I’ve come to enjoy the sound plates make when they slam against the ground after a final set. The first inhale and final slow exhale when I fall and rise at the rack feels like meditation. The pulse that hums beneath my fingers as I add more plates to the barbell keeps me grounded. The gym can terrify many people. Mirrors frame the walls, forcing reflection on yourself at every corner.
I never expected that I would retreat to the gym, but it has become a place of solace.
More unstable than carnival rides, my relationship with the gym consisted of me avoiding every opportunity I had to work out. Some days I would use the treadmill for 30 minutes then leave; other days I couldn’t find the motivation to go at all. I figured I didn’t have enough athletic capability to go to the gym—which doesn’t make sense at all. When I pictured the gym, filled with the athletes on campus and skilled fitness experts, beginners like myself seemed completely out of place. When I did go, I completely avoided the squat racks and averted my eyes when passing weights. I went out of obligation rather than choice. Eventually, I even dreaded going for 30 minutes. I wanted to see change immediately and if it didn’t occur right away then I didn’t see the point in going.
I hadn’t realized the real reason people continue to go back at the time. Results are not the main purpose for working out. The motivation to get up everyday, to persevere through an exercise that leaves you lost in your breathing, forcing you to focus on muscles you might not even realize exist stems beyond how your body looks.
An exchange among the body and mind, working out has helped me through stress, anxiety and pressure that come along with the unfamiliarity of college. When lifting you have to think about how your body reacts to different positions. Unlike sports, where you must think about what’s best for the team, you only have to worry about yourself when lifting. You have to really think through the ways your muscles work. When my mind wanders away from it, the joy of working out gets lost. For me, when I hone in on my tasks at the gym I start to take on another mindset. I am completely in control of my surroundings and capable of handling beyond what I used to believe I could.
Before going to the gym I continually found myself avoiding things that I assumed meant immediate failure. When I started to add weights and push myself to finish a set I, discovered how exciting it feels to excel at something new. As my time at the gym changed from the mindset of immediate physical transformation to a journey of new findings about myself it has gradually developed into a place I desire rather than dread.
I began to grasp this concept junior year of college when my sister encouraged me to start using the squat rack. I struggled through my first couple of times at the rack. I had terrible form, continually cutting sets. Motivation seemed impossible to find when my sore legs struggled to walk up stairs. However, I continued to go to the gym almost every day of the week. Each time I went back, the gym emerged more as a place of solace. I stopped worrying about how ridiculous I looked lifting weights and focused more on how my body felt when I did an exercise with proper form. The less I started to care about my image the better I saw myself. My friends noticed this as well. I began to walk with more confidence, I bragged about sore muscles and the gym was my new escape from the stress of college.
The gym, often mistaken as a hub for judgment, now feels like a safe zone to push myself to new limits. When uncomfortable in new surroundings it can often feel as though the people around you realize you feel out of place. Unfamiliar settings can lead to discomfort, but that hardship also helps you feel the joy of the new experience. Once I realized that nobody at the gym actually watched how I worked out, I immediately felt freedom to venture into pushing myself harder and focusing more on what made me feel my best.