A few days ago, I was working out in a park with a bunch of friends. We were enjoying ourselves while jumping rope, doing planks, roundhouse kicks, push-ups, and all that stuff which I used to hate, but has grown fun for me over time.
As we were running backwards along the park, on a busy street in North Oakland, I was seized by a brief moment of panic. It was a sort of panic I hadn’t felt in awhile. After working out regularly for several years now, I’ve come to take my fitness for granted sometimes. But, in this moment, I was overcome by a sudden realization that people could see us. Lots of people. They could see me in particular, running backwards and trying not to trip over my own feet. Eek!
I was reminded of all of the shame I used to feel regularly when I would exercise in public: are my boobs jiggling? Is some idiot guy gonna say something stupid? Is a spandex-clad, super fast cyclist going to give me unsolicited advice about my posture?
There are so many public health initiatives lauding the benefits of exercise. And, I agree: I believe that regular exercise can have a tremendous impact on well-being. However, we as fitness professionals also need to take seriously the barriers people face in getting regular exercise. It’s not so easy to go out for a jog in your neighborhood when you experience harassment for your size, age, race, gender presentation. It’s not so easy to go out for a jog in your neighborhood if there is regular violence. It’s not so easy if there are no sidewalks, or if drivers aren’t used to seeing pedestrians and cyclists.
Recently, there’s been a proliferation of outdoor “boot-camp” type fitness classes. On one hand, these classes can provide camaraderie in the visibility of exercising outside. On the other hand, for many people, old traumas and memories of middle school gym class are stirred up. The fear of “doing it wrong” in front of a group of people can be massive. The competitive nature of these classes can often turn people away. I know they did for me: what if I can’t run fast enough, jump high enough?
So, considering all of this, what can we do to support one another in achieving exercise goals that are right for each of us and our bodies?
Simple actions can go a long way. Next time you’re working out with other people, say something encouraging. Smile. Take time to appreciate the skills of the person next to you, especially if they have a different set of skills than what you bring to the table. Everyone’s body moves in a different way, and it’s truly amazing the diversity of strength and capacity that we all have.
So, those are some things I’ve been thinking about these days. I’m curious to hear your thoughts, comments, questions, concerns!