March 14, 2015

Why I Quit the Gym, Came Back, then Quit Again.

woman strong arm bicep

Don’t get me wrong, I used to love going to the gym.

The gym was my jam from college until about a year ago.

It was where I learned to lift with a personal trainer, it was where I ended up working for a few years, and it was the place I could hang out at on a Friday night when I had no plans and an empty heart.

Every morning I would wake up with the thought that at some point, I’d have to make it to the gym. If I didn’t, I’d gain weight, get weak, have no confidence, not allow myself dessert if I felt like it, not be able to handle the stress of the day, or just simply fall apart. I’m sure some of you can relate to that feeling.

I probably spent about seven or eight hours a week there between teaching spin classes and doing my own workouts and lifts.

What I realized about a year ago was that I had created the idea that the gym was magic and it could solve all of my relationship, self-esteem,and body image issues. It was also a way for me to escape when I couldn’t stand feeling my emotions.

For me, it became a way to zone out, to check out, and to try and be someone other than myself. It also became a place where I’d constantly judge myself with constant thoughts like, “You lifted more last week than you are today, what’s wrong with you?” and, “You workout more than she does, how come you don’t have abs like her?” I thought that if I just showed up as much as I could that I’d someday love my body. The gym was there for me when I went through a breakup, a “bad day” at work, an emotion I couldn’t possibly sit with, and it is where my ego lived and breathed.

The gym also had a positive impact on me.

It allowed me to find my own physical strength in times of weakness. It gave me the opportunity to teach spin classes and create a community of women whom I grew to love. It gave me a place to start my day, end my day, or just have some much needed “me time.”

So why did I break up with the “gym life”?

About a year ago, I moved from New York City to San Francisco and didn’t have enough money for a gym membership. Exercising outside was free, so nature became my gym. I found joy in working out on the beach. I explored my new city by going on runs outside. I found a sense of freedom knowing that exercise had nothing to do with how I look in a mirror. There are no mirrors outside, just a beautiful world to look at and breathe in. I also started taking more yoga classes and enrolled in a yoga teacher training.

I saw my perspective on exercise start to change.

Fast forward to today.

I’m back to having a membership at a gym. I belong to a rock climbing gym that also has a yoga studio inside (interesting concept, right?). Climbing and “doing” yoga allows me to gain functional strength and flexibility without ever picking up a single weight. It allows me to solve a puzzle (on the rock wall or on my mat) rather than stare at myself in the mirror doing lat pull downs or bicep curls. It’s an amazing atmosphere of all shapes and sizes, and the best part is I never hear the words “Let’s work off our lunch!” or, “Burn those love handles off” or, “I’m trying to make gains.” What I do hear is people encouraging one another to figure out different climbs, to try something new and to just have fun. What a concept!

I no longer feel that going to the gym means hanging out on a piece of cardio equipment I don’t actually enjoy, nor does it mean doing the typical three sets of 15 boot camp style exercises. I wonder if I ever actually enjoyed any of those workouts I used to do, or if I was just following a trend or a set of “guidelines” someone else set for me about how to be healthy and “fit.”

Was I always trying to become someone I am not? What was I trying to prove to myself?

Being active means something way different for me today than it ever has.

I’ve realized that I can no longer fool myself into thinking and believing something is “good for me” if it doesn’t make me smile or feel alive.

Figuring out how your body wants to move and how you want to take care of it is more important than following someone else’s exercise program. Create your own and see the changes happen; not only in your body, but also in your mind and spirit.

Let yourself be free.



Author: Caitlin Croteau

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Boemski/Flickr

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Caitlin Croteau