone to ILKB if it wasn’t so silly that I could also laugh at it a little bit. I wouldn’t have gone to a legitimate martial arts gym if I didn’t already know the difference between a jab and a cross from ILKB. And I wouldn’t have been willing to look dumb in front of a bunch of people at the swimming pool as I tried to learn breaststroke if I hadn’t already looked dumb in front of a bunch of people trying to learn to shrimp in jiu jitsu.

Obviously, this lesson applies to more than going to the gym. Sometimes we need to step beyond our comfort zones, especially when we’ve grown complacent. Sometimes goals that slightly stretch us can get us to places we wouldn’t have reached without them. And sometimes what makes us comfortable is no longer enough to keep us inspired.

Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she works as Communications Director at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most other social media platforms.

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