An Accident-Prone Person’s Guide To Embarrassing Yourself While Exercising

Not everyone looks cool working out, and that's fine.

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In theory, the most important thing about exercising is making the effort to improve yourself. It’s about taking care of your body so you can still be active later in life. It’s about making positive choices.

In theory.

I suspect there’s more to it than that. Secretly, I think people want to look cool–or at the very least competent–while exercising. We hope to look like the sculpted, glistening people at CrossFit or in P90X videos. Athletic wear companies are certainly aware of this. Why else would they spend so much time and money developing and marketing sleek-looking workout gear and colorful cross training shoes?

Reality often has other ideas. I know from personal experience. 

I consider myself a decent athlete. I grew up playing baseball, basketball, football, and hockey, and sports have always been part of my life. I’ve hit the gym several days a week for years. I also like to think I’m more coordinated than the average person. 

Despite this, I’m also very accident-prone. To an almost unreasonable degree. All of this is to say: I’ve embarrassed myself more than a few times exercising. In the interest of healing (literally and figuratively), I would like to share a few stories about looking decidedly uncool while exercising

The first incident that comes to mind is every gym-goer’s worst nightmare. 

When I lived in Kansas, I went to a small 24-hour gym in town. The exterior was made up almost entirely of glass windows, which, if I’m being honest, was a bit awkward. Gawking patrons from the nearby shopping center aside, I liked the gym very much. It was small and there were limited machines and equipment, but it was immaculately clean and the people were friendly. 

One day after work I decided to hop on a treadmill for some interval running. For those of you unfamiliar, interval running involves sprinting for a set amount of time then walking for a set amount of time. Anyone who works out during the week knows that the gym is usually packed between 4 and 6 p.m. with the after-work crowd. I numbered among them and felt lucky to snag an open treadmill.

I wouldn’t feel lucky for much longer. 

The sprinting and walking started, and I had a good sweat going. But something was bothering me. Something on the inside hem of my gym shorts kept rubbing me the wrong way. Literally.

I was in the middle of one of my sprints, and I just couldn’t take it any longer. A normal person would have stepped off the treadmill for a minute to take care of the offending loose threads. Or at the very least, waited for a walking interval. I didn’t do either of those things. I did something so stupid, I can’t believe I’m actually about to write it.

Instead of stopping, I thought I could quickly pull out the loose threads while I was running. It turned out to be a poor decision. 

My footing faltered immediately. My legs came out from under me, and gravity pulled me toward the spinning belt of the treadmill. I was able to turn a bit so I didn’t fall directly on my face. I landed on the left side of my back and left shoulder. The belt, which was moving at a considerable pace, immediately tore up a section of my back. It then proceeded to shoot me several feet to the foot of an exercise bike. 

Naturally, the cardio section was full when this happened, and a dozen people saw me embarrass myself in a way that didn’t seem possible until that very moment. I remained on the ground for a little bit to gain my composure. The belt left a sizable burn on my back, and the unceremonious exit from the treadmill left a few bruises on my side where I landed. But otherwise my injuries were minor compared to what could have happened. 

Someone was nice enough to help me up as I assured everyone I was fine. I walked away, nursing my ego and cursing myself for picking such a busy time of the day to act like a jackass. 

Another embarrassing incident happened in high school (insert your own joke here).

I grew up in northern Illinois where it’s winter for roughly eight months out of the year. When baseball season started, my high school team had to practice indoors until the fields were suitable for use. 

A common indoor practice was to separate into groups and do a hitting circuit. The circuit included several stations, each focused on a different hitting drill. Obviously, the best station was the batting cage. After a few stations, my group got to the batting cage, but we realized we had to adjust the pitching machine. One of my teammates went to the end of the tunnel to sort it out. 

He wasn’t doing a very good job, though. 

I was getting fed up since we only had so much time at each station. The longer we took to adjust the machine the fewer swings we each got. I lifted up the net and yelled down the tunnel, “Hey, I think I can do it! Let me try!” My teammate didn’t hear me. He turned around and yelled “What?!” as he put another ball in the machine. Why you would just put a ball in the machine without looking is beyond me.

What happened next was like watching a car wreck in slow motion. 

I was jogging down the middle of the tunnel as he put the ball in. I saw it coming right at me and realized it was too late to get out of the way. My muscles tensed as I briefly anticipated getting Happy Gilmore’d at point-blank range. Taking a fastball to the chest seemed inevitable, but what actually happened might have been worse.

The ball hit me square in the crotch, and my protective cup made a loud “THUNK.” The force of the impact knocked my feet out from under me, and I tumbled to the ground. Sure, the cup mitigated some of the damage, but it was still one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. I felt sick and weak and had to sit out the next few drills.

I could go on and on. 

During a high school football practice, my own teammate managed to get his elbow in my face mask and give me a mean bloody nose. I also broke my finger simply deflecting a pass during practice the next year. I was fielding a ground ball in a rec league baseball game when I saw it hit a rock and take an unbelievable bounce. The ball proceeded to tag me directly under my left eye. In the weight room, I managed to crush one of my fingers between two metal dumbbells. After a set of bench flyes, I dropped my dumbbells in relief. Someone hadn’t returned his set to the rack and my left ring finger was smashed as a result. More recently, I’m easily the least flexible person in my yoga class and can’t do positions others have no problem with.

I think you get the point. 

Anyway, if you’ve been putting off the gym–or exercise in general–because you want to avoid embarrassing yourself or looking silly, look at me. I work out all the time and still find new and inventive ways to look like an idiot. Those people who look like they have it together at the gym have made their fair share of mistakes, too.

Yes, you might make mistakes, and you might fall, but you can always get up again.

Plus, you might end up with a few funny stories. 

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