Why I Hate Group Exercise

You know the scenario: you tell yourself today is the day you are going to try that new yoga, cycling or group fitness class. You pick your outfit and tell yourself you are going.

Then your mind starts racing: What if I am the worst one? The fattest? Everyone will stare at me because I am terrible. What if I fart in downward dog? Actually, that is a valid fear.

You promise yourself that you will work on your yoga or fitness on your own until you’re ‘good enough’ to go to class.

Time passes and passes and passes. You are never good enough for the group class so you never go.

It is no secret I, along with many of you reading, struggled with exercise in the past. I would run and run and run or I would do nothing. The pendulum was either at one extreme or another.

It wasn’t until long after treatment that I found the balance with exercise. My philosophy (stolen from an ever wise therapist) is that exercise should be play. It should be fun! And after years of trial and error, I am fully connected to my mind, body and spirit. Which led me to develop a very scientific exercise equation:

If I feel like running, I run. If I feel like walking, I walk. I hate elliptical machines, so I do not step on them. I hate gyms, so I don’t join. If I feel like staying in my jammies, I stay in my jammies. I listen to my body and what it needs.

I was not allowed to exercise upon first entering the Carolina House. After the first week, I was allowed to do yoga. And I hated it. The stillness, the slowness. I needed to run out my anxiety – read: my eating disorder needed to run to numb out the feelings. Yoga brought it all up and forced me to be in my body. But as life and recovery would have it, years later, I fell head first (yogi pun intended) in love with yoga. (You can read more about my love affair with yoga in my blog: Discovering the Yogi Within).

One of the first things I did when I moved to St. Simon’s was look up a yoga studio. A real yoga studio, one that focuses on meditation, loving your body and connecting with it emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Enter: Omcore.

You can find me at Omcore two or three times a week. Connecting with my inner yogi and working on MY practice, which includes challenging myself with new classes that I am not the best at. Oh wait, I’m not the ‘best’ at yoga either.

I always had the mentality I should not go places until I looked my best or I was the best at something. Well, why would I need to go to the class if I was ‘the best’? Here is the really incredible thing about yoga: no one is the best. Everyone is on his or her mat doing his or her own yoga practice.

A few months ago when life started to finally settle down, I found my way back to Omcore. Trish, the yogi teacher/owner extraordinaire, instructed the class into dolphin pose or you could opt to meet in downward dog.

At the time, my body and spirit was still healing from the emotional storm that was cancer. I refuse to say my body was weak because it was not. It was just in a different place. My body carried me through my daughter’s cancer treatments and hospital stay, there is nothing weak about that. My body was tired. It needed rest and kindness.

So there I was, unable to put much weight into a dolphin pose so I opted for good old downward dog. I glanced to see my friend essentially balancing her whole body on her forearms, legs bend backwards with her feet practically touching her nose. Enter the wide eyed emoji here. In that moment, that cruel voice in my head began criticizing me for not being stronger, better.

The gremlins of comparison started stirring in my head. I looked down, feeling defeated. Tears started to fill my eyes and then I looked at my hands gripping my yoga mat below. I decided to reflect back to the intention I set at the start of class: gratitude and peace.

I was there. I was in yoga. I was not in a hospital or a treatment center. I was honoring my body and being gentle. Rather than continue the critical parade, I found gratitude. I chose gratitude. Gratitude for being healthy enough to be there, for my daughter being healthy enough to be home with a sitter so her momma could take care of herself too. There is so much to be thankful for if we can quiet that cruel inner voice in our heads.

Since that day, I have discovered a new outlook on group fitness. I no longer see it as group exercise. I see it as hanging and playing with friends. We challenging each other and support each other. I love to play and I love yoga. I love being on my mat in a room full of fellow yogi friends, feeling grateful and supported in my practice – not theirs. But yoga might not be your thing. Find your play, whatever it may be.

When we see group fitness as exercise and competition, no wonder we hate it. Who wants to put on spandex and be compared for an hour? Not me. What if we stopped comparing and wishing for a body other than our own? What if we focused all of the energy on the one amazing body we were given and start treating it right? Find the awesome in your body and do something good for it today. And every day.

Rest it. Move it. Nourish it. Listen to it. Love it.

Namaste y’all.

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  • Patricia Ploeger
    December 17, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    Thank you so much for the sweet share, McCall! Your words are so insightful and real and it always fascinates me to hear how others perceive life experiences so differently. It is totally understandable that some people despise exercise and how group fitness classes can seem intimidating and promote negative feelings and comparison. I don’t tell my story very often and I’ve never publicized it in any way but, unlike many, I actually love group fitness/exercise/meditation classes (obviously…I own a yoga and fitness studio!) so feel compelled to share some thoughts….

    When I was a toddler in the early 70s, I was “diagnosed” as hyperactive because I would, literally, run up and down hallways hundreds of times, over and over again, and climb bookcases and tables and whatever was in front of me, leading to multiple bouts of stitches before I was even two years old. I was the girl who loved P.E. class in elementary school and remember, in the summer between 7th and 8th grade, making my own “fitness book” by putting together cut-outs of exercises I found in my grandmothers “Women’s World” magazines. (Pinterest wasn’t around back then!) I was naturally driven to move a lot and would convince my friends to exercise with me after school.

    When I was in the 9th grade, my family and I moved across the country to a new, small town. I was not a happy teenager. At all. Leaving my friends and making new friends was, for some reason, very difficult for me at the time so I joined an after school aerobics class at the local “Y” to keep me occupied. This was ooold school aerobics from back in the Jane Fonda and Jazzercise days, mind you! The classes allowed me to “burn off” some of my anger and frustration, though, and helped me feel better through the positive endorphin release that exercise provides. The group dynamic also helped me feel connected to others at a time when when I felt so totally disconnected from my family and didn’t have any real friends.

    Although as a teenager I’m sure I cared and was self-conscious about my appearance, I really don’t remember ever thinking about trying to lose weight or trying to look a certain way. I’ve never been an “exercise addict.” I just remember enjoying exercise and those classes because they made me feel good. That’s why I got certified and began teaching group fitness as soon as I turned 17 years old and was allowed to work.

    Fast forward to later in life when I had the money, time and freedom to do pretty much anything I wanted…let’s just say that things got a little wild, weird and crazy. Because I always made fitness-particularly group fitness-a part of my life, I continued to take and teach classes even during some very dark, substance abuse-filled years. I truly believe GROUP exercise, not just exercise, saved me from becoming a full-fledged addict. Yes, I genuinely like and need lots of physical movement but I particularly like the energy a group setting provides. I’m not motivated enough to exercise on my own very often (gasp!) and I feel uplifted, supported and motivated by exercising with others. I think a lot of people may feel that way when dancing at a concert, sitting in church or participating in a group mediation.

    Speaking of meditation…it wasn’t until I tapped into yoga and meditation that I started to feel as though I’d found my calling in life. That is really another story altogether but, suffice it to say that when I feel really stressed, confused, disappointed, frustrated or sad, my personal yoga practice, yoga classes and yoga tribe help me feel better on a deeper level than regular exercise. I tell people all the time that I don’t practice/teach yoga because I’m a natural, zenned out, super flexible yogis girl. I do yoga because I need yoga in my life. I’m terrible at many, many, MANY yoga postures and could easily feel defeated by some of the strengths and abilities of those that attend my own classes. But I’ve learned, as you said, that yoga-like life-is a personal journey and we are not served well by judging and comparing but are enlightened through accepting and loving.

    For me, the practice of accepting and loving myself and others is perfectly and continuously presented in the yoga and fitness classes I attend and teach. I am sincerely grateful for all of my teachers and students for supporting me, for giving me the opportunity to learn and grow and, mostly, for allowing me to be myself-hyperactive and a little crazy-every single day.

    So, that’s my story and why I’m drawn to group therapy, uh, I mean, exercise. My hope is that everyone finds a path, a place or a position that leads them to feeling strong, empowered, confident, supported, loved, loving, forgiving, happy and peaceful.

    Namaste’ ~*~

  • Samantha Taylor
    December 20, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Yes yes yes! This is why I fell in love with yoga. Many yoga poses also make it physically impossible for you to look at other people because there’s a leg or an arm in the way haha! I think a yoga class is a great group setting to try out because of its nonjudgmental nature and focus on the self. If you have a great instructor (which I have been lucky to have), they will guide each of you through your own personal exploration, and soon, you’ll get so caught up in your own intention and journey that you don’t have time to compare. Yoga taught me to love my body and what it can do. Love this post McCall! Hopefully we’ll see you back at UNC soon!

  • fumcat
    April 5, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    I also dislike groups activities — especially exercise groups. I sing in a choir and love to play my piano (for myself only.) I call it exercise of the small muscles. Yoga is alright, but I would not want to join a group to learn it. Groups for the most part are not fun, but intimidating. There is always some comparison I make between me and the one next to me. Don’t tell me its in my head or to get over it. I am middle-aged and have always been that way — all the way through college. I had to learn to deal with group and social situations, gym class included. And, my aversion to exercise goes all the way back to high school where I was branded as slow, stupid and uncoordinated. My hatred of exercise and group sports increased over the years. I love to swim (by myself), or play badminton with one or two good friends. Long walks with or without my dog are great. But save me from the group exercise gurus who think everyone should like what they have to offer. Save me from gyms and their stupid machines. I almost killed myself on a treadmill once — skinned my knee trying to get off the thing. I fell off a big balance ball and the instructor laughed at me. So much for that experience. I don’t care if I don’t match others ideas of fitness. So I’m not fit — so what. I am now happier because I do what I want. Thank god for long walks — Nature, me, and my thoughts.