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Stop me if this is a nightmare you still have: You're wearing those tiny, humiliating shorts. You're faced with the climbing rope, or sometimes it's the chin up bar. Whatever task it is, you struggle to pull yourself up with arms that seem terribly flabby and inadequate, and you get nowhere. And then your classmates, a bunch of shithead kids in equally ridiculous shorts, laugh at you.

I don't know what it is about physical education in school. If you're a fat nerd (or a thin nerd, no need to exclude) the classes felt like they were tailor made to drive home the point that physical activity is the most miserable experience a human being can have inflicted upon them. And then there were the jocks. You know, the people who spent all their time being utterly mean to us, and then running effortlessly up and down the field, and you know what? Fuck those guys. They're jerks. If that's what it takes to be good at sports, you didn't want to be one of them anyway.

When I was in junior high - this is a true story, just ask my mom - the first time they dragged us outside and made us run on the track, I was in the middle of a twenty teenager pile up and broke my leg. And I was relieved. Happy even. Because it meant that while everyone else had to run on the track - where I knew that I'd be puffing along at the back of the pack, if I could even keep running at all - instead, I got to sit on the bleachers and soak in all the sympathy you can earn for having a cast on your leg.

What the hell is wrong with this picture, that I'd feel happy I broke a bone?

This attitude follows us out of school, I've noticed. Just listen to how most people talk about physical fitness: I had a piece of cake, I need to punish myself on the elliptical trainer tomorrow. We've all heard things like that before. Exercise is presented as something you inflict upon yourself in retribution for enjoying good food, or playing too many video games, or just having the poor taste to be chunky. Maybe it's just something that appeals to the weird, creepy inner puritan of the American psyche. Chocolate cake is something you like, so it's a sin. Exercise is good for you, so that means it's got to be unpleasant because it's bad to enjoy things okay?

Because we all know, exercise isn't supposed to be fun.

Yeah, screw that.

This is the problem, with treating exercise like a punishment: unless you're a hard core masochist, you're not going to want to be literally inflicting something horrible and unpleasant on yourself, day after day. It's just not in human nature. There's a lot of evolutionary programming in us that says unpleasant things are bad and that we should avoid them. Eventually, the urge to not suffer is probably going to win over your willpower. I think even more importantly, there's the fact that life is short. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Why the hell do you want to spend a significant portion of your day doing something that you absolutely hate if you don't have to do it to survive?

I struggled for a really long time trying to come up with an exercise regimen I could stick with, because I knew I was out of shape and I didn't want to be. (Here, I mean out of shape as in "oh god don't make me climb a flight of stairs" as opposed to "judgmental jerks call me fat.") The problem was, after a while I'd find myself making excuses to not do it, because day after day, running on an elliptical trainer was slowly driving me insane. It wasn't fun. If I had my choice between doing that and playing video games, the video games were eventually going to win because I'm only human.

And that's okay.

This is the secret: exercise is supposed to be fun. The people who we all hated in school because they were stupidly, effortlessly fit? That was mostly because it was fun for them. When doing something is fun, that makes it really, really easy.

The first inkling I ever had that exercise could be fun was thanks to a game called Dance Dance Revolution. I could play that thing for hours at a time, until my muscles were just burning and screaming out for mercy, and I'd still be ready to keep going because it was fun. Working up a sweat and dancing until I thought my heart was going to explode was fun. Fitness was fun? It was fun!

I really believe that the first step you have to take is getting rid of that mental bullshit about exercise being punishment. Exercise shouldn't be a thing you inflict upon yourself because you're overweight or lack definition in your muscles or want to fit back into your old jeans. It needs to be a thing you do for yourself. It needs to be joyful and something that makes you feel alive.

And it can be anything that is joyful and makes you feel alive. I run and do kung fu. But I'm not the archetypal fat nerd. That's a thing that doesn't exist. My experience is not going to hold true for everyone, and I don't expect you to like the same things that I like because I'm not a jerk.

So what to do? Do you like taking walks? Dancing? Water polo? Weightlifting? Do some exploring and see what you enjoy. Figuring that out is the first step, and we can always talk about that more later. The point is: whatever gets your heart going and helps you work up a sweat is a-okay as long as you like it, and anyone that tells you otherwise can go hang.

There aren't many of these - I think that a lot about fitness is individual. But this, I'll lay out there as a universal fat nerd truth: You need to have fun.

Because if you're not having fun, why the hell are you doing it?

Hi, I'm Rachael. I'm a fat nerd. I also run 3-4 miles a day and have done kung fu for eight years. I'm not writing this because I want to be some kind of fitness guru. Hell no, that would be ridiculous. I'm writing this because I've got a lot of friends that struggle with the [metaphorical] Fitness Demon and I'm hoping my experience might make things a little easier for them. I'm also writing this because it's a lot of stuff I wish someone had told me, back when I was making attempt after unsuccessful attempt to get into this exercise thing. If it helps you out, great.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 15th, 2012 07:48 pm (UTC)
that's pretty awsum. i love the connection between punishment and guilt.

just for the record, i had my breakthrough in my early 20's. i hated running when i was a kid, cos i'm ridiculously short, with ridiculously short legs. the retarded kid with mild cerebral palsy could run faster. it wasn't till i realized _i wasn't racing anyone_ that i enjoyed running. at least outside. treadmills are dead boring.

roger also helps. he keeps telling me, "it's not how you look, it's to keep you healthy."
Feb. 15th, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
Roger is a prince among men. ;)

God, I am so there with you. The valuable thing I had to learn about running is that it's not a race, and that made it all better. I also concur on the treadmill hate. I just can't do it. I get way too bored. XD
Feb. 15th, 2012 08:37 pm (UTC)
he is, indeed. =)
Feb. 15th, 2012 10:09 pm (UTC)
"Studies in state-sponsored terrorism," as Calvin puts it.

What did it for me was tae kwon do in high school, for the good and sufficient reason that I was tired of being used as a punching bag and wanted to learn to fight back; it was only later that I learned to enjoy the activity for its own sake.

Now I miss it, a lot. That and running, which I never enjoyed until I was in my twenties. I really miss running. Stupid knees.
Feb. 16th, 2012 01:24 am (UTC)
Yeah, bad knees suck. I imagine eventually I'm going to be in the same boat, but until then I'm going to enjoy it.
Feb. 16th, 2012 04:24 am (UTC)
You should!

Technique matters a lot. I was self-taught (well, unless you count Uncle Sam's teaching, which really pretty much sucks; unless you're the mythical average-sized person, running in step is awful) and I suspect I screwed myself up as a result. I was talking with a marathoner at a conference last summer who gave me some ideas on how I might be able to improve my technique enough to start running without serious pain again. There's also the fact that most of my lower left leg is titanium to deal with ... Until then, it's a fast walk on an inclined treadmill, which seems to have about the same aerobic benefit but isn't nearly as much fun. So yeah, keep running, just be careful how you're doing it.
Feb. 16th, 2012 11:44 am (UTC)
I was having some pretty bad knee pain for a while, and the thing that helped me the most was getting sent to a physical therapist by my doctor. The physical therapist gave me some exercises and stretches, and then actually had me go buy completely different running shoes. And put insoles (blue superfeet) in all my shoes. That combination pretty much fixed all my problems after two years of rest and therapy, since my main issue is I have shitty arches.

I also run kind of weird... I'm almost entirely up on the balls of my feet and never put any weight on my heels, which is pretty different from how I used to run. But it seems to be working okay so far.

I imagine being bionic makes things a little harder than just having bad feet, though.
Feb. 15th, 2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
Yes. This is my main problem. I need to find something that is consistently fun and not a chore or a masochistic experience for me. As it stands I feel like exercise is at minimum something I need to reward myself for doing.
Feb. 16th, 2012 01:26 am (UTC)
I'm not going to say that running is 100% fun all the time for me. Or kung fu either. But you definitely have to find something that's fun most of the time.

I've been seriously eyeballing those Xbox kinect dance games. It's like the next generation of DDR. XD
Feb. 16th, 2012 01:31 am (UTC)
I did well with DDR for a while, but then I got bored because I knew all the songs, had my favorites, avoided the rest, and there was nothing left to unlock. I did buy a new DDR game but didn't like that one. Maybe I should give the next gen games a try.
Feb. 16th, 2012 01:35 am (UTC)
I'm really digging the kinect games because it's arm and legs, and they're actually surprisingly good at tracking movements. Of course, they'll probably eventually have the same issue that DDR did... I had the exact same problem as you.

I wish I had some better thoughts about how you find a good activity. For me kung fu was a thing I'd wanted to do for a really long time, and I learned to love running because the army guys taught me the right way to get started on it.
Feb. 16th, 2012 12:22 am (UTC)
So much all of this. My Health & Phys. Ed. teacher in summer session was all about making it fun, with the result that I now have an arsenal of PE games that get kids willingly running around co-operating with each other (and which also work on adults! We busted out amoeba tag the other week and the whole cohort went nuts). I wish the message would make the rounds a whole lot faster than it's doing, though. School PE should not be torture.
Feb. 16th, 2012 01:28 am (UTC)
It would be really nice if that changed. Though I know in the US, it's a challenge for a lot of kids to even get PE at all. Particularly low income schools tend to cut it back severely because they're focused on the stupid standardized tests to the exclusion of almost anything else.
Feb. 16th, 2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
Ouch, that sucks. D:
Feb. 16th, 2012 01:03 am (UTC)
As another fat nerd, this resonates with me. I really like walking and swimming, but I have to admit, that I don't think I've ever found anything that I *love* when it comes to exercising (well, maybe horseback riding, but that's frickin' expensive).
I used to get by easily back in Sweden by just biking everywhere, even in winter, it wasn't exercise, just a way of living, and I guess, when I lost that way of living it sort of did me in. So I certainly need to figure something else out.
Feb. 16th, 2012 01:29 am (UTC)
It's hard to find something that you love. But like is enough for a while. ;) I wish I had good advice on finding what you love to do, but it seems like it's such a personal thing...
Feb. 17th, 2012 10:06 am (UTC)
"So what to do? Do you like taking walks? Dancing? Water polo? Weightlifting? Do some exploring and see what you enjoy. Figuring that out is the first step, and we can always talk about that more later. The point is: whatever gets your heart going and helps you work up a sweat is a-okay as long as you like it, and anyone that tells you otherwise can go hang. "

I say this every day at work. I often tell the peeps I am talking to to go get ddr or Just Dance 1-3 or Dance Central for the Kinect. Or almost any connect or wii active game because they get you moving and usually moving for at least 20-30 mins.

I love that you wrote this. America needs to take fitness out of the gyms and bring it back to daily life. Whenever I travel, I am surprised at how much more active I am than I am here at home. You walk, you take hikes, you climb hills and mountains, you walk to the nearest market to pick up a few things. Really focusing on a fit inducing life style would be much less traumatic.

I always saw those presidents fitness testing as a day of humiliation when it came to running and pullup and bar hangs. To this day, I still have nil upper body strength. :)
Feb. 17th, 2012 12:21 pm (UTC)
Argh, yes, that's what it was. The President's fitness test. I always wondered why the president was such an asshole. And they normally made us do things for that test that we NEVER did any other day of the year, so of course the failure rate was just pathetic.

I've been really glad that technology has finally gotten to the point where we can have games like that. I think it's opened up a way to exercise for a lot of people who never would have done it before. Though what I'm really waiting for is virtual reality where you can play something (like WoW) and you actually have to sword fight or whatever as your character. ;) That would be the most amazing thing ever.

Traveling sure makes me walk more. Which is good... but I think it's because particularly outside of America, almost anywhere is more conducive to walking. We seem to really try to build out cities to encourage people to drive, which doesn't help.
Feb. 17th, 2012 04:12 pm (UTC)
Tae Kwon Do, quitting smoking, and I'm starting to run. Put on hold while the tattoo heals. Super happy.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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