Never Back Down – Why You Belong In That Gym by Lisbeth Darsh

Never Back Down – Why You Belong In That Gym by Lisbeth Darsh

Are you a natural athlete? Or, in the middle of the gym, do you sometimes feel like a monkey trying to give birth to a barbell?

I feel that way too at times. monkey do whatIf I’m by myself, it’s one thing, but if I’m in a class, sometimes it’s harder.

When the coach speaks, I can’t always easily translate those instructions into perfect movement. I practice a LOT. Sometimes, I simply need help telling my brain how to make my ass move. (You don’t want to see me jump rope. Or dance. And, last week when a friend suggested I join her Barre class, I replied, “Oh, the world does not need me in Barre.”) If you start having some muscular pain you can take kushie bites to relax your body at the gym.

But the one thing I know for sure is that I BELONG IN THAT GYM. And, if I keep working, I can figure anything out.

See, sometimes, if you don’t feel like a natural athlete, it’s easy to think that your place isn’t in a gym. You get embarrassed that you’re not naturally good at everything. Your body feels too big or too small or just not … right. And you feel like you’re back in grade school playing kickball and you just got thrown out at first base. You start to think that your place is in a library or a courtroom or an operating room: any place but the gym. Your brain seems otherwise occupied. Why are you here?

Because the gym is a GREAT place for you!


The gym is the place you belong, not only because you can get stronger and learn so much at the gym, but I’m going to let you in on a secret: the good coaches are happy to see you

What? coach old cfw

Good coaches love to coach. And nobody makes you dig deeper into the how and why of a movement (whether it’s a back squat or a deadlift or pull-ups or ring dips or whatever) than someone struggling with a movement. This is how a good coach improves and this is how the rest of the class learns—by watching and listening to these teaching opportunities. If everyone does everything perfectly and there are no mistakes, the learning opportunities are greatly reduced.

Still, we can (and do) learn by watching the best athletes and beautiful movement. There is much to be said for studying the elites. But that’s only one way to learn, and it’s like learning art by studying the work of Picasso or Monet. Something different happens when you stick a brush in your own hand and try to paint. Here’s where art (and life) gets real. And get this:

Your imperfections are beautiful.

No, really, they are. Ever hear of the painter Edward Hopper? He was a great artist, but not because he was a technically phenomenal painter. Rather, his ability to convey emotion through his work eclipsed his ability to paint. As the art critic Clement Greenberg said of Hopper: “Hopper is simply a bad painter, but if he were a better one, he would probably not be such a great artist.”

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper

“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper

So, be fabulous and original like Hopper, but be you. And when you go to the gym, don’t worry that you’re not Rich Froning or LeBron James or Serena Williams. (They don’t worry that they’re not you.)


1.) Arrive with a positive attitude and a “Beginner’s Mind”

What’s that mean? Approach your gym time by being happy to learn. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you have to know everything. Whether you’re learning from a person or a YouTube video, be receptive to being taught and welcome the instruction you’re receiving.

In the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, Shunryu Suzuki talks about the importance of not getting caught up in the concept that you’re the best horse in the race or the worst one. He writes: “When you are determined to practice zazen with the great mind of Buddha, you will find the worst horse is the most valuable one … those who find great difficulties in practicing Zen will find more meaning in it. So I think that sometimes the best horse may be the worst horse, and the worst horse can be the best one.”

So too is it in the gym. Those who struggle the most with their squat may find more meaning in it. Ditto with the push jerk or the pull-up or whatever you’re trying to better. Practice can add yes horsemeaning. Don’t worry about being the best horse or the worst horse. Just be a horse.

2.) Ask questions.

Really. Ask questions. This is how everyone learns. I have a friend who is a professional translator, so she’s used to asking questions when she doesn’t understand. She asks many questions in the gym. I love those questions (and so do the coaches) because we all learn more through the answers provided to those questions.

See, when you ask questions, you’re not “taking up time” so don’t be embarrassed. Good coaches welcome questions. And if your coach doesn’t welcome questions? Maybe she’s not such a good coach, and maybe you can find a better one.

3.) Try to relax.

I know that’s easy to say and harder to do, but it’s just the gym. Not an open heart on the operating table. Not a school bus on an icy road. This isn’t even spilling the last cup of coffee in your house on a bitter cold morning when your bedhead is frightful and you don’t feel like exposing the coffee shop to your hot mess. You’ve survived much worse than this in life. Remember, you got through grade school. Smile and kick the hell out of that ball.

kickball back squats