How I Went From Gym-Phobe To Gym-Tolerator In 7 (Slightly Unorthodox) Steps

As perennial gym avoider, Sophie White never thought the day would come when she would look forward to working out


I was a profoundly unsporty teenager. I was the girl who always cried 'period!' on PE days, I never played team sports, the yearly Bleep test loomed large on the landscape of the year and genuinely filled me with dread. I managed to trudge out of adolescence without ever having so much as run for a bus. My lack of fitness would've bordered on impressive, were it not so unhealthy.

In college the closest I came to getting a bit of cardio in was lifting heavy food items, I averaged several double cheeseburgers a week so my right arm (or eatin' arm, if you will) was getting reasonable definition.

The first time I learned what exercise could do for your mood, I was stunned. I didn't quite become one of those evangelical fitness freaks who resolves to do 800 marathons in a year or anything. I just took up swimming first thing in the morning as a way to calm my mind as I navigated the murky labyrinth of mental illness aged 22. I had been prescribed medication but my therapist was also telling me to explore lifestyle measures to help with my mad, sad and bad thoughts.

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Swimming is a great gateway activity for the unsporty. There's little to no interactions and it doesn't involve sweating profusely AT strangers (as I tend to do when exerted). I eventually began to get into hiking which was also acceptable to me because the exertion seemed incidental to a nice walk and a bit of exploring, rather than the actual point of the thing.

I still thought a gym wasn't the place for the likes of me. Just the thought of all the machines and people who knew what they were doing and didn't think even just the act of getting the sports bra contraption on and off should count as cardio. This is the level of panting and sweating I do while trying to extricate myself from that ridiculous torture device (I realise it may just be a size or three too small).

Even after I had gave birth to my second baby and had literally crouched naked on a bed in a room full of strangers while shouting "I'm on FIRE HERE", I still felt too self-conscious to countenance working out in a gym on full view of the near-perfect humans who tend to frequent such places. And I am not a child, I know that people have better things to be doing then staring at me while I weep on a treadmill, but still it's somehow hard to really take it on board.

In the end I relented and bought a gym membership when I realised how much I was spending on bringing my toddler to the local pay-as-you-go pool. I sold myself the idea with a vague notion that I my also be able to scam some cheap childcare out of the gym while on maternity leave. I handed over a sizeable sum and so began my fitness 'journey' as the influencers like to call it.

Get A Membership

My tightness alone is a pretty good motivator most weeks. Buy the swipey card of gym-hell and do the maths on how often you need to go to get your money's worth. It really helps.

Get A Friend

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There is nothing like a gym-pal to make you get down to it. I have a friend I work out with so frequently that my husband calls her my Gym Twin. On most days at least one of us tries to get out of going so the other has to essentially drag them there, which is great because usually, as much as you do NOT feel like working out, about five minutes in I guarantee you'll be glad you went. Also gossip makes the reps fly by.

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If nothing else, it'll cheer you up in between muttering expletives at the end of a long session.

Listen To Podcasts Or Audiobooks

I like listening to music while running outside but when you're on a treadmill, there's no passing scenery to enjoy and invariably you can't take your eye off the timer, audiobooks or podcasts are a life-saver. Check out these recommendations from the Image team.

Wear Make Up If You Wanna Wear Make Up

This one might be quite specific but when I first took up the gym thing, I eschewed make up and kind of shamed myself for wanting to wear make up for working out in the first place. However a few weeks of glaring at my barefaced self in the mirror while trudging through my routine, I thought "what are you at? Wear the make up if you're so glum about it!" And while it may sound beyond vain and shallow, I started sporting my winged liner again and felt mildly better about the whole enterprise.

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Go To The Classes

Solidarity develops among a large group of uncoordinated, red-faced people who are all being shouted at by the same, tiny, enthusiastic Gym Guy. At a recent class, a nearby (similarly sweaty mess) snarled: "Shut up, I could just sit on you, you know" at the peppy trainer (who was out of earshot) and I've never felt more understood or closer to anyone in my life.

Never Forget: Nobody Is Looking At You

Unless maybe they're looking at the liquid eyeliner that you've managed to sweat all over your face at this stage. They might be looking at that.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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