Why I Workout:
For a lot of people who are not normal people (yes, this means you, you crazy anarchist, vegan, transient, queer, atheist, radical, whathaveyou) working out and exercise in general have this huge Jock stigma. I think that at least some of this stems from high school experiences with who does sports, and what they are like. It even carries into the real world. A lot of the people you encounter through sports and exercise are blatantly not radical. They might even be obnoxiously Christian/capitalist/racist/sexist/homophobic etc. However, it is short sighted to let a whole bunch of fools ruin an entire aspect of our lives for us. This article is my attempt to encourage radicals to get physical in the athletic sense. I propose an alternative to status quo athletic attitudes. Why drop out of the sporting world, when we can adapt it to suit ourselves?
So why do I work out? Right now, the focus is on one word: Bruno. Might not make much sense to you off the bat until you consider this; Bruno is the name of a cop at Hampshire College, a cop who wrote me up last year. So I work out to be better than Bruno. I work out to run faster than him, lift heavier than him, be able to beat him if that becomes necessary. It is a psychological game I play with myself. I would acknowledge that it is not necessarily healthy to change your behavior based around one person- particularly a cop, but if you can take a negative aspect of your life and turn it around into motivation for a positive behavior then that rocks. Bruno for me, is really just a face to put on the whole oppressive structure of the state and capitalism.
There are other really good reasons to exercise, that are particularly relevant to activists. Exercise RELIEVES STRESS- which is undeniably important for activists. To live in a world full of problems and know about the problems and be constantly trying to improve oneself and the outside world as well as accomplish everyday survival tasks (procuring food, shelter etc.) adds up to a lot of pressure. Many activists do not give themselves the appropriate outlets for their stress and do not give themselves enough personal time to take care of themselves. Exercise can help activists relief stress, and it does not have to take very much time.
Along with relieving stress in general goes that exercise is good for mental health. It has been shown that exercise helps people cope with depression and other mental issues. I’m not into taking pills or medicine, and so it is really helpful to have a homeopathic way to deal with mental issues. Even if it is not enough to completely control your mental issues, exercise can certainly help. Sometimes just the fact that it gets you outside, or to a gym environment where other people are working out, can be enough to jolt you out of a depressed moment.
Even though your memories of exercise in high school gym classes might not be positive, it can be very empowering. I have some days where even if a lot of other things do not come through, at the end of the day I can feel like I accomplished something because I ran a couple miles, or made it to the gym and did some reps. When your real life struggles can be insurmountable it is good to have an outlet which provides you with attainable goals.
Exercise builds confidence, which will positively affect other areas of your life. The endorphins and physical movement and accomplishment of goals all help you to feel good about yourself. You should not set goals for exercise that are too crazy. Some government agency or something recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day. So try to do this, even if it is lowkey exercise. Then you can check it off your to-do list or whatever, and know that you did it. As you continue you will find yourself accomplishing more and getting better. Do not be too hard on yourself though. There is no point in getting mad at yourself if you do not perform as well as you had hoped. Don’t forget to consider all of the factors that can play into how your body feels. What you have had to drink, to eat, how much you slept, if you are sore from a previous workout, if your head just isn’t in the game- these all contribute to your performance. It is ok to run slowly, or cut your exercise short if you just are not feeling it.
For me an important part of exercise has to do with Personal Safety. I have always felt that it was necessary for me to be strong in order to be safe. I want to feel capable, and I want to know that I can to some extent protect myself. Not everyone is capable of doing so, and that is ok. And I acknowledge the naivety within the idea of physical strength being able to keep one ‘safe’. For me, despite its limitations, it is still important. There are different ways to go about thinking of exercise in terms of personal safety. There are specific ways to combine exercise and personal safety. I just took a class called Rape Aggression Defense (RAD). This class is pretty neat because it teaches women some really basic but vital things they should know about self defense. I know that there are other versions of self defense courses offered all over, some of them catering specifically to certain groups of people. I want to get into Juijitsu, because I hear it helps even physically smaller people find ways to deal with physical confrontations.
In this discussion about exercise and physical issues I think there needs to be an Acknowledgement of ablism. There is definitely some ableism inherent in my interpretations of what it means to be strong. I have been trying to work on this though. I think that a discussion about the benefits of exercise does not have to be ableist though. There are many different ways of getting exercise that are available for people of different abilities. You do not have to be a marathon runner to benefit from physical activity. Even people confined to wheel chairs can find ways to exercise. Of course, what exercises are appropriate depends on one’s disability, but arm lifts, weight reps with the arms, using a ball with arms etc. are all things people in wheelchairs can do. Aqua sports are also a more accessible type of exercise- many YMCAs and gyms offer aqua aerobics and classes for people with joint and weight problems. Working out in the water is low impact and help a lot of differently abled people get exercise. I have read that exercise can be even more important for a person with any sort of disability- simply because there is a lot of frustration, anger, and depression that goes along with having a disability in a world that does not make it easy to get around. So the benefits of exercise which help to relieve depression and anger are even more important.
There are many things we can do to make different types of exercise more accessible to radical folks. If you already exercise, or want to start, try to get some of your friends to go with you. Start a radical running group- or get together for yoga a couple mornings a week. If you can afford to join a gym, take the time to maybe look at a couple different places to make sure you will be comfortable in the environment before you sign up. No point paying if you won’t go. If you are low income you may find a YMCA that makes itself very
Try to get games going with your friends. Even if it is just tag or capture the flag, having fun with physical activity is important. You might be able to get a weekly or monthly casual soccer game going. Wiffle ball is another sport that is fun and people often are willing to play. Exercise and games can be incorporated into activism. You can use a game in reclaiming the streets- capture the flag over a couple city blocks, soccer in the street etc.
In terms of gear, it is important to some extent to have the right gear for the right job, but also important not to think you have to have a bunch of super expensive and fancy gear to exercise. Don’t let that be a barrier to your participation. You will likely want white socks (if I recall correctly colored socks cause more athletes foot?). Sports Bras are available at thrift stores, as are the types of shorts and shirts which do not limit movement so much. I will admit, I don’t know anything about jock straps. Even tennis shoes (not converse, please, you want support and padding), cleats, and protective pads can be found at thrift stores. My friend Pablo has exquisite luck at dumpstering running shoes. And you really really want a water bottle.
If you join a gym or whatever, you might check out the lost and found for useful gear. Not that you should necessarily take everything you see there, but if you notice something being there for over a week, and you will use it, why not ‘find’ it.