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High School PE Sucked - Four Reasons Why Working Out At the Gym Doesn’t

It’s all about bodily autonomy, baby

By RosePublished 2 years ago 7 min read
2
High School PE Sucked - Four Reasons Why Working Out At the Gym Doesn’t
Photo by Risen Wang on Unsplash

Recall your high school PE class. Does it bring up thoughts of hefting your body up onto high bleachers? Do you imagine a scuffed up wooden floor shimmering dustily beneath fluorescent lights? Do you recoil at the memory of the dull thud of a red inflatable danger-sphere coming into contact with your shoulder during dodgeball? Are your olfactory senses flooded with the odor of greasy, fumbling, over-ripe adolescence?

I’m sure that some people enjoyed physical education, but those people weren’t the crowd I ran with. We were the fat kids, the uncoordinated kids, the ones who deliberately forgot the school ordained gym sweats in order to avoid getting naked in the locker room. For me, PE meant wheezing and fumbling. You know that presidential fitness test they made us do every year? Yeah, well, I never managed to land so much as one push-up, and “running” a mile took me thirty minutes.

It sucked. A lot.

If my sixteen-year-old self could see me at thirty-seven, paying for a gym membership and deliberately utilizing it three times a week, she would be shocked. To be honest, I’m a little baffled that I spend most of my days off at the gym, and that I like it. How could this be happening? Have I contracted the fitness equivalent of Stockholm syndrome?

They say that we don’t really change as we become older, but instead become more ourselves. This has certainly been true for me in most situations. Therefore, as much as I would like to believe that I’ve transformed into the kind of person who pursues fitness in the face of discomfort and adversity, I know that’s not true. What’s true instead is that I’ve never hated fitness or moving my body. PE class was just an inherently hostile environment. Being allowed to seek out a positive environment has made a world of difference.

Perhaps you also once dreaded phys ed, and are looking for some reasons why joining your local gym or fitness center might be less traumatizing.

Well, good news! I’ve got them! Below you will find four reasons why going to the gym is better than high school PE class. Perhaps one of them will inspire you to grab your sneakers and give it a try.

1. When you take yourself to the gym as a grown-up, you can do what you want

In high school, there was nothing that I hated more than baseball. During my PE instructor’s classes on soccer and and volleyball, I could hide in the back and make vague motions in the general direction of the ball if it happened to come close to me. Sure, I was picked last for every team, but the dynamics of these sports made it possible for me to zone out and escape notice. Not so with baseball! Every student had to take their turn at bat, and it was like being under a spotlight.

I get why PE foisted a whole host of team sports upon us. The goal of the class, presumably, was to help the students find a fitness related activity that they enjoyed. How could anybody know that they didn’t like baseball without even trying it? I’m not bitter that PE class forced me to experience new things. I am, however, relieved that I’ll never again be thrust into a sport against my will.

At the gym, I mostly swim. I chose this form of exercise because I look hot in a bikini because I’m a fan of water. I also spend a lot of time watching Star Trek while pedaling on the stationary bike, and listening to over the top Broadway villain songs on the elliptical. It’s fun. I get to do my own thing, free from distress or boredom.

2. You don’t have to be good at anything

During my junior year if high school, I embodied the stereotype of the high-achieving student who ruined everything by getting a C in gym. I was taking Dance, and I actually loved it. Sport based PE has never been my jam, but I love swaying around to music. We even got to choreograph our own dance, to whatever song we wanted. My inner theatre nerd was beyond gratified! I chose Under Pressure from We Will Rock You (the musical), and I was the only person in the class to make a costume for the performance.

The C came as a surprise. I’d assumed that, since I was trying, I’d get a good grade. However, no amount of trying and cheerful participation can make up for a complete lack of coordination.

I’m a horrible dancer. I have dyspraxia. I move left when I’m meant to move right, I have no rhythm, and I’m constantly a step or three behind. Getting graded on my ability in this respect was never going to work out for me, and I certainly wasn’t going to take more dance classes at the expense of my GPA, even if they were fun and beneficial to my health.

These days, one of my favorite classes at the gym I go to is Retro Step. It’s essentially dance, and I’m essentially a hot mess every time I walk into the studio. However, nobody is grading me on it. My goal isn’t to be a great retro stepper. My goal is to burn some calories without hating every second of it. I now have the freedom to accomplish that goal, without a pesky report card hanging over my head. I’m by far the worst person in the retro step group class, and I don’t care.

3. You have bodily autonomy

The worst part about high school PE was the asthma attacks. Since my albuterol inhaler was considered a controlled substance, it lived in the nurse’s office, and I had to go back to see her whenever I needed it. I couldn’t carry it in my purse, the way I do now.

Warm up for each gym class consisted of running in circles around a track, like hamsters on a wheel. On cold autumn mornings, the walk from the classroom to the track was enough to make my lungs tighten. Forget about running. Each step made my insides feel prickly and full of mucus. I’d breathe harder, as if to force air into a body that had become actively adverse towards receiving oxygen.

Asking to go to the nurse to get my inhaler went okay the first couple of times, but after a while, my tendency to duck out of PE as soon as it started raised suspicion. I get it. I’m a teacher. If a student always needs to use the bathroom the second my class starts, I assume they’re trying to weasel out of their work. I let them go because I’m not a monster, but it doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence in their desire to give learning their all.

My PE teacher did not always let me go to the nurse for my inhaler. He was of the opinion that if I wasn’t passing out, I was probably fine. To his credit, it seems he was correct in his belief that I would survive his class, even as I was actively struggling to breathe. That didn’t make it any less distressing.

These days, whenever I use the machines at the gym, I use one cup holder for my drink and the other for my inhaler. I don’t always need it, but it’s comforting to have it there, and know that I am allowed to use it whenever I need to. Moreover, if an exercise doesn’t work for me, or I start to feel unwell for any reason, I can always stop. Even when I’m taking a group class, if I want to pause to take some medicine, or even walk out of the class and abandon the activity entirely, I get to do that.

4. You’re not facing your peer group

My gym is far from crowded. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of people. I’ve come to recognize familiar faces, and there are a handful of gym-goers who I chat with sometimes. However, I don’t rely on them for my social life. I don’t see them every day, or have to worry whether or not they’ll still take me seriously in Poetry class after seeing me huff and sweat my way through a workout that they could do in their sleep. If there is some kind of popularity hierarchy at the gym, I haven’t noticed it, and I wouldn’t care about it anyway, because it wouldn’t impact the non-exercising part of my life.

High school is just a four-year blip in our lives, but it doesn’t feel like that when you’re entrenched in it. It feels like your whole world. Therefore, displaying your lack of physical prowess to the rest of the student body is emotionally akin to displaying it to the universe. I appreciate being an adult and having my fitness life compartmentalized away from the rest of my life. How I’m perceived at the gym and how I’m perceived elsewhere are totally separate things, and I like that.

——

And that’s all. Going to the gym can be scary for those of us who have had bad experiences in the past, but those experiences don’t have to ruin our relationship with fitness forever. As adults, we get to create our own experiences. What kind of experience do you want to create?

athleticsbodyfitnesswellness
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About the Creator

Rose

This is just a hobby.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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