Embarrassment at the Gym

Sep 7, 2017

Words by Kiana Duncan

Whether you’re just starting your fitness journey, or you’ve been here so long you’re now running a 6:00 mile, there’s something everyone has experienced at the gym, or in the general realm of fitness: letting other people dictate our goals.

Now, that doesn’t mean they intended to do that. Whether it’s the guy asking you how to use the machine you’re clearly using (uhhh yeah, thanks), or the girl who’s on the treadmill next to you running so fast you can’t help but stare, we notice. It’s human nature to be curious about those around us.

When I first started using the Rec in college, I walked on eggshells. If I didn’t know how to use a machine, I’d stay far away from it. I’d quit in the middle of my set because I’d feel like I was doing it wrong and people were staring. I’d assume people who were laughing were automatically laughing at me. Part of this fear was who I surrounded myself with in my personal life, and a lot of those people weren’t very compassionate toward those trying to better themselves physically (but that’s a story for another time).

The main problem was I simply didn’t feel comfortable enough in my own body or skills to do anything productive. I would see people with smaller legs, bigger arms and tinier waists and think, “What am I doing here?” I’d quit before I got ahead. I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I didn’t want to.

Everyone feels like they don’t know enough sometimes. There’s always someone who knows more about protein intake, muscle building or stretching — that much is probably true. There’s always someone who’s faster or stronger. But that shouldn’t discredit the work that you’re doing! The path to physical well-being isn’t a highway. It’s a hiking trail. You’re

 not racing anyone. You can invite people to hike with you, but make sure they’re the right people. The path can be really hard sometimes. It has its has its ups and downs. But the thing to realize is that you’re focusing on YOUR hike, not people in the passing or exit lanes. If you focus on everyone around you, it’ll make you absolutely crazy! Fitness is such a complex mental and physical issue that it’s hard enough to wrap our own brain around it sometimes. Why think about “Becky from down the hall’s” progress too? You can be happy for her and let her inspire you, but chances are she’s checking out how much you’re lifting, how fast you can run or how much she loves your leggings and thinking the same thing.

Last week, for the first time since I began my fitness journey, I felt that same red-hot sense of embarrassment twice in one week. I’ve been using the TRX machine more, and I’d spent all day looking up new ways to use it. I spent five minutes fumbling with a foot harness to try one-legged lunges. I finally got my leg strapped in, and nearly lost my balance on the first one. A few girls started to watch me. I took a deep breath and tried again. I managed two, but knew quickly that I didn’t quite have the skill for it yet. I unstrapped my leg and walked away with my tail in between my legs.

The second time, I had gotten off work and quickly changed to make time to go to the gym before it closed. I didn’t even pay attention while getting ready. It wasn’t until I started putting my things in a locker before I glanced down and realized I was wearing two drastically different sneakers. I stood there in horror, stunned at my own obliviousness. For the first time in a long time, I instantly wanted to go home from the gym. I deliberated for a minute or two and texted my roommate.

Should I just go home?

I took a deep breath and chose to see this as a moment of growth. A year ago, I would have ran home without a second thought. I had looked forward to my arm day all weekend. Why let this stop me?

I ran into a friend on the way in to do cardio, and we both laughed about it and joked about making up excuses as to why I had two different shoes on. While I did opt for some machines in the back, by the time I started arms, I had brushed it off and texted some friends and we all laughed. I ended up posting it on Twitter. Who cared? If I could laugh at it, others could too. No one even noticed, except for a woman in the sauna who promptly stared, but never said a word.

I felt even better when a friend who I look up to a lot, and lifts consistently, dropped a weight in a crowded part of the gym and blushed. That’s when I realized: We all assume everyone knows more than us. We all assume they’re judging. In reality, we’re all just trying to get in, get out and better our lives.

Part of it is just practice! A year ago, I would’ve died of embarrassment at either of the two things that happened to me last week. Today, I march up to people and ask how many sets they have left. I wear whatever I want to the gym. If something embarrassing happens, I brush it off. But you can’t get there if you let other people stop you. I challenge you to do at least one thing out of your comfort zone this week.

Run outside. Use a new machine. Ask someone a question.

Don’t let other people dictate your success.