Posted on

Exercise is a Privilege

For the past year or so, I’ve made a dedicated effort to train for the zombie apocalypse get fit. I’m usually doing running, yoga, strength training, or some combination thereof. Since my husband and I can’t afford gym memberships or personal trainers, we make do with Daily Burn, an exercise video subscription service.

My fitness journey has had its ups and downs. I tend to binge, going really hard for a few weeks and then taking a day off that turns into a week off that turns into the loss of all the GAINZ. It’s easier to avoid doing that with the Daily Burn programs and with my husband as an exercise partner, so it’s all been going just fine…but I’m bored.

Not of exercising as a concept, of course. But Matt and I have been plugging away at the same program since April or May, having had to restart a few times and I am 100% over it. I know all the moves. I like the ones I like, but every time I have to do the ones I hate, I hate them just a little bit more. I know they’re coming. I dread them. I can’t frame them as a challenge to overcome anymore, they’re just torture. So I’m sitting here trying to think, “Okay. What can I try instead?” And I can think of plenty of things. I’d love to go rock climbing on the regular. I’d love to try a barre or dance class. I’d like to try a martial art like krav maga or jiu jitsu.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford any of that.

I don’t have any links or studies or anything, but today has definitely got me thinking about the privilege inherent in being part of fit culture, or whatever you want to call it. We as a society put a lot of emphasis on a very slim or at least very athletic body type (see: “strong is the new skinny”), but huge amounts of time, money, and energy are required to accomplish even a little of that.

It’s true that for most people, a brisk half-hour walk once a day is sufficient to maintain health. But for people who are looking to modify their body, either to lose weight or to gain strength or muscle definition, that probably won’t be enough. Most of the Daily Burn intermediate/advanced programs are forty minutes to an hour of exercise. My 5k (3.1 miles) run today took me 37.31 minutes, and then I spent fifteen minutes stretching and recovering. Add in changing or shower time, if you have to go to work or school or just out afterwards.

I work out a lot. We usually try for a six days on, one day off schedule, with varying degrees of success. I’ve considered running to and from my part-time bookstore job to more efficiently fit exercise into my schedule, but there’s not exactly a locker room anywhere nearby for me to shower and change and make myself presentable for work. Odds are, unless someone is a gym member or works at a fancy corporate place, that will be true for them too.

Honestly, the only reason I’m able to work out as much as I do is because most days, I don’t have to leave my house for more than a few hours, in the evening. I have all day at home to fit that hour of exercise in. That’s a luxury, and there are even days when *I* skip exercising (in my home) because I need more time to do my work–which I do at home. People who work a full-time job, or multiple jobs, or have kids or a long commute or other obligations–when are they supposed to put this extra work in?

Matt and I signed up for Daily Burn because it’s pretty affordable at $13/month. Many of their beginner programs don’t require equipment, or only a yoga mat. We did their bodyweight training program, had a lot of fun with it, and made progress on our muscle-building. But in order to move to a more advanced program, we had to buy free weights and plyo boxes. Bodyweight training is excellent and can take a person pretty far, but depending on what their goals are, it won’t be enough.

Even for something supposedly simple, like running, there are costs: good shoes so you don’t ruin your ankles and knees, exercise clothes for a variety of weather so you don’t overheat or get pneumonia, accessories like water bottles or belt packs for keys and phones. Sure, it’s possible to run without these things, and I have done it–it sucks and isn’t very inspiring to continue.

I think gyms are great in lieu of buying your own equipment. I went to Planet Fitness for a long time before I moved to Portland on their $10/month plan, which was great, because I was a server at the time making $2.83/hr + tips. But the $10/month plan doesn’t include any classes or trainers (at least it didn’t at that time), and because of that, I may have been exercising, but I wasn’t exercising well. I had no guidance and no sense of what was required to get the body I wanted; I’d do one set of ten reps on a machine and feel like I’d done enough. The cost of that guidance–and other helpful things, like childcare at the gym–is reflected in higher membership or a la carte fees, and it’s prohibitive for a lot of people.

Also, exercise is exhausting. That’s kind of the point. And for all that it helps me feel strong and safe, there are days when I can’t do it. I’m not even talking about the depression days when I can barely get off the couch. Exercise is about pushing your body, your whole self, to its limits so that you can improve your strength, your stamina, your flexibility, your speed, your mindfulness, etc. It is hard fucking work, and on top of the obvious physical demands, it takes a shit ton of mental energy and focus whether you’re doing it for fifteen minutes or an hour. And if I’m feeling even a little bit apathetic, it takes twice as much out of me to lift weights safely or to run with good form.

Hell, I was feeling fantastic this morning and then I ran three miles over four hours ago and I still haven’t bounced back from that effort. Not everyone has the spoons for this shit.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about the other factors here, like how food matters more than exercise for weight and general health, and how fucking also, you can be super fit and strong and flexible and still be fat so stop acting like fat people just need to ‘get off their asses’ or whatever?

I don’t really have a conclusion, here, but between my own musing today and things I’ve seen in recent weeks, I wanted to ramble through and maybe start a discussion about this. I feel like every time a Facebook friend posts something about wanting to lose weight or exercise, the post gets swamped with others posting at length about their own regimens and saying DO AS I DO without considering differences between goals and circumstances, without even asking what the OP has already tried. I see exercise clothing advertisements highlighting only one body type, which seems to encourage people to work out to slim down rather than encouraging strength at every size. I’ve seen memes and posts making fun of all the fat poor people who shop at Wal*Mart and “let themselves go” and “don’t care” and it’s all just so much punching down and it’s NOT okay.

Exercising and losing weight is not accessible to everyone and I kinda just want to make sure we all realize that.