April 28, 2008

Losing Your "Cool"

[By Crabby]

I suppose I shouldn't admit this, but one of my favorite things about exercising (and there aren't that many) is the "coolness" factor.

Sure, we're supposed to just do it for our health and our sense of accomplishment or whatever. Because we're all far too secure and self-confident and evolved to care what other people think of us.

But for me, feeling cool and smug is one of the best parts of getting exercise! I know there must be others like me too, aren't there? We imagine that our sedentary friends who find out we go to the gym at 6am, or even complete strangers in cars who see us running uphill in pouring rain are thinking: wow, I could never make myself do that! (Instead they are more likely thinking "what a crazy freak," but that's irrelevant. We know we're cool).

(How Crabby Imagines Herself When She Exercises)

Imagined Coolness is part of what makes those intervals and sore muscles and early wake-up times worth it. Look at me! I'm exercising! Isn't that awesome! Don't I rock?

(Closer to How Crabby Actually Comes Across)

When Even Imagined Coolness is Impossible

Unfortunately, some exercise situations are NOT conducive to even an imagined sense of coolness. I'm sure everyone has their own list. Are there ever times when you feel particularly self-conscious about your workout?

I'd love to hear what your own personal Un-favorites are. In the meantime, here are mine:

Top Six Ways to Feel Uncool Exercising

1. Do Stupid-Looking Stretches Outside of a Class.

If you're in an actual yoga or other fitness class, with an instructor and a bunch of other helpless victims students, you can practically bend over and stick your head up your ass (if you are flexible) without feeling stupid. Because the instructor told you to stick your head up your ass, and so you're supposed to, and everyone else is doing it too!

However, what happens when you are not in class but instead are out on your own in the tiny stretching area in the corner of the gym? And all around you are burly weight lifters and snotty type-A executives on treadmills who have not themselves ever been to stick-your-head-up-your-ass class? Do you still go right ahead and do it?

One of my least least favorite stretches for public consumption is, I think, called the Cat Stretch. You get on all fours and curl your back up towards the ceiling (not too bad), but then you do the opposite and drop your stomach towards the floor and stick your rear end way up in the air like an animal in heat. Unfortunately, it is the second part of this stretch, the butt-in-the-breeze part, that I most need to do to loosen up my tight lower back muscles.

My other least favorite is the iliotibial band stretch, in which you cross your legs and do a side stretch. I look like a six year old child who desperately needs to pee. But if I don't cross my legs, I don't get much of a hip stretch.

See, Even Cute People Look a Bit Silly Doing This
(Photo: Dr. Pribut, provider of handy Sports Medicine tips).

Sometimes I close my eyes when I do these stretches so no one can see me.

2. Go Race Walking

I've written about race walking before, (twice) so I won't belabor it.

Let's just say I saw finally saw someone else besides me race-walking a few weeks ago. And my immediate gut-level uncensored reaction was: "what an asshole!" The guy was doing it much more gracefully than I ever do, too. But there seems to be no way to race-walk without looking simultaneously prissy and deranged, unless maybe you're doing it in an official race with a number on your chest.

3. Try New Things at the Gym

It's supposed to be good to try new things, right? And it's no problem if you have a personal trainer to introduce appropriate new exercises and show you how to do them.

But what if you're too cheap to hire one and prefer to read about new exercises on the internet that sound cool but you have no clue how to do them in real life?

I have too many examples of this to list them all... but here's one: not long ago I read a very persuasive article about the amazing benefits of running backwards on the treadmill.

It's, um... somewhat harder than it sounds.

4. Exercise Out of Context

You're standing on a platform waiting for a train or whatever. There are lots of people around, but plenty of space still available. You realize you could be making efficient use of this wasted time by doing the stretching you forgot to do for the last three days, or, if you're particularly willing to look like a jerk, knocking out some jumping jacks or push-ups.

Do you?

There are stealth moves, like pretending to tie your shoes to stretch out your hamstrings, but if you do it without bending your knees you still look kinda funny.

If you have a co-conspirator, I've discovered, you feel less doofy exercising out of context, but it's surprisingly hard to do alone, even if it's a perfectly logical thing to do.

5. Make Peculiar Clothing Choices

Hey, 10776-- Orange hat with a red shirt? Don't think so!
(Photo by Marganz)

Sometimes these fashion violations are not intentional. Ever realize that all your running clothes are in the laundry and too toxic for the "shake-it-out and pretend it's clean enough" recovery method?

Do you skip your workout? Or do you do it anyway, wearing something tattered and sweat-stained, or originally intended as a gag gift, or belonging to another person who may be a child or your 83 year old mother-in-law or someone 10 inches taller than you?

Note: it does not help you look like less of a weirdo to announce loudly to no one in particular that you don't normally dress like this.

6. Karaoke Syndrome

The only way to truly make aerobic exercise enjoyable, in my opinion, is to do it to the pounding beat of music on an mp3 player. I do NOT sing along when people are around (though I may sometimes be forced to mouth the lyrics silently to myself if the beat is too good).

But sometimes I find myself alone first thing in the morning, and the street or the trail or the track or whatever is deserted, and I think... what the hell.

How liberating to sing along with the rockin' beat! It makes aerobic exercise almost fun! Wheeee!

And so what if you're middle-aged, can't carry a tune, and will sing along to just about anything on your playlist? It's fun!

"You and me baby we ain't nothing but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel..."

"Can't you hear the music pumpin' hard like I wish you would?
Now push it, push it reeeeeal good..."

Why is it that the more inappropriate the lyrics are, the more likely someone is to come bounding around a blind curve or pass you sneakily from behind?

Nothing like discovering your off-color warbling has been audible.

Does anyone else ever feel hopelessly Uncool during your workout?


  1. does feeling hopelessly uncool (and, must be noted, UNCARING :)) during LIFE count?

    it carries over into the workout!

    Im entirely uncoordinated (please also to see horrible gym class in high school experience. zero hand/eye) and dress as I want to.

    the uncoordinated people do giggle at when I FALL.

    the dressing? people inexplicably thing anything silly or out of the ordinary MUST be 'for' my toddler or that she picked it out and 'made' me wear it.

    I dont beg to differ.

  2. (oops. the short version? I have a raging case of allthetime karaoke syndrome)

  3. Karaoke syndrome? Check
    Wear tattered ill-fitting clothing? Check
    Look dumb stretching? Check
    Work out in irregular places? Check (note - I do triceps dips and push ups in the dark room at school, but only when no one else is in there. Although I do think there is a camera in the room, so some surveillance guy gets to watch this).

    But you know, I never feel self conscious or uncool after all this. I feel strong and good about taking care of myself in the best way I know how.

  4. Mizfit & Gena-- you are both clearly much more evolved and self-confident than this Crab! I can't get past the "how dumb does this look" kind of thinking to truly not care. Maybe next lifetime!

  5. I was born uncool. Uncool is my middle name. I couldn't be any more uncool if I tried, which is why I don't bother exercising. ;-)

  6. Mine is fairly tame but I still get so embarrassed. Whenever I get into a real groove walking and I think passersby must be marveling at my pace and dedication, I walk into a tree branch. It's always a small, thin branch that I would have seen if I had just looked up from my feet. It makes me like I'm back in high school and painfully self-conscious.

  7. It seems I have a lot to say, so I'll take it point by point. (You may duck now....)
    1. The few times I've had the chance to do yoga outdoors, I have actually thought I looked pretty cool. I could be wrong.

    2. This may be why I like non-race walking so much. Stealth exercise! As long as you don't walk down the middle of the road, or through people's yards, you're not noticeable.

    3. Running backwards on the elliptical is much easier. Of course, I can barely manage not to fall off the treadmill going forwards, so Your Mileage May Vary.

    4. When I'm waiting around somewhere public I usually have a purse over one shoulder, which limits the opportunity for exercise, so I read instead. And as far as tying shoes goes, I've been bending down to tie them without bending the knees for approximately 52 years. As far as I can tell from that position, nobody looks at me funny.

    5. Peculiar clothing choices? How could I tell?

    6. Since I don't exercise to music (not having any that will magically adapt its rhythm to the rhythm I'm trying to keep) I am free from Karaoke Syndrome.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  8. I feel you on the cat/cow stretch - bit it does feel so GOOD! How about this one I recently had a male yoga teacher introduce to us: we each grabbed two of those thick Mexican blankets from the yoga closet, and placed each one under our knees (they were all folded up, so this raised us a few inches off the ground.) Then we leaned forward and supported our upper body on the floor with our forearms. Then, we were told to let or knees slide out to the sides, in a sort of knee-split (the blankets made sliding easier and cushioned our knees). And...hold for one minute. It was called The Frog and while my inner thighs did get a fab stretch, I felt like the biggest tool.

  9. I look uncool irrespective of what I am doing. It no longer matters to me so I have fun with it. I look the dorkiest when I'm riding my bike and that is unavoidably public.
    In fact, I might even dork it up a notch some days just for the sheer joy of it.

  10. How much do I love this post!!! I want to print it out and hang it on my wall. Being helplessly uncool is my personal credo:) My way of mitigating it though is to always have a friend with you - ONE person doing completely UN-balletic jumps across the weight floor is a dork. But TWO people? It's a class!

    And "sometimes I close my eyes so other people can't see me"??? I'm putting that one on a t-shirt! I'm still giggling to myself about that one - 'cause that doesn't make me look an idiot;)

  11. That being born uncool must be a Montreal thing.. I can commiserate.

    And yup, I always used to get caught "singing" along, but at some point (for other reasons) I started wearing only one ear bud.. that helped make me aware of when someone was nearby. But still, if it's a really good song... ;)

  12. If you could see how the Bag Lady dresses...hehehehe. Even the Cowboy looks at her askance on occasion.

    But wait! Isn't Uncool the new Cool?! Methinks, judging from your comments section, that it must be, because you have the coolest commenters in Blogland!

  13. I exercise too hard to sing. But omg! I have "The Bad Touch" on my music player too! XD

  14. Maybe it's just me but the things that make me cringe is when I see someone doing something and they are using such obviously poor form, I can practically hear their knees breaking and their backs complaining, i.e. throwing weights up and down, squats with knees way forward, crunches while tugging on the neck.

    For my personal displays of uncoolness, it isn't so much the exercising as the stellar ability to trip over the air as I saunter from machine to machine.

  15. Um, Crabby? Have you been going around singing about you and Matt Damon????

  16. ooooh bag lady has a good point.

    Methinks, Crab, you havent been a goober long enough.

    when you have as long as I you *really do* just get over it.


  17. Oh I love this. As a person who has fallen off of a treadmill on more than one occassion, I can certainly relate!

  18. All good stuff! I need to start paying more attention. I do feel cool about staying fit and working out, but usually when I'm finished.

    Most of the folks at the fitness center are in the middle of the bell curve, but we do have the extremes :-)

    Dr. J

  19. A. I have trouble using the elliptical with my iPod with out somehow spazzing out and knocking it off the ipod holdy thing and the iPod falling out of it's protective case and skidding across the floor and one of the trainers wandering around sees it before I can go and get it and pretend it never happened. The headphone plug also generally hits me in the face when this happens me. I swear, one day I'm going to duct tape the iPod to the holdy thing.

    B. I hate step aerobics and I know I look like the biggest idiot when I do the class because I'm a world class klutz and I am either tripping over the bench or I am doing the moves awkwardly so I do not fall off the bench. And even if I was graceful, I'd feel like the world's biggest idiot when I am doing step. I hate step. I wish there was another aerobics class at that time instead.

  20. I can relate to the awkwardness of trying new things at a gym. I circle and circle a machine I want to try watching others do it. They probably think I'm leering at them but, really, I'm just trying to see how it works.

    Than, I leer at them.

  21. "There seems to be no way to race-walk without looking simultaneously prissy and deranged."

    I just about wet my pants laughing--I feel the same way!!

    I have absolutely no shame when it comes to either ridiculous exercises or bad karaoke. I just go for it...

  22. Ummm, I feel uncool all the time. Does that count?

  23. Ok, I won't hijack your comments section with all the ways I have looked like an idiot while exercising. I sing, sometimes loudly, while running. At the minimum, I'm always lip-synching. (It's really too bad I don't look like any famous rock stars...I've got all the lyrics down...of every song on my iPod...I could double at any moment for any one of them...janet, britney, tom jones...)

    I've (ahem) had flatulence issues in yoga. There is no way that could be, in any way, construed as "uncool as the new cool" btw. I've had a spin teacher actually get off her bike come over to me and ask if I was ok because I looked like I was going to be sick and was I sure I wanted to stay through the rest of class (while the mic was still on). Thanks, but yeah, I'm fine. And why is it the days we need a partner in our pump class are the days I haven't shaved my legs? I actually think if there's a quota of embarrassing and uncool experiences to be had at the gym, I've taken up so many most of you shouldn't have to worry.

    sorry, consider yourself hijacked.

  24. OK, now I have coffee all over my screen..
    crabby - my high school gym teacher described racewalking by encouraging us to act like we had the runs - clench the butt and get to the john as quickly as possible. I've never been able to shake the connection, but boy is it great exercise!

    katieo - too true, all of the above. I'm never really a fan of partner work in classes (space issues, me?) but especially when I've hairy/sweaty/uncoordinated...

  25. I'm so guilty of trying to nonchalantly exercise at bus stops and similar. But that's okay, because we're cool! Everyone else wants to be just like all of us:)

  26. I do my exercising in the privacy of my apartment, well, except for the bicycling. Living through winters in Canada tends to inure you to how dorky you look wearing a helmet, or if you have to go into a store, carrying a helmet, with helmet hair and sweat streaming and a very red face.

  27. Ah yes...kareoke syndrome...I was singing along to some music a few days ago on a run and when I went to turn around I realised there was a few people right behind me...and they'd listened to my singing for the whole time. I wanted to apologise to them but they just grinned and kept on past me.
    There's also the "need to fart while running" thing that only seems to occur when there is someone near me to hear me.

  28. I'm supposed to be cool? I must not have gotten the memo.

    I always feel uncool at the university rec center, but that's because I always feel old and out of fashion when I'm surrounded by kids half my age. But I never feel like exercise itself is supposed to make me hip or unhip.

    Clearly I am NOT cool... :-(

  29. Well I am for one am a closet exerciser- I don't like people to see me exerting myself for fear that I look dumb or I'm doing something wrong (hello- there is totally a wrong way to walk!!)

    So I prefer my treadmill. In the basement. Alone. In the dark. Where only the dogs can laugh


  30. Right now, as I type, I have a freaky, streaky sunburn on my arms and shoulders. We went for a bike ride yesterday, and I used spray-on sunscreen. Obviously, I missed a few spots, because my arms and shoulders resemble a candy cane. (Hey, maybe I could make a few extra bucks standing outside a barber shop and slowly twirling? May as well get some use out of this ridiculous look!)

  31. Nothing makes me feel more uncool than walking my bike up a hill. I feel the need to yell after everyone who rides by "I don't usually walk. My tires are low / my brakes are rubbing / I've ridden a really long way."

  32. Oh yeah, having to walk my MTB up a fire road and everyone else is riding by, even people who are obviously older than me. At least my bike is cool.

    Then there's trying to do a track stand at a stop light in traffic, and falling off my bike, sideways, slow-ish motion, like Artie Johnson on his tricycle in Laugh In. I land on my feet, but I'm sure it looks really stupid. ;)

  33. Walking into work in pants that won't get you killed on your bike ride to work. Might as well continue and run the stairs to your office because black spandex/lycra is not so professional.

  34. This is exactly precisely why people hire trainers! First because it's the coolest thing ever to have a trainer. Second, of course, the whole backwards on a treadmill thing. Alone- I might be thrown out of the gym. With a trainer? Coolest thing ever.

    My uncool moments are all at-home exercise videos. Even my kids mock and laugh.

  35. I think no one in history has ever been as uncool as I, although my story takes place post-exercise. The short version -- after a dance class I got locked out of my car and simultaneously started the bloodiest nose of my life. Being locked out of the car, I had no means to stop/control the bloody nose and it was all over the front of me. So this sweaty chubby girl in bloody leotard and nose still-gushing over the rest of her face runs into the nearest building -- which was a hospital. Everyone thought I was the victim of some crazy accident and tried to take care of me ASAP. I had to explain that I was only looking for a bathroom and some tissues. Such embarrassment!

  36. I avoid the group classes because I am so uncooly uncoordinated. I have 3 left feet, and in Pilates I can't do any of the on your tummy moves because I get the worst head rush and have to lay down like I'm playing dead cat. It never fails, the teacher comes over to me, and everyone looks to see who the collapsed class goer is. "Yup, it's me (again)."...lol..Thankfully, there are so many other ways to get exercise and look at least semi-cool.

  37. Hilarious! I especially like how you close your eyes while you stretch so that no one can see you.

    I also have the feel stupid when I stretch in the middle of the gym syndrome, and my gym doesn’t have a little stretching area where at least there will be other fellow stretchers. I literally have to find a space where I won’t be in people’s way. Most of the time these spaces are right in front of a treadmill or machine, so that I can enjoy someone watching me while they do their work out. Fun, huh?

    For me, I feel most self-conscious when I do an aerobic video and there is someone else besides husband and kids around. Like when I’m at home and my cousin drops by right in the middle of my workout and flops down right on the couch to watch. Right now, I’m staying at my parents’ house and my urge to do exercise videos have dwindles out of existence. Folks, just because the TV is on doesn’t mean you have to watch it!

  38. Pfft, I do kettlebell classes (best thing ever - kicking my ass, and my rugby has improved SO much) at a Crossfit gym with a bunch of crazy in shape boys who are mostly instructors there. I always feel like I look like an idiot in comparison.

    At work I hide in the break room in the late afternoon and do push ups sometimes. I'd probably do them more often if I wasn't terrified of being caught.

  39. I am so devastated to be found guilty of the uncool exercising syndrome... Here is an idea for non obvious exercise in a waiting line or other crowded areas... KEGELS!!
    What d'ya think of that!

  40. When I'm cycling home from work I often stop into Tesco (supermarket) in full on biking gear.

    I love the sense of superiority I feel browsing the shelves while wearing trouser clips, reflective gloves, goretex jacket and carrying my helmet.

    It also inspires me to buy ridiculously healthy things so that I appear to be a complete health nut. Which is a total lie, but who cares?

  41. I loved this! When I have time to do stealth exercises, I usually just do calf-lift. Like up on my toes, then down, up then down. I can feel the burn after about twenty of them. I always thought I was pulling it off and just a twitch or something, but I think you have made it clear that I probably look really lame. Still, though, I am keeping it up; I think my calves look great! :) If I do say so myself. Oh, and I am all about karaoke. I'm such a loser.

  42. Stealth stretching at the train station is something I wish was easier! The number of times I have cut short my stretching at the gym to rush to the train, only to find I've got a few minutes wait and then itch to do more stretches!

    Actually the other day I was walking down the street, one my calves felt really tight so when I was stopped at the lights I pushed against a pole to stretch it out. Some funny guy kindly asked if I wanted him to push on the other side of it for me (well he thought it was funny)

  43. I think that being "cool" is a state of mind, you don't have to try hard to be cool, thats when you become uncool. I think that its a feeling of harnessing the chi. Finding the flow..flow is good. flow is very good.


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