For the first two decades of my life or so, I associated exercise with a vague, creeping sense of dread.
Though I loved playing soccer, let's be real: I was a goalie, and while goalies have a very specific set of skills (including "hand/eye coordination," "willingness to get cleated in the face" and "fostering a deep-seated anxiety about letting others down"), being in great shape isn't always one of them. On a team of quick, powerful young women, I inevitably found myself lagging behind the pack.
That feeling of isolation, combined with my natural awkwardness and a tendency to turn bright red at the slightest physical exertion, has made exercising with others something of a trial. Even when I got to college and started finding ways to move my body that didn't automatically make me feel like collapsing into the fetal position, I still tried to work out in complete isolation, strategizing my So-You-Think-You-Can-Elliptical sessions to take place when the campus gym was at its emptiest.
When my friends and I did venture to spin classes or the occasional Pilates nightmare, I stood at the back so that neither they nor the instructor could see me.
It's not that I'm ashamed of being out of shape, exactly. Fitness is a journey, and I have more or less made peace with the fact that I will eternally be at the beginning of it. My real problem is that I'm a competitive jerkwad. I want to be the best at kickboxing or Zumba, and I don't want anybody to be watching when I inevitably fail.
I know this isn't exactly the way to improve at, um, anything in life. With this in mind, I've been trying to be better about going to more fitness classes where I actually have to interact with other humans and seek out feedback from instructors. So far, the results have been pretty good -- except that by asking more questions and trying to perfect my form, I've invited a lot of commentary from teachers and classmates in the form of "encouragement."
I get that walking the line between bullying and inspiration must be tricky for instructors, given that some people take personal shout-outs as motivation to do better. But when the dude at the front of my boxing class comes over to my bag and tells me to "WORK off those Christmas calories!" the only invigorating effect it has on me is in my rage-tear activation complex. (That's a thing, right? Science.) I'm already inclined to push myself too hard at the gym; I don't need someone to tip me over the edge into Barfing Canyon.
Most recently, my favorite instructor decided to wander over to where I'd collapsed, panting, after approximately 6,000 of those Burpie monstrosities. "Hey, darling," he drawled. (He is Australian and blisteringly hot; I was in a pool of my own despair-sweat.) "Just think, it's almost Valentine's Day."
I cracked an eye open, staring at him.
"You wanna be in shape for that, right?"
"Ri-ight," I said, and then burst out laughing. Because my right hand really cares what my abs look like, right?
The thing is, for many people, myself included, group-fitnessing is already an experience fraught with potential humiliation. Having an instructor or fellow student personally call you out on your struggles (or remind you of your own incredibly single existence) is just the icing on the grumble-cake.
I asked the other xoEds about the most annoying things they'd ever heard in exercise classes. Here's what they had to say:
Marianne: I was asked "Why are you even here?" in a class once.
I never went back.
[Kate's note: We are all going to fly to Florida and beat up this person probably.]
Daisy: One time my tennis coach told me to do sprints and I laughed so hard I fell on the court. That probably doesn't count though.
Alison: I pay to go to a personal trainer and he has said so much insane stuff to me that I've lost track.
But I DO bring a cookie with me to eat in the middle of every workout. I think he gets the picture now.
Claire: I had a personal trainer who was insane. He made some comment about a girl's cankles (she was in insane shape) and that was the beginning of the end.
Louise: The one and only time I went to a boot camp type class, the instructor told me that if I puked, I was doing it right.
I've heard this isn't that unusual of a thing to say in such classes.
Natalie: I have never, ever been to a fitness class, for fear of all of this.
It's not all bad, though. Emily pointed out that sometimes, individual instruction can be as encouraging as it's probably always intended to be:
Emily: Not long after I had lost 100 pounds, I was in a Pilates class and we had a sub for the class I had never met before. She told me I had beautiful arches and asked me if I had ever been a dancer and I almost burst into tears to hear someone refer to something on my body as beautiful. In an EXERCISE CLASS, no less. I never forgot how good that felt.
So what about you guys? Does having someone come over and heckle you, "Major Payne"-style, motivate you or make you want to give up sooner? Am I just being too sensitive? Who's excited to show off their six-pack for Valentine's Day?!
Kate isn't: @katchatters