When Fitness Feels Silly

Our neighbor’s porch is probably 30 feet long. I’m not real skilled when it comes to judging distance, but there’s enough room on her porch to play Corn hole and you need 25 feet for that.

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Corn hole isn’t the point here. It’s what my neighbor does on her porch every morning. She’s a retired widow close to 70 years old. I’m not real good at judging age either, but I think I’m close on this one.

Every morning, regardless of the weather, my neighbor walks on her porch from one end to the other, back and forth…for about 15 minutes. While I greatly admire her commitment to fitness I also wonder if she ever feels silly doing this.

Even if she does, it’s not enough to keep her from pursuing fitness. But, I suspect for others feeling silly is enough to shut them down. And, let’s be honest there are a bunch of reasons why exercise and fitness can feel silly. Here are five that can make you feel that way:

PEOPLE ARE WATCHING YOU

This can be a big one for a lot of people. You just don’t want others watching while you exercise. It makes you uncomfortable.

Someone walking is not normally something we notice, but someone walking back and forth on a small porch is different for 15 minutes…well, that’s different. I don’t know if my neighbor knows when I’m watching. To be clear, I don’t stand in my kitchen and stare, but I can see her porch as I’m making my morning coffee.

Someone running is typically something we don’t pay attention to because that feels normal. But someone sprinting up a long stairway in public draws attention. A few years ago, I was having dinner with colleagues at an outdoor restaurant across from the San Diego Convention Center. There was a guy running up the steps of that building over and over again. He caught my attention and I’m sure more than a few others noticed him as well.

Would you feel silly walking on your porch or running up and down stairs in a very public place? How about at the gym? Do you feel silly there? I did.

I tried doing the gym thing for fitness three different times, years apart, and I never lasted more than a few months. One of my struggles, that I never overcame, was this feeling that others could watch me at any time. I don’t know that I ever saw someone looking my way, but just knowing they could was enough to make me feel silly.

LACK OF SKILL

Most forms of exercise require some level of skill or knowledge. For example, yoga. Those moves aren’t easy! Swimming is dangerous if you haven’t learned how to do it before using it as exercise. Even gym equipment needs some explaining for you to use it correctly.

The front end of a learning curve can feel awkward, frustrating, and silly. I have a friend who hates taking group classes at the gym for this reason. That feeling is supersized because she’s also uncomfortable with people watching as she fumbles the moves.

I was at the Outer Banks this summer when I noticed a young woman doing CrossFit on the beach early one morning. I wasn’t the only person passing her by as she did her thing. She was totally unfazed.

There was a time when she had to learn the moves and then more time to be able to do them with confidence. This is true for all of us. Even walking can require some skill and knowledge if you want to elevate it to the level of exercise.

I admired that young woman on the beach as I walked by her. I don’t know if she felt silly. I do know she didn’t let it stop her from an amazing experience exercising as the sun rose over the ocean in front of her.

SHINES A SPOTLIGHT ON OUR LACK OF FITNESS

I used to run at a park a few miles from where we live. I was there most afternoons at pretty much the same time. I wasn’t the only one there with a daily exercise routine. I saw the same people every day. Some were running, others were walking. We often gave each other a friendly wave as we passed each other. One of those people was a very overweight young man. He was at the park most days to walk at least a couple miles.

Whenever we start a fitness journey it can be an in-your-face reminder of just how out of shape we are. And, sometimes it even shines a spotlight on us for others to see. I don’t know what that young man was feeling as he walked. Maybe self conscious, maybe some shame, maybe even a little silly. I have no idea, but I do know what I was feeling every time I saw him.

Deep respect.

Nobody likes to be reminded of their weaknesses. I want to be like that young man I saw at the park. He didn’t let what he might have been feeling keep him from investing in his health and fitness.

SLOW RESULTS

A couple months ago I started to get real discouraged. We were getting our house ready to sell and it felt like I was doing all this work, but getting nowhere. In fact, it really felt like everything I did revealed two more things that needed my attention.

Part of my fitness regimen is some weight training. I’ve been doing it for years. But, no one looks at me and thinks, “He must lift weights!” I’m what fitness experts call a “hard gainer”. In other words, it’s difficult for my body type to build muscle.

Thankfully, that’s not why I lift. I want the health benefits. But, those benefits are not always obvious and they can take a long time.

If I’m working hard on something I need progress. Why bother working on the house if I’m getting nowhere? Why bother lifting weights if I can’t see the results? Why exercise if the only result is feeling tired and sore?

Let’s face it. There are times when fitness feels like a scam. Lots of effort for not a whole lot of results. Have you ever felt that? Do you feel silly doing all that exercise and feeling like your getting little in return?

IT’S JUST NOT WORTH IT

Exercise motivation is slippery. One moment it feels firmly in your grasp and then you wonder where it went. That’s why most people don’t exercise. It’s a long, slow, hard journey. And, when motivation fades so does the exercise.

In my late 40’s I didn’t like the way I was feeling or looking. And, I knew it was only going to get worse if I didn’t act. Maintaining that internal motivation is hard. Maintaining external motivation is even harder.

When a doctor or loved one says you need to exercise your motivation is external. Or maybe it’s something you “should” do…kinda like when you walk through the produce section at the store and feel convicted that your diet needs more green food. So you buy some broccoli. And, it just sits in the refrigerator until you throw it out feeling silly as you do.

It’s hard to do a hard thing when you don’t have any motivation. Whether it was an internal motivator or external motivator that got your started on fitness once it’s gone it can simply feel like it’s just not with it anymore. And, nothing feels sillier than pursuing an empty goal.

TWO QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

If you’ve ever felt silly or awkward as you exercise there are two questions I’d like you to consider if you’d like to overcome this on-going challenge.

WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL SILLY?

It;’s important to know what triggers that feeling. If I feel silly and not confident I won’t exercise. And, I’m not someone who’s just starting out. My thing is I don’t want others thinking about me while I’m exercising. That’s what I was really feeling at the gym. If they’re watching me then they are also thinking about me. And, I don’t like that. It’s distracting distracting and I start feeling silly and awkward.  

I can’t move forward if I go no farther than feeling that way and not understanding why. If you have ever let this feeling impact your fitness journey, take a few minutes and think about what triggers you. You don’t need to analyze why, but it’s important to understand the what.

WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE?

Once you have figured out what makes you feel silly or awkward, then you can move on to what makes you feel comfortable while you exercise. When I’m comfortable with my exercise environment I can move forward with confidence and focus.

For example, I don’t do well exercising in a group…with other people around. So, I’ve set up a part of our basement for my strength training. I don’t have to think about others watching me. I don’t feel silly as I learn new movements. I also do some high intensity cardio work to get my heart rate soaring. I do that in our basement as well.

Most of my walking is done outside. But, on those days when I can’t do that I’ll walk inside. And, I feel silly doing laps around our kitchen and living room when others are home. So, I’ll go to our basement where I can do that alone. That may feel silly to you, but it works for me.

How can you structure your exercise to eliminate those things that make you feel awkward and silly, but instead make you comfortable?

If you struggle with feeling silly while you exercise I have two more suggestions for you:

MAKE A COMMITMENT

Fitness is more mental than physical. As much as we’d like to always be filled with motivation and never feel silly or awkward there are still days when our emotions work against us. I suspect this never completely goes away. I’ve been doing this fitness thing for a dozen years and I still have days like this.

I’m not motivated or feel silly doing a workout. Truly, the only thing that keeps me going on days like that is my commitment.

Jimmy Page is a leader with Fellowship of Christian Athletes on the West Coast. He used to live in Maryland and was a weekly guest on our morning show right around the time I started my fitness journey. Jimmy used to manage a local gym and became something of a fitness mentor for me.

He wasn’t my coach, but his knowledge, attitude, and example really helped me form the fitness values I still hold today. More than anything, it was Jimmy’s commitment that changed the way I think about exercise.

Whenever he talked about his commitment to fitness he simply said, “I train every day.” That always felt forward thinking. In other words, he didn’t exercise simply to check off an exercise box each day. That’s how commitment can feel. Instead, the idea of training feels like an investment in a future goal.

Even when I don’t feel like it, or it feels silly, my exercise is part of something much bigger. That’s been a game changer. Thank you Jimmy.

Making a commitment to train every day is a powerful way to move through those feeling that want to derail your fitness.

FIND AN INSPIRATION

When exercise starts feeling silly I like to think of inspiring people. The CrossFit woman on the beach, the young man sprinting up the Convention Center stairs, and the really big guy walking in the park all inspire me.

But, the one who inspires me the most is my wife, Ava. Everything about her inspires me, but there’s one particular event that I love. I’m still amazed because if it happened to me I would have felt so silly and stopped. But, not Ava.

She was running at the park one day during a season where she was also doing some cross training. That training included doing burpees. That’s an incredibly hard exercise that looks like it’s combining a jumping jack with a push up.

It’s the kind of exercise I would never even think of doing in a public place, but Ava isn’t me. The park has a one-mile paved trail through a wooded section. Along the back part there’s a steep grassy hill. Ava decided to do her burpees UP THE FREAKING HILL. That’s the second thing she did that I would never consider doing…burpees up a hill!

When she started the uphill burpees there was no one else around. I don’t know if she waited for that opportunity or it just happened. Either way, she wasn’t alone long.

As she was doing her burpees up the hill a man walked by. And, it wasn’t just any man. It was a member of the Baltimore Ravens front office. The Ravens training complex is across the street from the park. And, this guy isn’t just a football executive, he used to be a football player. In fact, he’s in the NFL Hall of Fame.

And, there’s my wife doing burpees up a hill as a hall of fame athlete walks by. And, yes…he did see her. She saw him notice her…

…and kept doing those burpees.

I need inspiration like that when I start feeling a little silly.

Who can inspire you to keep going?

ONE MORE SUGGESTION

Feeling silly can take the fun out of exercise. But, a good challenge can help overcome that. I’d like to suggest you try a 30 Day Walking Challenge. If you’re just getting started there’s a level that will help you begin to create a fitness habit and overcome those feelings of silly. Keep going and that habit becomes fitness momentum. Lots of great things happen when you’ve got the fitness mojo…

If you already have some momentum, the 30 Day Walking Challenge has two additional levels so you can pour a little more gas on that fire. Download your free guide here.

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. While it’s not cheap, it’s less than a few months at the gym. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.

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Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking for exercise. As a fitness activity, walking is sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions.

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