In which a fat girl thinks about fitness

Fitness is a funny area for fat people.

I mean, I say funny. What I actually mean, for this person at least, is fitness is an area filled with potentially traumatising flashbacks to PE at school, where you’d get told off for being unable to hit a rounders balls, or throw a shot put, or serve in tennis, or shoot in hockey, but were terribly good at ‘fielding deep’, ‘fielding deep’ being the classic PE euphemism for ‘go and sit a long way over there and make daisy chains, and don’t get in the way of the sporty children.’ I was never naturally gifted in the areas that make for being good at competitive sport. I’m not naturally quick. I’m clumsy. I lack basic hand eye co-ordination. My first instinct when faced with a ball coming towards me is to get out of the way. My second instinct, unfortunately, is usually to stop the damn thing with my face.

And, under the age of 16, fitness and sport are treated as if they’re the same thing. PE stands for physical education, but the key piece of education that was never offered was the simple fact that if you’re no good at netball and detest long jump, it’s just as good for your physical fitness to just run about or go salsa dancing or learn to snowboard. For me it took about 10 years after leaving school to realise that being terrible at PE didn’t actually preclude doing exercise as an adult. Since then I’ve tried a lot of different exercise options outside of the world of competitive sport. I’ve been to gyms. I’ve swum. For one very bleak winter I ran. I’ve danced, and boxed, and lifted weights. I yoga’d and zumba’d. I’ve never managed to get consistently thin, but I have definitely got fitter, and as I’ve got fitter I’ve got more confident about what makes a good or a bad exercise instructor, and what makes an exercise programme something you’ll stick with or something you’ll give up, and given that I have a whole corner of the interweb set aside specifically for me to reckon things about stuff, I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you.

Here comes the inevitable list-bit (it’s a bit fitness class oriented but that’s what I’m into so tough)…

  1. If the instructor makes you feel crap, they’re a crap instructor. Yes – they need to be motivating. Yes – they need to encourage you to work hard. But, if they make you feel like a big fat failure because you can’t do a move, they’re doing a crap job at both those things. There are other classes. There are other gyms. There are other instructors. Time to move on.
  2. Find something you like enough to still do when it’s raining and you’re running late and it would be easier to just go straight home. It turns out I really like dance-based group classes. I would happily zumba or bokwa for hours on end. I really really detest running – I wish I liked it. It’s so handy – a pair of trainers and a positive attitude and you can do it anywhere. It’s by far the easiest way to keep up a fitness programme if you’re away from home a lot or don’t have much routine in your week, but it’s just horrible on every level. It’s boring, and repetitive, and it makes me feel like I might sick up a lung. Find something that makes you feel better about the world, not worse.
  3. Be prepared to try stuff you don’t think you can do – a few weeks ago I tried a class called Metafit. Now Metafit is freakishly hardcore but super short in duration, and realistically I could only do about 50% of the moves, but I felt amazing afterwards – all achievementy and proud. And it was horribly hard work, but it was only horribly hard work for 20 minutes, so it didn’t have the never ending relentless quality of attempting to run 5 miles. I haven’t been able to go back yet, but I’m planning to make it a regular class.
  4. If you really can’t do something, be prepared to say so or do something different instead. If you’re used to being terrible at PE, it’s really easy to think that not being able to do a particular move is your fault, and to just hide at the back of the class not being able to do it and feeling a bit meh. Don’t. A decent instructor should be able to give you an option that works for you.
  5. If you don’t like a class, think about trying the same class with a different instructor. It’s incredible how much difference a good instructor makes to the whole tone and feel of a class. Instructors are individuals and their teaching styles, choreography etc. vary massively even in classes run under the same branding or title. There are types of instructor I know I just won’t get on well with – usually the very shouty, hyper-competitive ones. But there are plenty of other fitness fishes in the sea.
  6. Remember that your instructor or trainer doesn’t know what it feels like for you. A lot of fitness instructors have never been fat – that means that when you point out to them that their super simple ‘body-weight’ training plan is way way harder for you because you’ve got a lot more body-weight to heave about the place, it can, occasionally, be a revelation. That’s fine. Just embrace the joy of having shared some knowledge. Sharing knowledge is always a beautiful thing.


So there you go – six random thoughts about exercise, from the point of view of a fat person. And there endeth the lesson for today. Go forth and exercise, or if you don’t fancy that, snuggle down under blanky and read books. That’s always nice too.


Author: Alison May

Writer. Creative writing teacher. Freelance trainer in the voluntary sector. Anything to avoid getting a real job... Aiming to have one of the most eclectic blogs around, because being interested in just one thing suggests a serious breakdown in curiousity.

5 thoughts on “In which a fat girl thinks about fitness”

  1. Fabulous blog, Alison, as ever, but I have to point out one thing…Terriblosity at games isn’t just the province the of ‘physically larger-bodied’..I was a skinny child with zero co-ordination and yet, somehow, I was supposed to have absorbed the rules of things like rounders by a kind of ‘educational osmosis’. I’d get put in to bat (or hit, or whatever it’s called) and then have sixteen people shouting at me things like ‘run! No, don’t run there! Run further! No, not that far!’ and then I’d fall over or get hit by the next ball or something. My chief tip for getting fit is – get a dog. A small dog that drives you insane if you ever sit down by jumping on you. You’ll find yourself running and walking for miles just to be able to have a cup of coffee in peace.


    1. Oh absolutely. All body shapes and sizes are welcome in my equal opportunities ‘crap at PE’ club. It’s a lovely club. There are biscuits and a range of exercise options. And a clubhouse. And wine. And dancing.


  2. I just scrolled down to the comments to say… what Jane Lovering said! I was and am pretty average weight, but very short sighted and with no hand eye coordination. PE was not a good thing. Eventually I discovered skating and swimming and dancing. I don’t have a dog yet though.


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