Workouts make me feel small and like I’m in fifth grade again, barely able to do a somersault when the rest of the kids are doing cartwheels across the mat. In the moments it takes me to don shorts and a t-shirt and tie up my shoelaces, I can feel all the weight that shame can pile on me. I can be reduced to a puddle of tears, all because I’m trying to show up to workout.
You might never know from social media. I look healthy and happy. And I am, for the most part. But lurking beneath the surface is shame that comes to bully me almost every time I work out.
Some days the shame is so much louder than the reality. The reality is that I’m probably in the some of the best shape I’ve ever been in. The reality is that my husband cheers me on and tells me what is true and doesn’t pressure me. The reality is that I’m showing up to exercise regularly.
But the shame shouts at me that I’m a failure. Shame tells me that how I feel is the reality. And how I feel some days is that I’m ugly and fat, terrible and weak, small and silly.
Even in the midst of writing this, I went for a run with my husband and had to practice what I’m preaching, and it was HARD. Friends, I’m still in the mess of this. I feel like I have so little figured out, as I still have days that workouts bring me to tears.
But I’m choosing to celebrate the progress.
I’m choosing to celebrate that I’m still showing up.
I’m choosing to celebrate every time I tell shame that he’s a bully and listen to truth instead.
I’m choosing to celebrate that I’m letting myself be seen in an area that feels weak and vulnerable.
I’m choosing to celebrate that I’m working out.
I’ve found a few things that help me in the mess of shame about my body when it comes time to workout. These aren’t magic. They don’t fix everything. And this is still really hard for me.
I wish I was one of those people who LIKED working out. I wish I was one of those people who thought running was fun. I would love to be
But the fact is that I’m not. At least not yet. And wishing and comparing myself to what I want to be isn’t helping. I think it was a big turning point for my heart to say how hard it was for me to work out and that THIS was an area of courage for me. Showing up to work out was being brave. It might not be that for other people, but for me, it is. It wasn’t working for me to pretend it wasn’t hard. It wasn’t working for me to look at other people at how easy it appeared to be for them and tell myself to buck up and be like them. It felt big and brave to own how it felt for me and to start showing up there. I had to stop the comparisons, in order to start showing up.
Do it before thinking too much.
My husband really enjoys researching workouts, and one of the ones we did together about a year ago was running up hills. The idea was to run up a hill, walk down, and do it all over again, as many times as you could. I had told myself going into it that I was going to try for three runs, since I hadn’t done it before (and who really wants to run up hills!?!) By the end of the third one, I thought I had one more in me, so I did a fourth hill run. As I came down, I felt so relieved to be finished. But as I got to the bottom, I had the fleeting thought I could do one last one. So, I ran up that hill before I had time to think about it and evaluate how my body was doing or if I wanted to. When I came down that fifth time, I knew I had reached my limit and that it had only been possible because I didn’t spend much time thinking about it.
So often, I start to think about my workout instead of just doing it and seeing what happens. Almost every time I spend too much time thinking, shame steps in to give his two cents about my abilities, my body and my worth. When I don’t overthink it and just jump in, so often, I’m able to do more than I would have guessed if I’d sat down and mulled it over. I’m someone who likes some advance notice, so I typically need to plan to workout for it to actually happen. But at the same time, over-thinking and working myself up is the opposite of helpful. Sometimes, jumping in before I have time to think about what I’m doing or how much I hate workouts or how I feel about it, is the best thing I can do.
I’m constantly saying “sorry” when I need to slow down or when I can’t match my husband’s pace or when I’m not meeting my own expectations for what I “should” be able to do. He’s always telling me not to apologize. There’s no shame in saying what I need. There’s no shame in needing help.
It is really hard for me not to apologize for slowing him down, for being weak. It is one of the first things that pops out of my mouth. It feels like the script that shame hands me every time I’m feeling small and weak. But the truth is that I don’t need to apologize for my limitations. I don’t need to apologize for what I need. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, it is the brave thing to do to name my limitations and ask for what I need, without apology.
Make it enjoyable and doable.
Just because I am not jazzed to work out doesn’t mean that I can’t give myself some incentives and help. Figuring out what is a good match for me in the season has been really helpful. Shorter workouts that I can do at home fit well into what I’m able to do these days. And I love listening to music with my dancing toddler while I do them. A fun beat helps me stay motivated. (Pop Fitness and Dance Cardio are favorite Pandora stations for my workouts, if you were wondering.) And my daughter’s dance moves are hard not to enjoy, which adds considerably to the fun of showing up to workout.
Have a buddy.
My husband actually likes researching working out, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are days when even he doesn’t want to exercise. He’s tired and it feels like the last thing he wants to do. (I almost always feel this way.) I affectionately call him my headmaster, since he helps me with form and adjusting my workout to match my abilities. But it has been such a gift to have someone one to do this with me. Even if my husband isn’t able to physically be present to do the workout with me, it is so helpful to have someone to check in with, to cheer me on.
Yesterday we went on a run together, our first in a while. I know for a fact that neither of us would have done it, if we hadn’t been doing it together. But there’s something about lacing up our tennis shoes together, of cheering the other person on, of not being alone that makes a world of difference. I know we don’t all have the luxury of someone to be our physical-in-person workout buddy. In other seasons, it has looked really different for me to invite someone into this. But we all have someone. We have someone to cheer us on; we have someone who can join us in the mess; we have someone who can tell us we’re not alone. And these might all be different someones, depending on the season. We might have to be creative about how to have someone join us in this. But having someone know that we’re showing up and trying helps a lot.
Don’t be a hero.
I have this idea about what a good workout would be or what being super fit would mean. And even though I have no specifics, it always seems to be more than what I’m able to do. I want to stretch myself to get to that point, sometimes demanding more of myself than is healthy. My husband borrows the phrase, “Don’t be a hero” from Dallas Willard’s discussions of spiritual disciplines. He is kind to remind me that the point isn’t to do the hardest, most impressive workout once. The point is to show up and be able to do it again and again and again. The point is to be healthy, not to be a hero.
There was a time not that long ago that I wasn’t strong enough to do a real push-up. That felt shameful and discouraging. And it meant doing push-ups on my knees instead. For months. But the beautiful thing is I actually got strong enough from those ones on my knees, to be able to do full push-ups.
Being healthy isn’t the same as being a hero. And it’s okay to not be a hero.
For me, this means celebrating the exercises I’m doing, instead of shaming myself about all the ones I’m not. For me, this means showing up and doing something, even if it isn’t everything I hope for.
There is nothing too small to pray about.
I pray a lot about working out. These prayers aren’t profound or complicated. A lot of them sound like “Jesus, will you help me show up?” or “please help me be brave and workout.” As much as I want this to be an area of strength for me, it isn’t. And sometimes, my workouts happen only because Jesus is giving me what I need to show up. Sometimes he is the only one who is seeing me in that moment, and I want to invite him to be with me there.
Say yes to grace.
Workouts take a fair amount of courage for me. And on days when my emotional tank is empty, sometimes the bravest thing I can do is to say that I need to pass on working out today. This is one of the hardest, scariest things for me. Shame tries to tell me that if I have grace for myself today, I’m going to stop caring about what really matters and won’t ever be healthy. I’m never going to work out again. I’m going to become the person I don’t want to be. Shame tells me I have something to prove and if I don’t workout, I’m a failure.
There was a week recently when I gave myself a free pass for working out because of how emotionally drained I was. While this wouldn’t be good or healthy all the time, I knew what I needed that week. I knew that demanding that I workout to prove something to myself wasn’t going to help. It was okay to offer myself the grace of rest. And because I gave myself that grace, the week after, I had the strength, the emotional capacity and the courage to jump back in.
And shame is wrong. Accepting grace is healthy. I have nothing to prove. Saying yes to grace is actually exactly what will turn me into the person I hope to be.
None of us want to need help. None of us want to do push-ups on our knees because that’s all we can do. None of us want to be the one who is weak and needy. None of us want to need grace. I sure don’t.
But workouts are reminding my heart that it’s okay.
It’s okay to need grace.
It’s okay to start where I’m at.
It’s okay to have trouble getting out the door.
It’s okay to celebrate the progress.
It’s okay to not be a hero.
It’s okay to take a break.
It’s okay to be human.
Workouts are reminding me that I need the Lord’s help.
In my shame about my abilities, he meets me.
In my hot mess days when I can’t fathom mustering the courage to workout, he meets me.
In my showing up and fumbling attempts, he meets me.
In the times I’m believing the lies shame tells me and apologizing for my weakness, he meets me.
In the loudness of feelings, he meets me.
The Lord meets me here.
The Lord meets me in my workouts.
The Lord meets me in my weakness, my smallness, my human-ness.
And he gives me grace for today.
Thank you, Jesus.