How Going To The Gym Gave Me More Than Just Muscles
By Emily (she/her) who is a massive bookworm and firm believer that there’s a Taylor Swift song for every occasion.
This month, I’ve been to the gym. After the January joiners boom and the inevitable February fizzle, my local gym released a special offer to tempt more people inside. Since the deal was pretty good value, I decided to take it as a sign from the universe that I should stop creating excuses and get myself a one-month membership. Fast forward thirty days and I’m hooked. Not just because I like the sweat and the burn. Turns out it’s also flipped my mindset when it comes to tackling tasks like revision.
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy going to the gym as much as I did. Truth be told, I was there mostly in the hope BeReal would go off whilst I was there and I could feel smug telling people afterwards, “I’ve been to the gym.” Things got off to a rocky start when I tripped at the first hurdle: getting in. Entering a personal code to open some sci-fi style revolving tubes was harder than expected, but a determination to do it for the photos and a patient employee got me in. The quest continued.
Here, I was faced with the big decision: what was I actually going to do? It being my first time, I felt pretty awkward standing by myself and looking bemusedly at row after row of rowing machines and weight contraptions that looked vaguely like torture devices. In the end I went for the treadmills, armed with a trusty Taylor Swift workout playlist. It took me a while to find a comfortable speed, especially because I felt like everyone was staring at me — as though there was a neon sign above my head flashing ‘first timer’ and they were all secretly judging my fitness and my outfit. I didn’t want to look bad, so I definitely started way too fast and had to try and surreptitiously slow down again, wincing with every beep.
But, after the initial dread, I began to get into my stride both figuratively and literally. I focused on my music, occasionally looking up to check my progress. I started to enjoy just running to the rhythm, focusing on timing my feet to the beat and thinking no further ahead than the next round number on the distance bar. When the machine beeped to begin cooldown, I realised I actually felt calm despite my heavy breathing. Enjoying the weird feeling of walking on stationary floor after so much running, I took my obligatory mirror selfie and called it a day.
Sure enough, I was able to say “I’ve been to the gym,” and enjoyed the admiration of my family. I underestimated how good it felt to flex, and decided I ought to go back. It was way easier the second time to get in, and I didn’t feel so exposed. When I was exercising, I had been so focused on myself I hadn’t paid anybody else any attention. With the realisation that nobody was judging my every move, I was able to try out a few different pieces of equipment without fear, and once again really enjoyed myself. In fact, I didn’t even feel the need to take a selfie to commemorate my visit because the post-exercise buzz was enough.
I’ve since been going regularly, and find myself looking forward to the act of exercising itself rather than just the flexing afterwards. That’s because it’s super rewarding to go back and realise you can cycle for five minutes longer, or start the treadmill on a slightly higher speed to warm up. I’m no Dwayne Johnson, nor will I be putting in my bid for the Olympics any time soon, but I do feel a difference. (And it’s not just because my legs ache!)
But rather than purely physical, the real reason I’m a gym bro now is because it’s been great for my mental health. As my teachers are fond of reminding me, exams are rapidly approaching. Going to the gym has been a great way to switch off the stress. I don’t have time to worry about whether I’m doing enough or whether I know the English cloth trade years 1485-1603 inside out. Nor do I have time to worry about a list of jobs and things I maybe probably ought to possibly potentially theoretically do, or could be doing, or should be doing, or the horrific consequences these might lead to. (Failure, being broke, death…the usual). For my hour at the gym, it’s just me and the deep satisfaction of working my muscles. It’s the same feeling of mindless existence as I get scrolling through socials, except I’m actually doing something constructive.
The best thing about the gym is what I like to call Girlboss Mindset. (Which, of course, can apply to everybody). The feeling of accomplishment after a gym session puts me into a positive mood. Maybe it sounds cringe, but I really do feel empowered afterwards. Tackling the pile of revision, or sending the email I’ve been putting off suddenly doesn’t feel so difficult. I’ve been to the gym. I can do anything. It might seem counterproductive to spend an hour doing something that isn’t work, but working out means you can tackle your problems with a renewed sense of energy and determination, saving you time in the long run.
So, that’s my story. I can, hand on heart, say that going to the gym has benefited my school life, my mental health, and of course my physical health. Words are powerful, and these may be the five most powerful of all: I’ve been to the gym.
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