Today is the day after I went to gym and the group exercise class instructor left me in tears after class. It was a spin class. Sprint class, HIIT training. Perfect for me because you can choose to make the class as hard or as easy as you need to, by turning the resistance dial on the bike.
The instructor is there to guide you through the class, to create the peaks and high intensity sections, alternating with rest and lower intensity sections. The class is a mix of ‘sprints’ (riding as fast as you can against low or no resistance on the bike) and ‘strength’ (turning up the resistance to maximum). There is middle ground also, ‘Power’ where you ride against moderate resistance, and it’s the instructor’s job to guide you through the workout, ensuring you get a mix of cardio and strength training. It’s a great workout. It’s zero impact, as the entire workout is on the spin bike. It’s also completely adaptable because the sprint section is as fast as YOU can go, and the power section is the maximum resistance YOU can push.
Or it’s supposed to be.
I have multiple disabilities and health problems. Every class I attend I tell the instructor about the issues that affect me most – rheumatoid arthritis that affects most of my joints, lumbar spine pain, left sided weakness and left leg partial paralysis. I also have adrenal insufficiency, and I experience fatigue and muscle pain and I have to be careful I don’t over stress my body, because my body doesn’t make the cortisol necessary to manage the physical stress of an intense workout.
These issues affect how fast I can go, and how hard I can push on the bike. On days where my RA is less severe, I can push much harder and ride much faster. I am currently in a prednisone taper, and so my capabilities are dropping by the week. I have far less strength, and far less energy.
I still want to exercise.
Even if I only go and gently make the wheels go around, it is good for me to go. I am still loosening up my joints. I am still maintaining some muscle tone and joint mobility. I am still getting out of the house and into a room with other people. It is worth it to me.
I should be allowed to do that. I am paying for a membership. I should be able to use the equipment and classes as I need to, in the way that benefits my body, and my health, without the weight of able-bodied expectation.
Yesterday this instructor got in my face and tried to push me beyond my limits. She went so far as to come down and turn the resistance dial on the bike to force me to push harder.
This is NOT OK.
I know how hard I can work. I have been living with these illnesses and disabilities for many years. I work with them. I give it my all EVERY time I’m in the gym. I figure what’s the point of going to all that effort of getting myself to gym and NOT giving it my best? I am motivated. I am an experienced gym junkie. I have exercised all my life. I give it my all, every time.
The thing is, my ‘all’ looks very different from day to day. Some days you couldn’t tell that there’s anything wrong with me, I’m going as hard and fast as anyone else.
Other days…well, I’m just gently making the wheels turn.
I have explained all of this to all the instructors whose classes I attend. I am limited as to when I can go to gym. I can’t do early mornings, nor afternoons. So I can only attend mid-morning or lunchtime classes. I tend to attend the same classes every week, with the same instructors. Partially because I need the instructor to understand my limitations, and to let me work at my own pace.
This one instructor has a habit of pushing everyone. She shouts out encouragement. She pushes everyone hard. She gets off her bike and comes and checks the resistance level on your bike. She calls out things about burning calories and losing weight and building the body of your dreams.
Here’s the thing.
NOT EVERYONE IS IN THE GYM TO LOSE WEIGHT!
She sees me, an obese 48 year old woman, and she sees someone unfit, lazy who clearly overeats. I have been going to her class for a few months now, and I haven’t lost any weight. So she decides she has to push me harder. I’m not reaching my goals. Because the only reason you’d got to gym is to build your dream body, right?
Wrong. And I have told her she is wrong. I am overweight because of the medications I take. I do not overeat. In fact, I do not ‘eat’ in the common sense of the word at all. I exist on purees of vegetables and fruit. Sometimes some slow cooked to pieces chicken or beef. Very occasionally a small piece of steak, which I chew and chew so carefully and still struggle to swallow. I take in between 600 and 1400 calories a day. Medically I should not be overweight, let alone obese.
I do not need diet advice. I live on a very restrictive diet, there are very few foods I can eat. I have done studies in nutrition. I am not kidding myself or sleep walking to the fridge at night.
I have exercised all my life. I have always gone to gym, or done martial artis, or jogged. I may not look like it, because, as I explained, I am SICK! These diseases mess you up! As do some of the medications I need to stay alive! They change your body composition and your body shape. All of this is outside of my control.
For the record, I am also a qualified personal trainer. I know as much as she does about fitness. I know how to train myself. I know my limitations. I know what I’m doing. I want to work out in a gym. I want to enter the class, switch off my brain, and just follow the leader. I don’t want to think about what to do or program my own workout. That’s why I pay to do these group exercised classes.
But she will not get it. Yesterday when she came to my bike (admittedly as she does other people in the class also) and got in my face and tried to push me harder, I told her I was going as hard as I could. She didn’t listen. She told me I could give more, work harder. She reached down and turned the resistance dial to right and pushed me harder. Forced me to work at a higher level. Called me out very publically.
I am a very competitive person. I don’t compete with others, I compete with myself. But I compete hard. If someone is inches from my face yelling at me to go harder, I go harder. I push myself. Sometimes too hard.
Which is what I did yesterday. I pushed myself way to hard, to the point of feeling sick and light-headed and wanting to cry. Then my bike seat loosened, I got off and fixed it, and she was back again, telling me to hurry up, fix the bike, get back on, go, go, go!
I told her it was fine, I needed a break. I got back on, the seat moved again. She was straight in my face again, pushing me towards a different bike, telling me to move faster! Get on the bike! Just leave the old one! Go! Go! Go!
I felt harassed and badgered. I wanted to cry. I was in bad pain. I was working as hard as I could. I needed a minute of recovery, instead she was inches from my face, pushing and pushing and pushing.
I don’t need that shit. I know she thought she was encouraging me, but it felt like bullying. I felt like she called me out in the middle of the class, and everyone was staring. I was limping, because I have a permanent limp (left legged paralysis). I have explained to her why. I have explained to her that I have to pace myself.
And yet, she continued. To be fair, she does that to everyone, not just me. But yesterday she focused on me way too hard. She didn’t push anyone else, just me.
I have been told I’m too sensitive. I should have just told her to stop. Well, I did. I told her I was going as hard as I could. She wouldn’t let up.
I have been told I should have ignored her. It’s hard to do when someone is inches from your face. Also, I have a right to enjoy my spin class. To NOT have someone standing next to me pushing me to go faster, to increase the resistance, to burn more calories. NO one should ever touch someone else’s resistance dial. I control my workout. Me.
I know she doesn’t realise what she’s doing. She thinks she’s helping. She ‘means well’. But I’ve explained to her that I am disabled and I know how hard I can push myself. I’ve told her I’m in that class to increase my strength, because I have degenerative diseases. I know she doesn’t realise what she’s doing. She ‘means well’. She is a good person, but she’s being ignorant. I’ve explained to her that I am disabled, and I know how hard I can push myself. I’ve talked to her twice. Yet she persists. So ‘meaning well’ doesn’t really count.
I have a right to use the gym. I’m a vulnerable person. It is ableist and elitist to try to push me into working harder, to someone else’s definition of a ‘good’ workout. I know my body. I know my capabilities. I know when I can push hard, and when I need to take it easy.
I say again. Not everyone is in the gym to lose weight. Some of us are there to rehab. Some of us are there to try to maintain the fitness and strength we have, for as long as possible, even though we know we’re fighting a losing battle against a degenerative disease (or two) that is slowly winning.
My best is just as good as anyone else’s best. It doesn’t look the same. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t look the same.
Its not easy to make myself go to spin classes. Its painful. I ache all over. I’m exhausted BEFORE I begin. I take a lot out of the tank to exercise. I’m doing it for the greater good, for my long-term health. To give myself the best chance of a longer, more functional, life. I try to enjoy the class, but I can’t enjoy it when someone is in my face demanding more than my body can give. And making me feel bad about not being able to perform to a healthy person’s ability.
Obesity is a symptom of my disease. It is NOT the cause. I have been fit and lean all my life, until I took a drug that made me gain massive amounts of weight. And I had my ovaries removed in what ranks as the biggest mistake of my life.
So here I am today, its 15 minutes to class time, and I’m not going. Yesterday’s experience with this instructor has broken my resolve. She has beaten me. She has driven me out of gym. I just can’t deal with that crap today.
Tomorrow there’s a different instructor, and I will go then.
I have the odds stacked against me every time I walk into gym. Just getting there is an achievement. Then I have pain, dizziness, nausea, lack of energy, muscle weakness, stiff joints, a paralysed left leg…it’s a lot to deal with. The class instructor should be there to help me, support me, and understand my abilities. Not try to push me outside my safety zone for some ideal body image that no longer means anything to me, and is certainly not my goal.