How to remove that awkward feeling while exercising

Many of us feel embarrassed about exercising because our bodies are less than perfect. Here’s how you can face those fears

Adhiraj Singh, 26, an assistant editor in a children’s magazine based in Mumbai, is cripplingly conscious about his man-boobs and the way his tummy jiggles when he jogs. “I just don’t like shaking it all up in front of strangers,” he says. It’s the reason he tried swimming instead. “I thought maybe under the water I can hide and avoid making eye contact.” But that hasn’t helped either, he has to wait for the showers to empty out completely before he can go in for a post-swim bath.

This self-consciousness has all but stopped his exercise routine. “I don’t think I will go to pools any more until I get my belly and chest in a controllable state,” he says. Singh is not alone. Body image is a major source of anxiety for people who are unfit.

“Indians are pretty intolerant towards people who are out of shape,” says Chandra Gopalan, director of Contours, a Bangalore-based, women’s-only gym. Gopalan, who runs ultra marathons with a group of men, was surprised to see that a lot of women who came to her gym were exercising for the first time in their lives. “There’s an apprehension in a lot of women about being judged by men at the gym,” says the 56-year-old. “And guys don’t help. They snigger and talk among themselves, making women conscious when they are doing cardio, like on a treadmill or cycle.”

Akshay Dhar, 30, a writer based in New Delhi, has always been on the heavier side. This has made going to the gym an uphill task. “People look down upon those who are overweight and make them feel terrible about themselves,” he says. Dhar has had to fend off jibes and well-meaning advice from people ever since school, which has made him all the more conscious about his weight. “It happened so frequently that I stopped going to a gym.” When his parents bought a treadmill and a cycle, Dhar started exercising in the privacy of his home.

Britton Brewer, a professor of psychology at Springfield College in Massachusetts, US, who specializes in sports and exercise psychology, believes that self-consciousness or anxiety about bodily aspects is one of the major reasons many people don’t exercise. “There is no single set of magic words that will work for everyone, but some people can benefit from a simple reminder of why they are exercising and what they hope to get out of it that day,” says Prof. Brewer in an email interview, adding that the more you exercise, the more you will get over exercise-related anxieties. We asked experts on how to deal with things that make you conscious while exercising.

My fat jiggles

Do you feel conscious about how your buttocks look when you are running outside or on the treadmill? Or, how fat rolls bulge from your track pants when you’re running? Well, you’re not alone. A lot of men and women spend time wondering if they look too unfit to run.

Get over it If you get conscious of the jiggles, cover them up smartly. “Go for full-control briefs or Spanx which rides up right under your bust,” suggests Jayati Bose, a celebrity stylist who works with actors like Priyanka Chopra and Sonam Kapoor. “Make sure they’re labelled as moisture-wicking so that all that sweat you generate is absorbed.” For the thighs and buttocks, Bose suggests a longer T-shirt. “Women can wear harem capris, which are fitted at the thigh, but baggy just below the knees, making your buttocks and thigh look thinner,” she says. The ones who’re conscious about their chicken-wing arms can opt for quarter- or full-sleeve tanks tops.

Everyone stares at me

You walk into a gym and you feel that all eyes are on you; and everyone is talking about how unfit you are.

Get over it Ironically, the only way to get over it is to exercise more. “Exercising is a viable means of reducing anxiety in general and social physique anxiety in particular,” says Prof. Brewer. Once you start exercising and feeling good about yourself, your worries will fall away. If you still feel really conscious, wear concealing exercise apparel and choose to exercise during low-traffic hours. “Participate with one or more friends or set exercise goals so that your focus changes from your awkwardness to your goals,” Prof. Brewer adds. As you become more consistent with your exercises, you will automatically forget about these anxieties and your mind will focus on your routine.

My pants tore

Clothes often tear in the gym or while exercising, especially at the crotch. “It’s awkward, but happens, and you’re not aware of it,” says Vesna Jacob, a fitness and wellness expert based in New Delhi.

Get over it Always keep an extra pair of pants in the locker room, suggests Jacob. “The most important thing is to have an attitude that these things can happen to anyone and today it happened to you, and that is all there is to it,” she says.

My breasts/chest bounce

Are you conscious while doing any cardio activity that involves running or jumping? Do you constantly feel someone is sniggering? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of people don’t exercise in public because they’re too conscious of others staring at their chests.

Get over it “Women should invest in a sports bra that fits well and is comfortable,” says Bose. While buying one, ensure that the straps, cups and band, including the side panels, make you feel comfortable by spot-jogging in the trial room. Men can opt for layering: a comfortable undershirt or vest with a larger-sized, half-sleeved T-shirt on top to hide the chest. Layering efficiently slims down the chest, hiding the bulges, and doesn’t let the nipples show through.

I am really awkward at weights

You pick up a weight and you’re scared it will fall on someone or on you. Your nightmare includes breaking a machine at the gym.

Get over it “Take help from an instructor or personal trainer on how to use the facilities at the gym till you feel confident,” says Prof. Brewer. You should be doing this anyway. Lifting weights needs proper technique and form, so work with your instructor till you get it right. And don’t be swayed by those lifting heavy weights; weightlifting, like all other exercises, must be done in proper progression. Your body must adapt and grow stronger by using lighter weights, and then you can increase it, slowly, over time.

I sweat like a pig

You love exercising but hate the dark, damp patches that colour your underarms, breasts, thighs and buttocks. And with sweat comes body odour.

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