OPINION: The gym isn’t a place for competition. Don’t make it one

A woman wearing athletic clothes holds a barbell at the gym.
(Caelyn Smith • The Student Life)

After a winter break where my days consisted of binging “Pretty Little Liars” and ordering Doordash, I was apprehensive to climb the mountain that is Roberts Pavilion. As we make the transition from Zoom University to in-person residential living, many of us aren’t at our goal weight, fitness level or mental state. So, now more than ever, 5C students must be respectful and welcoming to people of all fitness levels, instead of judging others for their lack of fitness experience. 

I started college in person as a sophomore after spending essentially two years in quarantine. For me, quarantine consisted of almost no social interaction or exercise, and lots of insecurity. Going to college was supposed to be a segue back into normal life — connecting with peers, working on my mental health and exercising. 

I remember walking into Roberts and seeing everyone with Airpods in, sprinting six-minute miles and pumping what seemed like impossible weights. I was excited to get back into the swing of things, but insecure at the weight I had inevitably gained during quarantine and having to start from square one. I went upstairs and got on the elliptical, feeling accomplished and proud about starting my new journey. Just after I finished, someone leaned over and made a joke about how I had only been on the machine for twenty minutes, but I looked red as a tomato. At that moment, I wanted to drop my Celsius into the trash and run right back out the front door. But luckily, I had a great friend in my life who taught me about the endorphins released during exercise and showed me how to get started. This should be the blueprint around how we talk to our friends about exercise. 

Unfortunately, many of my peers have not been so lucky. They have been told that they are using machines wrong, that they are lazy for not going to the gym enough or laughed at for walking on a treadmill. Not only is this unnecessary and rude, it’s also counterproductive. Don’t shame your friends who choose not to go to the gym or make comments about how they’ve been skipping out on workouts. Shaming others for their workout habits can cause them to feel they aren’t the ‘type’ of person who can work out and that they don’t fit into that environment. 

In discussing exercise habits, people should also be considerate of other people’s COVID-19 concerns. Someone may want to be physically fit, but could be worried about spending time in an indoor, busy area. While someone may seem inactive, they really could be choosing to exercise by doing stretches in their room, jogging or taking walks, or practicing yoga. Instead of immediately judging or lecturing someone about their lack of fitness, take a moment to consider their circumstances and reframe what you were going to say. 

We need to get rid of the competitive, shaming, calorie counting and judgemental aspects of workout culture. Such behavior prevents newcomers from benefiting from facilities, making them feel insecure and unwelcome if they aren’t a student-athlete or fitness titan. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for working out with friends and giving helpful advice. But we must be conscious about how our words affect the people around us. Instead of asking your workout buddy how many calories they’ve burned or how far they’ve run, tell them how much you love going to the gym with them. We should encourage the mental health benefits that come along with getting into fitness, and how working out can be a time for self-care.

When attending classes, working jobs and keeping up a social life, everyone needs to take time to do something that relieves stress and increases energy. Going for a run, working out on the rowing machine or lifting weights can be extremely beneficial to have some time to internally focus on yourself before quickly moving on to the next task. If we can implement this new positive dialogue around exercise — where we welcome newcomers and help them when asked for advice, instead of giving unnecessary critiques — we will see a happier, healthier campus community. 

Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is a literature and film dual major. She loves her pugs, creative writing, and iced coffee. 

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