How to Become a Low-Key Exercise Person

Without becoming “an exercise person”…you know?


Two truths and a lie, in that order: I don’t currently exercise, I need to start and I’m super excited about this.

The problem is that I have a weird thing about gyms and fitness and the lifestyles that surround them. The weird thing is they bore me to unsalted tears. I never leave a conversation faster than when it takes a turn for the “10 reps and then replenish with electrolytes.” (Did that make me sound like an exercise person or like a cat lady pretending to be an exercise person?)

It usually comes as quite a shock to people when I reveal I was a die-hard athlete in high school and my whole life leading up to it. I hope it’s because they think I spent my formative years brooding in corners with artsy friends and indie magazines a la Perks of Being a Wallflower. Wouldn’t that have been romantic? Unfortunately, I was too busy doing cross country, soccer, track and field and other synonyms for running until I vomited.

Then I went to college and spent a lot of time watching Intervention next to my roommate with a Costco-sized bag of peanut M&Ms nuzzled between us like a baby. I ran occasionally, but my former athletic spirit flailed without the supportive structure and routine of a competitive team. Also missing? Uniforms. Because how cool.

I’ve since had my fitness-focused phases but they never last. I never like the way working out consumed me and my time and my identity. I know I need to move my body but is there a way to do it without surrendering a slot in my personality to it? Without sacrificing and disrupting parts of my life that I don’t want to change? How can I become an exercise person without becoming “An Exercise Person?”

I came up with five possible solutions and decided to test them. The rules: they had to be free and they had to pose a minimal disruption on my life.

1. The Walking Commute

How To Become A Low Key Exercise Person Man Repeller WalkingCommute

 I live in Bushwick, 4.3 miles from work, so a 90-minute commute didn’t really make sense. Instead, I rode the subway as usual but got off at early and walked the remaining 2.5 miles across the Williamsburg Bridge.

The good: Only added about 30 minutes to my overall commute which seems doable; the walk was beautiful; I listened to an audiobook; did not feel like exercise!

The bad: Hi-top vans = horrible idea!!!! Got 3 blisters and also chose to walk on the day of a “heat advisory” a.k.a. I nearly passed out. Also 50 minutes of walking every morning might get old?

2. The After-Work Run

How To Become A Low Key Exercise Person Man Repeller RunWorkout

I figured a short run after work couldn’t hurt me, especially since I usually take some downtime when I arrive home anyway. I ran for 25 minutes one day last week, right when I got home.

The good: I shower at night, so it didn’t cause a bathing/wardrobe conflict; I got to check out my neighborhood in a new way; endorphins!

The bad: Um, god awful because I’m out of shape? Spent the run noticing every bone in my body and not in a good way. My knees are especially bad from running so much in high school so they were giving the next day.

3. YouTube Yoga

How To Become A Low Key Exercise Person Man Repeller YoutubeYoga

I did a 30-minute video by Yoga With Adriene one day before work to see if I could work it into my morning routine.

The good: Waking up 30 minutes early wasn’t so bad; I have a crush on Adriene; it felt like a form of meditation; my body felt good during and after

The bad: Didn’t feel strenuous enough on its own; messed up my night-time shower schedule; kiiiind of boring

4. The Bedroom Workout

How To Become A Low Key Exercise Person Man Repeller At Home Workout

The “7-minute workout” was written about in the New York Times for being a short and effective at-home workout, so I downloaded the app and did two of them one night after work.

The good: 14 minutes is so short!!! It was very approachable and bite-sized and I was really sore the next day.

The bad: Under 30 minutes feels a little like cheating; I was self-conscious of the noise I was making for my roommates

5. The Dance Party

How To Become A Low Key Exercise Person Man Repeller Edit DanceParty

I love to dance, so I’d planned to just dance for a while in my room. Instead, my roommates and I decided to go to a nearby club and we danced without stopping from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

The good: SO. FREAKING. FUN.

The bad: Hard to repeat and I was so sore I almost couldn’t walk for two days.


Running had to be nixed because of my knees and dancing at a club can hardly be considered a regular exercise solution. But regularly working youtube yoga, a bedroom workout and a walking commute into my mornings feels very free, very doable and very easy. If I can manage to not hit the snooze button at least three times a week in order to do these, does that make me at least a low-key exercise person?

And if it does, I’d be doing my low-key fitness a disservice by not investing in some athleisure right…?

Collages by Lily Ross.


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  • Hilary

    Haley, you are seriously killin’ it on every. damn. article.

    I feel this way completely — that I don’t want to “surrender a slot in my personality” to exercise, but also recognize that I enjoy non-intense exercise, it makes me feel good, and of course it is good for me, etc. I tried a bit of “Yoga With Adriene” in the past, but it was indeed too boring in the long run. I definitely want to try out the 7 minute workout you mentioned — hadn’t heard of it till now. Also I have an exercise hula hoop ?? When I bought it, I very seriously thought I was going to become a hula hooping person and strengthen my *core* but now it just collects dust under my bed. It’s super colorful so somehow feels extra sad being unused. Ugh, I’ll keep trying.

  • pennyjenny

    Are we the same person? (Although I did track/soccer/cross-country for three years before I decided to quit to smoke cigarettes and wallow in my depression and listen to indie music and read The Perks of Being a Wallflower.) My old job in Austin allowed me tons of time after work to go for long contemplative meditative walks in nature, but my current life in L.A. is making low-key exercise super difficult. Plus it’s hot out! I can’t take a nice lunchtime walk unless I want to go back to the office looking disgusting.

    • Aydan

      AND this is why I say I’m not a huge fan of summer for work reasons. I usually am able to walk commute to and from work (about 1.5 miles), which is a breeze and is my medidtation time (aka gear up for work or decompress after), but its TOO HOT!!! I get so sweaty after walking outside for like 10 min, so I’m forced to bus commute…

  • Andrea Raymer

    I am with you on the Uniform thing. Running Isn’t as fun when we aren’t all wearing matching outfits. Also running stops being fun when I cant walk for 2 days after. I miss marching band when vigorous walking felt like a workout.

    Also, I am very into these graphics!

  • laraerae

    I also have a huge crush on Adriene – I did her 30 days of yoga recently (it took me more like 50 days but whatever).
    Also, check out Fitness Blender. They have a lot of really great workouts that are pretty short but super effective. Great and easy way to add strength training & high intensity workouts to your routine.

    • Jolie

      I’ve been trying HARD to do the 30 days of yoga (it’s been more like six months for me). Did you see any results in regards to strength/flexibility/weight loss? Fitness Blender KILLS me but is so good.

      • laraerae

        Yes to strength! I can actually do full chaturanga now and I was shocked how toned my arms and chest got! I think I lost a little weight and I’m definitely more flexible. I work out a lot anyways because I love it but I was really surprised by what consistent yoga 5-6x per week did for my body.

        • Tilly McBride

          I second the above. I started doing YWIA about a year and a half ago and it has totally re-shaped my body.

    • I’m in the middle of 30 days of yoga!! Adriene is the shit <3

    • Fitness Blender is great! Blogilates is also a good one for abs. Cassey nearly kills you with the lower abs workout, but they are really good. As a full time working mum, I find 8-10 min home workouts ideal as anything longer is impossible to fit in.

      • laraerae

        Oh yeah I did one of her ab ones and DIED

  • Try swimming. Sounds high maintenance, but once you find a pool you like just get a locker there, keep your swim stuff inside plus a few key beauty/shower items, and suddenly it’s not! The novelty and joy of being in water after spending most of the time not in water is rarely lost on me, especially in the winter. Pro tip: if you join a pool with a sauna/steam room (such as the particular YMCA I belong to), it’s like extra incentive. Having been one of the aforementioned artsy teens in the corner and current professionally artsy adult who loathes unnecessary movement, you can trust me on this.

    • Liz

      Can I ask you how hard it was as a non-swimmer to get started? I’ve thought that I would really enjoy it for exercise (especially bc I too have knee problems), but aside from a leisurely dip, I’ve never swam seriously. It kind of intimidates me and I don’t know where to start! Thoughts?

      • In the athletic sense, I was also a non-swimmer! But I always loved being in water, so that was a primary motivator. It’s very zen and a bit transformative, especially during the workweek. I started swimming last February (in NYC, so you know, freezing) and the weather was my excuse to spend time indoors in a heated pool. For me, it was really getting past the mental hump of “oh this is so involved”, but give yourself a few days to get used to the idea. Join the Y or wherever, and also get a locker. Buy your goggles, swim cap, and a proper sporty bathing suit (I was first swimming in a J.Crew one-piece, which was promptly eaten through by the chlorine within a few months. Avoid this fate and just get a Speedo from the get go). It’s more exhausting than it looks, so do start slow; when I started, I could do 30min easy on the elliptical but 2 laps had me completely winded. That will change over the course of a few weeks, and it’s really gratifying to notice (which you will!). Make sure to congratulate yourself for seemingly small improvements in stamina, which are actually no small feat at all. The best thing, though, is that once you’ve got your suit on and you’re in the water, it’s like…might as well just swim! And that’s all there is to it. Also the sauna, never forget that at the end of your swim there is always the sauna.

  • Hannah Voss

    The shower schedule thing is killer for me right now—I used to shower at night so I would work out in the evenings when it was cooler (also I am n o t a morning person at all). But then I cut my hair to a bob and the bedhead when I get up is so bad that a shower is mandatory, and it’s screwed with my already barely alive exercise ‘routine’ enough to justify skipping it altogether. The 7 minute workout thing sounds great though and I think might be workable even with my intern schedule. Plus feeling like I’m ‘cheating’ is honestly ideal!

    • Engels_Beard

      I’m always so torn about how my hair fits into my life style. Long it takes forever to wash and dry and showering without washing my hair isn’t an option (makes my head itch) but shorter hair require soooo much maintenance regarding cuts and styling. blerg.

  • Jolie

    Go Haley! Yoga With Adriene is my go-to when I’m too lazy to go to the gym (which I also find incredibly boring and slightly terrifying, as opposed to lying on a yoga mat in my apartment). I don’t know why, but Adriene freaks me out a little bit…she smiles like she’s hiding something. But maybe that fear makes me work harder! Fitnessblender is another great Youtube channel for at-home workouts — their videos are organized really well and there are so many of them.

    I actually attribute a 10-pound weight loss to dancing in my bathroom with the hot shower running for like 30 minutes a few times per week. It’s like my own sauna/club. Also, for your commute walks, maybe listen to some podcasts? I fell in love with them after listening to them on commutes and long walks, they really make you forget you’re suffering!

  • Dani Heifetz

    When people talk to me about their work out regimen:

  • Nina

    My work out pattern is weird. One month I get up at 6 am for spinning class and then BAM, nothing for the next half year. Currently I’m enjoying one of my ‘inactive’ periods but I’m feeling guilty too. I work out because I feel I have to, not because I enjoy it. But I wanna age with grace and a strong body so I don’t get a fucked up back like my granny.
    My main problem with fitness classes is that I always feel so awkward. Being one of the artsy, introvert kids too it takes me back to elementary school. I’m that person the instructor always have to correct and help out. Pilates and spinning (and almost yoga too) are the only things I feel comfortable with. I ride my bike in quite high speed every day to work, appointments, whatever (in all kinds of weather, Copenhagen life!), it’s at least 40 minutes a day and I tell myself that counts for … something. Unfortunately running is not for me since I have a knee injury 🙁

  • Dani

    Haley! Your articles are the bee’s knees.

  • Natty
  • Leah

    This post speaks to me on so many levels. I played a DIII college sport and now the idea of running seems akin to torture. Additionally, I’m a year out from knee surgery from an ACL tear so the mentality now is why would I run if I don’t HAVE to? Love your ideas and your tone. Great article!

  • I LOVE to work out. But that’s a dirty secret I prefer to keep between us! I never talk about it with people, I hate it when someone comments on my “guns” and I absolutely HATE sportswear or “athleisure” as some are now calling it. I like high heels and button down tops and plenty of red lipstick. I work out because it makes me feel better in my own skin and I hope will help me keep out running my three kids, which makes me feel like a super mom even if my kids don’t realize it. I’ve been doing Les Mills classes for about 10 years in three different countries including Body Pump (weight lifting) and Body Combat (kickboxing.) These classes and many others are available now online if you ever want to try one. But I think they key to being healthy is finding something you love to do and doing it over and over (or at least until you get past the I’m either going to pass out, puke, or die before this is over phase!) And always do it for yourself.

  • Samantha Mangino

    Loved this article since I’m someone who hates working out at the college gym with all the annoying, grunting athletes around! Being in Boston near Newbury St. I’m a fan of taking a daily walk down there! Definitely going to try out some 7 minute workouts and Youtube yoga in my dorm room this year!

  • Danielle Breen

    I love Yoga by Adrienne but also really love Yoga by Candace and switch off between the the two; her power yoga definitely gets me sweating, and she’s super laid back and doesn’t take herself too seriously, but gives really good pointers and instruction

  • kduck

    We are fitness-life twins separated at birth. Seriously, you just penned my life. One tip I’d like to add is taking the stairs whenever possible. But mostly, thank you for highlighting the fact that it’s okay to HAVE BEEN an athlete (definitely not one anymore) and take a lifestyle approach to fitness without having to change who I am now or feel guilty by comparing myself to who I was then. You are my guru.

    Also, I wish we had the french perspective on this 🙁 Surely enlightening.

  • Catherine Bohner

    This is so my life right now. Trying internet yoga (fightmaster, it is hard af) and started bike commuting. I’d like to join some lame sports team for adults who suck at sports, but I’m too intimidated because the sport I played in high school (rowing) is both far too expensive and far too intense

  • Alyssa G

    This is actually super helpful… I’m sad to admit I’ve never actually gone to a gym before (I just graduated high school so all of my excercise came from mandatory PE), and since I’m starting college in NYC in a month, I’m looking for creative ways to not gain the freshman 15!! Def gonna take inspiration from this!!

  • This is the best because this is exactly the crisis I’m having. Like you I used to have physical activity worked into my life (middle school athletics) but post-campus life (walking to class and to food and back) physical activity is something you have to be intentional about and I just wasn’t ready!

  • Le Sorellastre

    I totally feel you! Awesome article. By the way you could check the “Ballet Beautiful” workout: short, seemingly light, but not so light, very effective exercises drawn from ballet prep routine. And you could try Vinyasa yoga if you were a bit bored by your yoga routine; it’s like a dance, more dynamic but not “hard” like Ashtanga or other yoga styles. I didn’t know “Yoga with Adriene” but I’ve a feeling that I’ll love her, so thank you for letting me know her.