How to embrace fitness when being unhealthy is a core part of your ‘identity’ – Women’s Agenda

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Last week, a sponsored ad popped up on my Instagram feed. It was for a vintage tee-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘Not good at any sports.’ If I’d have seen the tee-shirt this time last year, I would have added it to cart so I could wear my lack of sporting prowess on my sleeve.

At the time, I was working at a fashion magazine and being unhealthy was a part of my identity. I ate ice-cream for breakfast, refused to wear activewear in public and counted my four-minute walk from the light rail station to the office as my daily exercise. 

It was a schtick, a running joke, a fun fact ready to deploy during those awkward icebreaker activities. Hi, my name’s Alley and I eat ice-cream for breakfast.

But I also genuinely thought I couldn’t “do” sports. The last time I exercised was in Grade 10 PE (before I asked my mum to write me a note to get out of it) and I still get a cold shiver when I hear a beep that reminds me of the Beep test.

I wasn’t any good at exercising, so I didn’t do it. I told myself I could get away with being slack because I was young and had a fast metabolism. Then I turned 28.

I also moved from the city to a small town with no UberEATS – and left my very social office job for freelancing on the couch by myself. I missed interacting with people so much, I did something completely out of character and signed up for an eight-week, high intensity interval training (HIIT) bootcamp.

At my first class, I struggled through a brutal round of stretches and exercises, only to realise it was the WARM-UP routine. Half-way through the actual circuit, I had an escape route planned if I needed to do a tactical vomit in the bushes.

The skipping was the worst. I could only do one leg at a time and had to take breaks (usually to swear) every few skips. Contrary to how easy those little kids doing ‘Jump Rope for Heart’ make it look, skipping is hard.

I took solace in knowing I wasn’t the only shit skipper in the group of 12 women – not that I relish in other people’s failures, or anything, just that I felt comforted I wasn’t alone.

I was also comforted by my coach, Chelsea Balcomb at Thrive With Chels, who enthusiastically cheered me on and told me when I had good form and when I needed to sink lower into my squats. For someone who needs constant positive reinforcement but also needs to be pushed, Chelsea was a whip-cracking angel.

A few weeks into the bootcamp, I admitted to Chelsea that I’d never exercised as an adult and she said something that stuck, “Being fit isn’t a personality trait.” Mind = blown. In a single sentence, Chelsea debunked my long-held philosophy that I simply wasn’t born to exercise: that I was too uncoordinated, too weakly, too inflexible.

“I think a lot of us – myself included – have this self-limiting belief that we don’t fit into that box of being someone who’s into exercise, and so, we block ourselves from being fit and active,” explains Chelsea. “One of the biggest barriers is breaking down those self-limiting beliefs and finding the motivation to get up and do something. Once you take action and then see and feel the results, more motivation will follow.”

It’s true. The first time I skipped – with two feet – for an entire rep, I squealed with joy and pride. Sure, it was only 30 seconds, but considering I could barely do four skips in a row when I started, it was a moment of victory.

“For some complete beginners to exercise, there’s an instant flick of the switch after one session. For others, it’s a longer process. So much of that process is psychological,” says Chelsea.

I realised my switch had been flicked when I started to look forward to my thrice weekly bootcamp classes and stopped audibly groaning when I arrived and saw the skipping ropes set up. I still wouldn’t consider myself a “fit” person, but I’m not unfit any more.

And I only eat ice cream for breakfast on special occasions now. If that isn’t progress, I don’t know what is…

GET FIT TIPS FOR FIRST TIMERS

Personal trainer extraordinaire, Chelsea Balcomb, shares her expert advice for conquering your fear of exercising…

JUST DO IT

“Honestly, the hardest part is starting. If you’re thinking about integrating exercise into your life, just get up and take action. Fitness is for you!”

JOIN A GANG

“Group exercise classes are a fantastic way to get into fitness and meet like-minded people to share the journey with. It helps to feel like you’re all in it together. Working out with other people is always more motivating, and it means you don’t have to step into a gym by yourself, which can be really intimidating.”

COACH UP

“Find a coach that you trust and who gives good information, support and encouragement. When I started working out and prioritising my health, it was a catalyst for a huge mindset shift for me. I value myself a lot more now, and I want to share that feeling with others. It can be life-changing.”

THINK AHEAD

“I like to challenge people to think ahead to the next five or ten years. What do you want your life to look like? Imagine what you can achieve in that time if you start now.”

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