Weight lifting

Opinion editor and columnist Peyton Hamel opens up about her workout journey and how going to the gym has helped her overcome some personal troubles. 

Once upon a time, I was really, really bored and impulsively bought a gym membership. That was the only reason why I started working out a month and a half ago. I bought the gym membership, got my butt up at 5:45 in the morning and got out the door. And I went alone.

The only time I had ever looked at free weights was in seventh grade when I took weight lifting as an elective. I can remember laughing my butt off watching my friend struggle through a seated leg press, growling like she was giving birth, but that was pretty much it besides learning the basic bicep curls and the like. 

When I walked into the gym the first time, I stared at all the free weights and could only think about how everything looked so complicated... and heavy. Here was my thought process:

I know how to do bicep curls at those dumbbell things. (Is that what they're called?) I know I can squat at that metal thingy-ma-jig, but how do I set that up? There are treadmills upstairs. Should start there? Running is easy, right? (Later I find out that it's not and I look like a red, slapped chicken.) I found the yoga mats! Wait, that same thing I can squat at, isn't that the same thing I can bench press at? Why do these benches all move in different ways? There are so many mirrors. Like everywhere. 

That wasn't even the half of it. 

I felt like a complete fool. I didn't feel like I was in Disneyland. 

As time went on, I got better about going to the gym, but I also got worse in the sense that I had been losing the will to actually go. We can talk about how motivation, health benefits and confidence gains are all great reasons to go to the gym, but I found one reason that I latched onto when I first started going: I don't have to. Getting dressed into my gym clothes, grabbing my water bottle, keys and earbuds was one of the hardest things about going to the gym. I just didn't want to get up.

I eventually got to the point where I knew the basics of how to work out. I gave myself a regimented schedule. Monday: full body. Tuesday: leg day. Wednesday: arm day. Thursday: back day. Friday: do whatever you want. I also decided to run at the end of every day. 

I tried new equipment because I was curious, and I usually ended up liking doing them. I started keeping my personal records on my phone, and I gave and maintained my own goals. 

But then I found myself watching others work out. And I couldn't decide if I was self-conscious or someone wanting to learn. Especially when I watched this girl workout at the squat rack every day. I see her every morning and hope she doesn't know I'm looking. I'm not necessarily looking at her, but rather what she is doing. I watch the kind of workouts she tries, I watch her form and I watch because I'm the new kid on the block and I really want to know what I'm doing. 

I learned a lot from her, but I got self-conscious. I'm squatting baby plates while these other women are squatting upwards of 200 pounds — at least. What's the point?

It got really hard to want to pick up a 12.5-pound dumbbell to do a simple bicep curl. God, I'm weak. So I stopped wanting to go. But then I made myself go. Get up. Put on your shorts. Brush your teeth. 

I got to the point where I kind of wanted to go. I stopped watching and started focusing on myself, like I should have been in the very beginning. I set a few rules to keep myself in check:

Rule number one: Don't compare yourself to others.

Rule number two: At the end of the day, you are responsible for you and only you. 

Rule number three: Set your own goals.

I suddenly felt comfortable. I wasn't afraid to squat my cute 85 pounds anymore. No one was looking at me. And if they were, they probably knew I was trying to put in the effort to get better. Just like they were when they first started.

I always work on my form, challenge how many reps I can make and try to break my PRs every week. Apparently — which I learned today — I can actually squat 125 pounds. I'm mighty proud. That was a big jump from the 85 pounds a month ago. I make sure I'm "ass to grass" with my barbell squats (meaning my butt literally almost touches the ground every rep).

I enjoy running now — or at least on the treadmill I do. You can't catch me dead running outside. I always wonder if I will run too far and physically can't make it back because my calves decided to quit on me. 

But there is something that I still don't enjoy thinking about. I hope no one is looking at me. I know I am probably doing something wrong at some point and looking dumb. I will probably always be self-conscious, but I'm proud of myself for even showing up. I'm doing more than showing up at the gym. I'm showing up for myself. 

My impulse decision to buy a gym membership helped me get over a lot of personal troubles and became a part of my daily routine. A weird part of my identity. 

I feel more confident, more social, more focused throughout the day, more relaxed, more worn out. I can sleep at night. But I still hate when I realize people look at other people at the gym. I'm looking at her and someone else is probably looking at me. Usually out of curiosity, but it's still unnerving. While they may be looking, no one is judging. We are all here to show up for ourselves and we are always glad to see others doing the same for themselves. 

peyton hamel profile pic (copy)

Opinion Editor Peyton Hamel is a junior in kinesiology - human medicine, genetics and English. 

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Editorials are longer opinion pieces that are written by a group of community members recruited across campus who address relevant issues on a local, national and international level. Editorials are research-based. The purpose of the Editorial Board is to promote discussion concerning relevant issues in the community while advising on possible solutions. Topics are chosen via relevancy and interests of the members, which are then discussed by the Editorial Board in order to reach a general consensus concerning the topic or issue.

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