My Relationship With Exercise


Over the last year or two I’ve written a lot about my relationship with food and my weight, but I’ve hardly touched on the other half of that ‘appearance’ conversation – exercise.

Last year, sometime in those jumbling weeks of OMG GIFT GUIDES and HOW MUCH MONEY CAN I SPEND ON MYSELF? that come before Christmas, I was approached by the people behind the This Girl Can campaign.

And I am ashamed to admit, that I ignored the email. And the next email they sent after that, and maybe even another after that.

Y’see, I wasn’t purposely being rude and I wasn’t too busy to reply and I wasn’t being lazy and just drowning in a sea of duvets dragged down from beds onto the sofa and 16 And Pregnant repeats. I was, admittedly, just terrified.

Fucking terrified, if that makes it any better.

The campaign sets out to target people like me. Women, who, get put off leading a healthy, active lifestyle and participating in exercise because it makes them feel nervous and awkward and embarrassed.

People that don’t try out a new Pilates class because they’re worried there’ll be cliques and they’ll feel socially awkward and out of place, people who don’t swim at their local pool because they’re worried they don’t know the unwritten rules set by the regulars, people who don’t join a weekly netball team because they don’t want people to laugh behind their backs at how hideous their technique is.

That person is me.

That person might be you too.

I was shit at PE at school. I went to a bloody SPORTS school. AN ENTIRE SCHOOL AND SIXTH FORM DEDICATED TO SPORTS and I’m still shit. Always have been, always will be.

My lowest GCSE grade was in PE. And I’m pretty sure I only got a C in that because y’know, let’s not let the sports academy down. Gimme an English Lit essay to write or a big art project or a history exam and cor blimey, I’m top of the class. But try and make me play hockey and I will whimper and moan and do everything I can to scamper away to the warmth.

In my head, exercise has always meant negative things. It’s meant me coming last, me not getting picked for teams, me feeling uncomfortable and in pain.


Because if there’s one thing you want at high school – aside from y’know a sturdy C cup and blonde highlights, it’s to be good at PE because boys like girls who can do sassy lil things like somersault on trampolines.

I can’t.

(Thank god I had the C cup and the highlights to make up for it…).

But anyway, in my pursuit to look like a member of The Pussycat Dolls, I accidentally stumbled into a love for swimming, which seems like an odd choice for someone so self-conscious about their naked body.

Also an odd choice for someone who swims a bit like how Phoebe from Friends runs. I’m not cute and elegant and awwww look at that mermaid. I’m like a hippopotamus just trying to have a wash whilst drunk on sambucca.

But I liked the fact it didn’t make me hot and sweaty and I liked the fact it didn’t make me wheezy and I liked the fact I could do it at my own pace, away from the prying eyes of mean boys and girls at school. I liked the fact that it could be soothing on the soul rather than hideously competitive.

And that love affair has stuck, because I swim every single week. I have three grown-up lady swimming costumes on rotation. And I feel entirely broken if I don’t go for a week or so, a bit like how I feel when I haven’t checked my emails in a few hours and I’m like OMG THERE COULD BE ANYTHING LURKING IN THERE.

I’m also pretty over-excited about Pilates these days. I like the mental side of it. I like that it is a gentle, non-aggressive exercise that makes your mind feel all nice and at peace.

I’m trying to make my brain remember how I got into Pilates or why but it’s like there’s this big chunk of memory missing. At some point, just after buying a gym membership for the gym next to the Time Inc offices in London, I must have had a burst of I’M A STRONG, INDEPENDENT WOMAN AND I CAN DO ANYTHING. It’s the only possible answer.

Because I used to go, completely alone, to Pilates, Yoga and PowerPlate classes and not give a single fuck of what anyone thought of me.

And then when I moved to Ipswich and joined a new gym and I had enough confidence in myself to sign up to similar classes because I knew what to expect.

I am, however, yet to venture into the actual gym.

Mate, I would love to do weights. I would love to not have my exercise regime determined by my hair wash schedule (love ya swimming), but it is so far out of my comfort zone. Everyone else doing weights is either as into fitness as I’m into cheese, or just wants to look hot for the girls in Nando’s on a Saturday.

I could get a gym induction or a personal trainer, but I don’t want people looking at me like LOL LOOK AT THAT NEW GIRL. Y’know?

Anyway, I’ve gone and done that thing again where I just jabber away and forget that there’s supposed to be some sort of point to this post and lol I’mma just list every exercise I do like and hope that someone’s still reading this at the end.

Basically, exercise is a bloody minefield.

It has always felt scary and like a chore I just can’t squeeze into my schedule.

But y’know what? I like swimming and Pilates. I like them a lot. I like them about an equal amount to how much I like colouring in and drinking coffee on my own in Starbucks. They are good for my soul and my head as much as my body.

And I *think* I might be sticking with them weekly for the long run. I *think* I’ve found my exercises. My way to a healthier body that don’t make me want to sob into my gym kit on a Monday evening.

My point is, make your exercise work for you. If it feels horrible and makes your belly feel all swirly with dread then it’s probably not the right exercise for you, and guess what playa? You’ll end up quitting before you’ve made any real progress.

Exercise, just like men, is all about experimenting and perusing what’s on offer before you work out what you like and what you don’t like, rather than just settling and being unhappy.

Wow, that was a great metaphor. Pat on the back Hannah. Wait, is that even what a metaphor is? Maybe I should go to bed.

But yeah, I would LOVE to be more confident, just strutting about the gym like hey bitches, whaddup, but it’s all about building up slowly.

I’m comfortable and confident in my swimming and Pilates sessions, and maybe one day soon I’ll branch into Yoga (omfg, groundbreaking), or maybe I’ll get Chris to discreetly give me a tour of the gym and the equipment.

So yeah, here’s me admitting I hate exercise, or at least DID hate it. Hats off to you girls slaying it on those weight machines day in, day out. I’ll trade you my dedication to killing cacti if I can have just a slice of your dedication and confidence to fitness?


And on that note. I’m off to reserve some Pilates class sessions for next week. Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.



  • Jenny

    Great post! It is great to read about someone who dreads sport instead of those enthusiastic girls for a change, that is not a bad thing but I always wonder what happened to the girls like you.
    I used to do a team sport that I dreaded going to every week. I felt sick and nervous and quitting was the best thing ever for my soul. Now that I have found a fitness course at uni which I like I feel amazing. Like you said, I miss it if I miss a day and that is such an amazing feeling!
    I really really enjoyed reading this post, thanks so much for sharing!
    Maybe you could start doing yoga work outs at home first so you don’t feel as awkward when you go to a class πŸ™‚ YouTube has some really great ones πŸ™‚

    Jenny Side Up

  • Claire

    Great post! I’ve really fell off the horse when it comes to exercise lately. However when I was really enjoying it the gym I’m at dos weight classes called pump. They’re super fun and gets you into weights in a group environment and you can set your own difficulty. The weight machines make me feel nervous and like I’m about to break out in a sweat and rashes but pump is a firm favourite of mine. Maybe your gym has something similar?

    Again, great post. Inspired me to get those gym leggings and sports bra on and run! Xxx

  • I don’t mind exercise but I just find it so hard to find the time! What with working full time, blogging and studying there is barely any time left! I just try and make sure I keep all my steps up each day so at least I’m a bit active. Glad for the Fitbit!

  • I feel your pain, it’s like you are writing my life! I HATE sport I am totally crap at it, actually tell a lie I’m good at yoga and I love to dance if you can call that exercise. I’ve tried over the years with a million gym memberships that if I worked out how many mulberry handbags that would have got me I would scream. My last attempt found me having to do a gym induction with what looked like a twelve year old boy. When he asked me what I wanted to achieve out of it I replied to enjoy it and make me want to go. Well he failed on that big time! He made me do 45 mins on the cross trainer which nearly killed me and I did the Bridget Jones stumble off the machine in front of some very hot men, followed by a load of weights I couldn’t even move. Then to add to my total shame he asked me to do some sit ups when I couldn’t even lift my head off the floor! Major fail and embarrassment I’ve not been back since

  • Jess

    I am you! Totally shit throughout school and got given a token ‘one star’ sports certificate at the end of each year – would have been better not to get anything at all!
    I was making some small efforts in the gym over the summer last year (run in, get on treadmill, die then run out again) and one of the trainers approached me and offered me a free session. Initially I thought he was asking me out (CRINGE) but I decided to take him up on it because it was free, obv. OMG it was the most horrific thing ever, I managed to get home and had to put my head between my legs for an hour to stop myself passing out. But afterwards I had a one of these post exercise endorphin rushes that I’d always read about and realised that I’d actually enjoyed it?! Against my better judgement (and ignoring my bank balance) I signed up with him and 6 months later I’m two stone down and I have some muscles which I love?! He is completely non-judgemental about my lack of co-ordination and spazziness and in fact we both end up in fits of giggles about it. I’ve even started going to spin classes and to body pump, both of which I enjoy sooooo much?! This so isn’t me. Or wasn’t me. Anyway the point of my ramble is that this has been a massive revelation to me and I feel like such an idiot for carrying my shit school PE lesson experience around and not getting involved because I can actually do it and I do actually enjoy it! So I would so encourage you to let go and try it because I’ve been there and I can’t believe I now get welcomed by name by the gym receptionists and have biceps and gym friends!

    *oh and you quickly realise that all the people hanging around the weights section of the gym don’t even notice you because they’re too busy admiring themselves. You can sweat dribble and mascara run as much as you like and they wouldn’t even see you.

  • J

    I can totally relate to this. At school I was always picked last for any team sport and I dreaded every class. I was a gymnast and this was the extent of my sporty behaviour. During 6th form we didn’t do an sports classes, and I was too shy to try another sport having quit the gymnastics.

    4 years down the line, I’m actually a gymnastics coach (which amuses me no end) and train again twice a definitely know when you find ‘the one’ – I am completely and literally head over heels with gymnastics once again.

    Basically, there’s hope for eveyone, no matter how much school pe affected you β™‘

  • I can completely relate to this post I want to be strong and healthy but the thought of public exercise terrifies me. The only routine I have been able to keep up is working out at home and walking and I fee so much better for it. I think there is pressure to be a gym bunny but I think finding exercises that are right for you is the key to staying fit.

    Emma Inks

  • I completely get this. I wrote a very similar post late last year. I signed up to the gym then just went swimming – swimming is what I know, what I like, what I’m kinda good at. I go in the actual gym now too, took a while but I got there. I cried down the phone to my boyfriend before going, thinking I looked ridiculous, worrying about how to work the machines. But now I enjoy that too! I feel good about running a little bit further or faster, I like seeing the progress. And this is coming from someone who just sat at the side in PE and the teachers gave up trying to make me join in. Who woulda thought it!


  • I can so relate to this post. Having been the fat one in PE lessons (shout out to the PE teacher who told me aged 13 after a cross country run that I’d be dead by the time I’m 20), my relationship with exercise has always had that negative vibe. Getting a PT was the best thing I ever did as I’m now that girl who will happily be the only girl in the weights room with a load of blokes. What I’ve really learned in the last 18 months of having a gym membership I actually use is that knowledge is power and from that comes confidence. xxx

  • I completely get what you mean – I always had massive fear that the gym would be full of muscly hunks and teeny tiny girls wearing nothing but micro leggings and a designer sports bra. I have recently started playing badminton with a group of middle aged ladies, and it’s fantastic. My enthusiasm and energy make up for their technique and skill, so it’s quite a good balance, and I can actually feel myself improving week by week! I also do 2 HIIT classes a week run by my ex-boyfriend’s mum. Weird huh?! Once again it’s mainly middle aged ladies, but I LOVE that. Everyone works at their own level and put in as much effort as they deem they can. It’s a group of equally hot and sweaty ladies and there is absolutely no judging. Exercise perfection! It’s actually boosted my confidence enough to go to the gym a few times a month too. I haven’t joined yet, as i’m split between two locations each week, but when I get free passes from Adam’s mum I tend to try and get a session in. You know what’s surprising too – the gym has such a range of people. From the very young, fit and very thin, to the incredibly obese, elderly or average “yes I had a burger last night and you can definitely tell from my squishyness” people. There’s such a mix, and that’s great! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it’s got me thinking about mine too, because as much as I exercise loads at the moment and am physically fit, it is still creeping towards to goal to even be in the orange BMI, let alone the green! Alice xxx

  • Swimming is always a great one to start with bcos you can take it at your own pace, it’s fun and it actually works pretty much all of your muscles. I’ve always been a bit of a fitness freak but I can totally understand how people get intimidated by it. Although I love it I’m a very shy person and so I always hide at the back of the classes! x

  • Kasia

    In this one sentence you described my childhood relationship with PE/sports:

    ”In my head, exercise has always meant negative things. It’s meant me coming last, me not getting picked for teams, me feeling uncomfortable and in pain.”

    Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one!

  • I used to be a total gym bunny and loved going to the gym 3-5 times a week but then my confidence started to diminish as life and University got on top of me and eventually meant I ‘had’ to skip on gym sessions, meaning weight gain inevitably happened and confidence totally left me. I re-joined a new, much nicer gym a month ago (my previous gym was full of posey guys and gals anyway, no wonder an unconfident 20-something didn’t want to step foot in there!) and I am loving it. Ok, so I’ve only been to classes so far but I’ve tried a little mix of everything and a combination of Pilates/Yoga style classes and Body Pump (weights – who’d’ve thought?!) are what I’m loving. Stuff like HIIT training felt disgusting BUT it hasn’t totally put me off cardio. What I want to do instead is start setting foot into the actual gym – just like you! But something scares me! I come out of my classes and at peak times I just think no WAY can I join them and do my own thang and not give a shit.
    I’m aiming on heading to reception next week and just going up to one of the instructors and ask if they can help me set up a gym routine to get results from and maybe having a clear idea of what to do will give me the confidence to actually go for it?! Eek!

    What I’ve realised though is that literally no one is staring at you thinking, lol, that girl doesn’t know what she’s doing and LOL look at her thighs etc. If they are thinking about that, they probably have their own insecurities they need to deal with. Head forward, all focus on you, not what those girls in the corner are doing!

    Fab post, as always Hannah, you’re my kinda gal! Lets get fit and not give a damn!

    She’s So Lucy

  • Laura

    Wow Hannah so much of this post was like reading my own mind! Exercise scares me, classes terrify me but I love swimming. However doesn’t help that my brother is a lifeguard at my local pool which always makes me feel a bit self conscious! I’ve had a number of health issues lately but when I’m feeling better I’d really like to try Yoga… But the thought of going to a class and not knowing anything and making a fool of myself makes me really anxious! So I have to work up the courage first …. Xx

  • Pilates is my exercise! It totally changed my world view on exercise, it made me love it and not care what anyone thought of me. I never feel self-conscious or weird like I do in the weights room at the gym or running around the park. All the rest make me anxious and embarrassed and I’m not insanely happy that I’m not the only one like this.
    Im glad you found both swimming and pilates. Great post!!

  • Hey girl! I’m so happy that you have found an exercise that works for you !exercise shouldn’t be something we hate or dread starting, if you hate it then you’re doing the wrong one for you. It should totally be something we are excited to do, something that relaxes us and makes us feel like a BOSS. Sounds like you found YOUR exercise , yay xxx

  • I feel like I REALLY need to try pilates. It’s sounds like my kinda thing!
    Sophie Cliff

  • Harriet

    This is like reading about my own life, I absolutely hated PE at school and I get so anxious about going to the gym. I love swimming so much as well, I even bought a new swimming costume recently to encourage me to go but I just feel too anxious right now about what people would think about me, silly I know.

    At the moment I go to the gym with a friend who is really into fitness, we mainly go to classes, some of which I enjoy and some of which I don’t… But I still always hide at the back so I can’t see myself in the mirror or be seen by anyone else too closely, while she is always boldly at the front!

    I saw some people have already mentioned the body pump class which is really good to get into weights if your gym does anything like that! I still only use light weights compared to everyone else but it makes me feel good that I’m actually doing some sort of weight-work, and no ones really paying attention to you because they’re concentrating on doing the class.

    I’m glad you’ve found your exercise, and thank you for writing this, and sorry about the long, rambling comment πŸ™‚

  • Tammy Nyman

    I admire you for trying Pilates. I have always wanted to try it, however, after attempting yoga and failing at the breathing technique. I felt stupid, as I watched everyone who did break a sweat, I stood there not out of breathe and no sweat to prove I tried hard. However, I love to lift weights. I will give you a piece of advice, this helped me, just focus on the machine your on. Trust me most others aren’t paying attention. They are focused on what they are doing.
    Another idea listen to music through a headset then your focused on the music and not anyone around you. Good luck

  • It’s so good when you find an exercise you fall in love with. I now want to see you swim like Phoebe runs ahhaah

    Hannah | Oh January

  • I absolutely love this post. I am currently finding my way into the love of dreaded working out. It has been a tried and failed attempt for a very long time but I am finally getting to a place that I feel comfortable and even content with my workouts! I’m glad to see someone who has found a balance that they like even when (like me) you hated PE in the past. xo

  • “I’m like a hippopotamus just trying to have a wash whilst drunk on sambucca” bahahahaha absolutely love this line!!!

  • Rachel

    I hate exercise and like you was crap at pe and would actively skip it at school. Yet now I if I don’t go gym at least 3 times a week I feel broken.


    Because I hated being a size 14 more than I hate exercise.

    I’m now a size 10 and feel so much more confident and I can now run solidly for an hour without feeling out of’s awesome! In the grand scheme of things 3 hours a week minimum is nothing when I can look in the mirror and feel attractive again.

    If I can do it so can you! It’s so worth it!

  • Charlotte

    Totally get you! I completely hate the gym and more of the “dance around your bedroom in your pants” type of exerciser – or I was until I discovered home workout dvds! Not like Jane Fonda Lycra / leg warmers type ones, but like Davina and Jillian Michaels. I have abs (when I breathe in) and I eat pasta and drink wine and everything! They’re amazing and you just have to buy some free weights from a fitness shop – so you can do weights and not feel like a plonker (just remember to close the curtains. Totally happened to me once…!) X

  • Caz

    This is definitely me – i’d love to join the gym but I just hate the idea of people watching me! I like swimming and doing the 30 Day Shred but I think I need to be brave and do some classes, pilates sounds like something i’d enjoy too πŸ™‚

    Caz | This is Caz

  • Oh girl, you read my mind! I have just started working out again, but it can be hard sometimes finding the motivation.


    I absolutely HATE exercise. When people say, ‘Oh but I feel so great afterwards’ I’m like, no I just feel hot, sweaty, gross and in pain which are four things I really don’t like feeling. I also don’t really like doing things I’m not good at (which is why I gave up maths the minute my GSCEs were done. BYE QUADRATIC EQUATIONS) and I suck at sports.

    When I was at high school, it was compulsory to take part in Sports Day, and I remember being forced to run the last leg of the relay in front of an entire jeering, heckling school in year 8. It really, really scarred me and I just got so angry about it. I’m a singer and the thought of singing in front of the entire school (which I often was asked to do for concerts, events, assemblies etc) didn’t frighten me at all, but I was being forced to do something I was genuinely terrible at in front of the whole school. I didn’t see why, if that was the case that the sporty girls weren’t being forced to sing in front of the entire school. And why, if Sports Day was compulsory, there wasn’t an Arts Day that everyone was forced to take part in as well. Different things terrify different people.

    I still hate exercise so much, I’m scared of the gym, I am too intimidated by classes and I still haven’t really found something that I enjoy and feel like I’m good enough at. I’ve just recently starting having a weekly personal training session and that’s only because one of my best friends is training as a PT, and I’m not scared to exercise in front of her because, well, she’s already seen me at my worst (drunk crying over a dropped meal deal from Chicken Cottage at Uni. Ah them were the days.). The fact that I hate exercise is something I’m actually embarrassed about, I wish so much I liked it. Thank you for writing this post, it genuinely felt like a warm hug.

    YOU A BAE.

  • I’m seconding, thirding, fourthing everyone who said body pump! I’m definitely the socially anxious PE hater, I thought swimming and pilates were the only things I’d ever like, but after deciding to branch out I became absolutely addicted to body pump. It’s sooooo good. Spin class is amazing too, especially if you have a fun instructor. I’d recommend giving them a try. x

  • I used to hate exercise too. I was half decent at netball and badminton, but couldn’t run to save myself. Now I avoid the awkward sweaty gym sessions by doing mini circuits in my flat. And hillwalking at weekends. Works for me! But yeah, we don’t all have to be #fitspo…

  • Rebecca Hanson

    I love this post it is so me!! You are a role model to slightly plump girls like me so what you are not a size 10 floating around the gym. Let’s be proud of our size 14 jeans and do what we feel comfortable with. Thank you xx

  • Totally understand the relationship – I always hated PE and the teachers even told those of us who weren’t taking GCSE would ‘get overweight and die’ – fab teaching skills there. I always said I’d ‘join a gym at 16’ and never did (I took a very drastic path instead) but now I’m working with a trainer and I finally feel I’ve found my rhythm; some days I don’t want to do it, but 15-30 mins of HIIT has shown a huge difference already, and I really hope it inspires me to do more πŸ™‚

    Lauren x
    Britton Loves | Lifestyle Beauty Wellbeing

  • I completely understand how you feel about being self conscious about being the new girl. But remember at one point you were also the new girl in your pilates class and at the swimming pool. And you got through that! I’m definitely not a gym person either, I hate doing exercise for the sake of doing exercise as opposed to doing something fun that just happens to be exercise too. I am part of my local roller derby team, which is bloody hard work and which I really enjoy but health issues have meant I haven’t been able to take part in about two months. In the meantime I think I need to find other things like classes that are lower intensity, like pilates or yoga, and which don’t let other people down if I can’t go on the odd day. There’s a swimming pool literally five mins from my house but I’ve never been because I’m scared and I’m self conscious. But you’ve inspired me to give it a go. Thanks Hannah <3 xxx

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