“I swapped the gym for my social life and I don’t feel guilty at all”

Stylist’s writer Chloe Gray has been slacking on her gym routine. Here’s why that’s actually been the best thing for her mental health.

It’s been five days since my last leg workout and I still can’t stand up, sit down or use the stairs without wincing. The upper body workout I did two days ago is also making hard work of lifting my arms above my head, and I’m pretty sure my heart rate is still up from the HIIT I did earlier this morning.

This isn’t a feeling I’m used to. Usually, I recover quickly from my workouts because my body is well adapted to the stress of training. But after three weeks of minimal gym sessions, I’m feeling every single muscle in my body. 

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The funny thing is that I didn’t think I’d spend this summer skipping workouts. When my gym reopened at 6AM on 12 April, I was one of the first ones through the doors. While I’d kept up my training throughout the third lockdown in the UK, I ended up hating home workouts. I’m a gym girl through and through, and losing access to the weights room proved that fact: I didn’t get the same satisfaction from busting out a round of jumping lunges as I did completing a set of squats with 50kg on my back. Going back was the first step to feeling like me again, and I swore I’d never take it for granted.

But as the months have moved on and restrictions have kept easing, the gym slowly started to take a backseat. Pubs and restaurants opened for indoor dining in May, meaning that I spent Saturday afternoons brunching with friends while Sundays were spent walking off hangovers rather than lifting weights. Then there are the days when I’ve started going into the office and, unlike pre-pandemic Chloe, I can’t face a pre-commute workout. I’ve also been lucky enough to have a calendar full with holidays and festivals and day trips. 

All of this has meant I’ve been faced with a decision: stick to the workout routine I envisioned for myself in March, when I was twisting my thumbs on my yoga mat at home, or make space for the other things I’ve been pining after for the past year and a half.

I’ve gone for the latter. The truth is that the gym will always be there (unless, heaven forbid, there’s another lockdown), but I’m still experiencing too many other firsts to turn down: the first time I pile on top of my friends in a sweaty bar, the first splash of sea water on my face from my little brother on a family holiday, the first hug with strangers at a festival. 

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Even though some of these events have started to become commonplace again, I’m noting how essential rebuilding my relationships is right now. I may not need to go to the pub every Saturday in a row and skip the gym all weekend, but socialising is taking a front seat in my life at the moment. While I know that exercising is crucial for my mental health, it turns out that what my mind really needs right now is for me to RSVP ‘yes’ to other parts of my life.

I’m not saying that I always feel good about this. When I wake up the morning after one too many gin and tonics, I wonder why I didn’t just have a quiet night so I could have had a productive day. Being hit with those ridiculous DOMS after lifting less than I used to is a frustrating reminder that I’m not my strongest right now. But when I get annoyed with myself about it, I remember that I’m intending on exercise being a part of my life forever. I can always go back to it – and I will, because training, nutritious food and sleeping well is what my body and brain needs to thrive. But right now, my mental and physical health is screaming at me to get out of the gym and back into the lives of the people I love.  

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