Have We Overcomplicated Exercise?


I’ve come to a few realisations, some “hard truths”, if you will, while living in lockdown. You learn a lot in a pandemic. For example, I am – as I’ve long suspected – incredibly obsessive when it comes to breakfast. I’ve eaten the same porridge, made the same way, with the same toppings, in the same exact measurements, for the past 21 days of lockdown and still have not tired of it. Not even close. Couldn’t be more excited for tomorrow. 

I’ve also come to realise how much our generation has, or had, complicated exercise. How difficult we’d made the experience of working out – before we were forced to make do with a body-length of space in our backyard or living room, an old yoga mat, and an Instagram Live or YouTube video.

Before the lockdown, we’d convinced ourselves that we needed a membership at this gym, and we needed attend this specific class, this many times a week, with that instructor. We had to be adorned in perfectly-coordinated clothes and clean, almost unworn-looking, sneakers. A black Lululemon sports bra with matching spandex leggings that made you feel like vacuum-packed poultry was encouraged. A P.E. Nation-branded racerback crop top with contrast panel lines in pink and red was envied. You’d drag yourself to the studio and immediately be thrown off if “your reformer” or “your spot” (front right) was taken, and then hate the person next to you for being so much better. We became conditioned to working out with a wall of mirrors to angle our bodies toward: to check in with and clock our posture and form, sure, but also to clock the outfit we were wearing and whether or not the classes were “paying off”. Like when a bus speeds past at a busy intersection and you immediately search for your reflection in its big windows just to confirm that you look the way you think you do. 

But the only thing all of that created was barriers. Barriers that made exercise harder than it needed to be. Most mornings in the last three weeks, I’ve rolled out of bed, rolled out my mat, and haven’t even changed out of my pyjamas, let alone put on a bra. I’ve spent 15 minutes doing something that resembles yoga, a few moves that make my glutes sore, some hip raises and bridges, a plank and maybe a few crunches, and then I’ve rolled the mat back up, thrown it in my wardrobe and jumped in the shower.

I’ve actively looked forward to Instagram Live workouts where I can see my friends “tuning in”, holding each other accountable in a way that feels gentle and encouraging. It’s a virtual race, run separately, together. In an online class it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing the same tee shirt you slept in. You always get the best spot. And you’re definitely the best in the room. In a home workout you can wear thick socks on the bathroom floor to create “resistance”, you can hold tinned tomatoes while doing tricep dips, a kilo of flour while doing squats, and your stairs can become your hill sprint. You never have to worry about how much you’re sweating or how your face looks when a move really burns. And you know your friends are sweating alongside you, puffing and heaving, tinned vegetables in tow. 

As it turns out, all you really need, all any of us really needs, is movement, community and sweat. The rest is noise. Turn the volume down and just start. 

Header image via Tumblr