I Hate Exercise (But I'm Doing It Anyway)

I can't even do one push-up. But that's about to change.
Publish date:
May 21, 2012
exercise, sara benincasa, cardio, gym class PTSD

There's a muscle in there somewhere.

I always hated gym class. It was terrifying because I never knew how exactly my lack of athletic skills would be forced on display on any given day. We could be in the middle of the dreaded basketball unit, for example, and the teacher could surprise us one day with an amuse-bouche of a terrible warm-up activity like jogging or sprints or, horror of horrors, the mile. I sucked at basically everything gym class-related aside from volleyball, which for some reason I got the hang of instantly. But we only had volleyball for a few weeks a year, and the rest of the time I was subjected to the indignities of touch football, soccer, and rope-climbing.

I also have the charming tendency of passing out or having a panic attack in the midst of challenging exercise. I got a battery of tests done recently to find out why this might be, and the upshot of it all is just that I have super duper low blood pressure. In fact, my doctor suggested I add more salt to my diet, which sounded like a great fricking idea to me, since I crave it constantly. Anyway, I didn't know until very recently that there was a reason I sometimes saw stars and got super-dizzy while doing basic physical things like getting up quickly, not to mention passing out during more intense cardio stuff like running or taking an aerobics class. So during my childhood and adolescence, I came to associate exercise with discomfort, embarrassment, and inadequacy.

My lack of interest in anything exercise-related grew into an actual aversion. And now, at 31, I realize that I have a choice to make. I can choose to go through the rest of my thirties betting that a sedentary life and a diet of pasta and pretzels will help me sustain the relatively good physical health I've enjoyed thus far in my life, or I can face the reality that my body needs my help to promote bone density, flexibility, resilience in the face of stress and injury, weight control, optimal cardiovascular function, a good state of mind, and the kabillion other positive things exercise does for a human being.

There have been plenty of times in my life when I've said, "I'm going to do cardio three times a week" or "I'm going to do yoga every single day," and you know what? It's never happened. And I have plenty of body hatred, but not enough to sustain my enthusiasm for any program called Butt Blast or Turbo Abs or Hip New Thing That Targets The Body Part Of Which I Am Most Ashamed. So now I'm trying a new tactic: setting manageable, realistic and unsexy goals that I can achieve by my 32nd birthday in October. "I will have a flat tummy" is most assuredly not one of them. Here are my actual, hopefully-achievable goals.

Do five push-ups in a row

I know it's sexist to call a modified push-up a "girly push-up," but those are the kind I can do. In fact, I can do 14 of them. How many regular push-ups can I do? Um, like less than zero. I'd take a photo of myself trying to do a regular push-up, but the pathetic ridiculousness of it all might actually create a wormhole or some other type of rift in the time-space continuum, which would probably screw up the website and cause Emily, Corynne and Jane undue stress. Suffice to say that doing five real push-ups in a row would make me feel like I'd moved a mountain. (Note: this is all part of my secret plan to eventually have Michelle Obama arms, but like I said, I'm setting realistic goals.)

Reach my goal weight

Last year, I hit an all-time high on the scale, and it shook me up. Devotion to Weight Watchers got me back into the reasonable zone; a bout with crippling depression sapped my appetite and almost got me to my goal weight, albeit in a very unhealthy fashion. Then I started feeling better and ignoring my daily points count, and my weight shot back up – not to the all-time high, but close. My goal weight is still about twenty pounds higher than what a skinny actress of my height would weigh, but I'm not trying to be a damn skinny actress. Thank God.

Guess what? That's it! Two goals. I'll achieve the first by practicing my push-ups (modified and eventually real) each day. I'll achieve the second by sticking with Weight Watchers and forcing myself to do something physically active at least once a week: walking, Pilates, yoga, spinning (I found a class called "Cycle Virgin," praise Mother Gaia) or whatever else strikes my fancy. I know you're supposed to do it at least three times a week, but I'm being realistic here.

You'll note that none of my potential activities involves a ball. That is not an accident.

I'd love to hear from my fellow gym class weirdos and rejects. Have you found a form of exercise that doesn't scare the crap out of you or bring up Field Day-related PTSD? And how on earth does one stay motivated to achieve even the modest goals I've stated? Let's have a nonathletic dork party and support each other in our quest to move our adorable asses!