the joy of strength training


June 26th, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Are you self conscious?

Some of you may be really gung-ho about your training. Fit and proud, you revel in being the ‘weird one in the corner’ doing crazy stuff. You couldn’t give a toss what people think about kipping pull ups and you certainly don’t give a monkeys what you look like, puffing, heaving and sweating your way through your workout.

All power to you, I admire you!

Me however, I get embarrassed. I often feel self-conscious about what I’m doing and worry about what other people will think, particularly when everyone else around me is doing something completely different.

vertical row
Yep, I feel silly

There’s an example from just this week. Having failed to get up early one day in order to train before work, I decided to do the workout at lunchtime instead. The office I work in houses around 500 people and has a large field out back. This is a lovely grassy area that is kept well mown, with benches around the side – perfect for training. Oh yes, and it is also in full view of the staff canteen and several floors of offices!

All morning I was trying to imagine myself training out there but all I could think of was how embarrassing it would be for my colleagues to see me, stumbling around all hot and sweaty trying to grind out burpees and squat jumps. They wouldn’t know what I was doing or why (how many people really understand the demands of a gold standard burpee if they’ve never done one?) and I was convinced that, far from looking impressively athletic, I’d just look like a pathetic lump throwing myself about.

Yes, these really were my thoughts!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided to get out there and do it anyway. The alternative option of getting in my car and driving 20 minutes to the local park when there was a perfectly acceptable field right outside the door was too ridiculous to contemplate. (Although I did in fact contemplate it. At length). Not to mention the waste of petrol and carbon emissions just to assuage my fragile ego! So the office field it was.

As I started to jog around the field to warm up, I got that familiar feeling of excitement mixed with trepidation and by the time I had started my circuit I was definitely having fun – in a painful, sweaty sort of way.

I no longer cared about the girls on the benches with their sandwiches or the maintenance guys smoking cigarettes by the delivery bay. All I could think about was, “I’m the one getting fitter here. Whatever I look like right now, I’ll look awesome in a few weeks’ time!”

Working out in strange environments or doing something a bit different takes a small, private act of bravery. When trying an exercise for the first time, you are afraid of screwing up and looking like an idiot. When going all-out in an intense circuit you know you are going to look a bit crazy. This is all very well if you are surrounded by people doing the same thing. But if you are the only one, it can feel very exposed.

This also applies to any women who regularly find that they are the only female in the gym. Guys will look, they can’t help it. But it can be hard to block this out and just get on with your workout. It’s not as if we are bouncing along at 5 miles an hour on the treadmill with not a hair out of place. We’re under the bar pushing bodyweight or more and it doesn’t always look pretty!

Once I was doing near-max squats when my tracksuit trousers ripped up the back with what seemed to me to be deafening noise. I would have died of embarrassment had I not had almost 100kg on my back at the time.

But if you care about training and you care about results, you have to learn to put these thoughts to the back of your mind. Almost everyone feels self-conscious at some point, but only some people let it hold them back.

Once you learn not to care about what others might think, an amazing thing happens: you find you can do anything!

And here’s another truth: those wonderful exercise endorphins you feel when you train don’t just reduce pain, they also make you feel great about yourself. But you have to be exercising in order to get them. Sitting around worrying won’t make you feel good.

So today’s lesson is: screw up your courage and go for it because you are the one who is benefiting.

I’ll leave you with some inspiration I saw on Ross Enamait’s blog:

Rocky training montage – even Rocky can look kinda silly doing bunny hops with a piece of wood across his shoulders. But who wouldn’t want to train with this intensity and belief?

Large fella on a bike – read this amazing story about how one guy conquered his fear and laziness and made an enormous difference to his life

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  • 1

    Ha I ripped my shorts squatting the other day. Had to keep plowing through with the weight though. These are the risks you’ve got to take.

    Great blog mate

    Hazard on June 27th, 2009
  • 2

    If I would have been one of your co-workers, I’d have secretly admired you, and would wish I had the courage to join you.

    Still a long ways to go, but doing deadlifts and squats without my gymbuddy around has been a victory already 🙂

    Marisa on June 27th, 2009
  • 3

    @ Hazard: cheers, just checked yours out. Obviously new but looking good!

    @ Marisa: thanks, maybe one or two were thinking that way! The day someone comes up to me and says ‘that looks interesting, can I join in?’ will be an awesome day!

    Very rarely I get people in the gym asking me about what I am doing and it is always great. Generally it is men rather than women. But one time in an ordinary gym I was doing deficit deadlifts (deadlifts off a box) and another woman came up and asked me about it. I was pretty impressed that she was even curious about it and pleased that she’d bothered to ask, rather than just wonder in silence.

    People who are into their weight training generally really appreciate others asking genuine questions. Even the huge surly-looking guy in the corner will secretly be pleased if someone shows an interest. In my early days of lifting I learnt a lot from approaching people in the gym who were really focussed and did interesting stuff in the corner!

    (Alex, I know you read this sometimes – you were one of those people!)

    gubernatrix on June 27th, 2009
  • 4

    “Guys will look, they can’t help it.”

    I understand that men looking at women’s bodies is a reality, and I am prepared to deal with that. They can help it, though, and they make a choice to “look”. Let’s not pretend that they have no free will in the matter.

    That is all. Thanks for your words.

    Rachel on June 27th, 2009
  • 5

    if i was one of your work colleagues, i would have a serious crush on you. really admire lasses who train hard, more so when they have your mentality.

    calves on June 27th, 2009
  • 6


    you should have choosen a pic of yourself doing a back lever instead. That position tends to make people really wonder what you are on about 😀
    Good topic! Bad luck with the tracksuit, unless it was worn and you could see it coming. Anyway, I admire anybody who works out seriously. Females being serious about this is especially impressive as they are so rare compared to guys. Somebody going outside in their lunch to work out.. That is impressive as hell. I bet 90% of those who could see you going at it would either want to join you but dont dare to or felt bad about themself for not working out often/hard enough.
    We have 30mins for lunch, and since I work in an open landscape I dont feel like I can use that time to work up a sweat. Could be unpleasant for my fellow wage slaves in the office. Excellent to know that it is feasible to work out in the lunch other places!

    A co-worker and me goes down to a workshop to do chins quite often during the week. In the beginning we got some strange looks and snide comments. Now we are part of the workshop and the guys just ask what the count is today. People look at what is new to them, that is most of what is in it. Adults will not even comment, but kids will 😀 They are also the ones you will inspire the most.

    Guys will look, but I hope there is a distinction between oogling and looking? I’ll look at a female doing serious stuff working out, but it dont have to be anything sexual about it (Ok, sometimes I admire looks too, but I am not there to pick up girls so that is it). Some of the girls at the gymnastics hall do stuff I have no chance of doing, and I admire that. They do the same when I pull off something in the rings, just like the other men do. So what, it dont bother me. If it did I would work out somewhere else.
    Dont girls look at men doing serious stuff working out just to see what and how they do stuff? Perhaps I am a weirdo..

    Rolfe on June 28th, 2009
  • 7

    @ Rachel: I get where you’re coming from but like Rolfe says, there can be looks of genuine interest or curiosity as well! Anyway it’s hard to know where to look in the gym sometimes, especially when its busy. I am quite happy to watch the guys in my rest periods!

    @ calves: well thanks! Great to hear from men who have a positive attitude towards women’s strength training.

    @ Rolfe: nice to hear from you again! I agree that once you get over that hurdle of the initial curiousity, then it can seem quite normal. I’m hoping that’s what will happen at work. People will just think, ‘oh there she is again’ and go on their way 🙂

    gubernatrix on June 28th, 2009
  • 8

    […] Are you self-conscious? […]

  • 9

    […] Are You Self Conscious – Large Fella on a Bike – […]

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