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Does your fear of looking hot and sweaty stop you working out?
Personally I'd be delighted to look like Cheryl Cole at her "worst" (her now infamous tweet showed her looking hot and sweaty after a tough day of rehearsals). But with obesity on the rise and beauty salon treatments showing growth in these uncertain economic times, are you letting your fear of not looking your best put you off exercising?
Apart from helping people maintain a healthy weight, exercise has all sorts of mood benefits. It helps us burn-off stress hormones, produces feel-good hormones, aids better sleep and even helps retrain our brains so we learn to manage periods of physical and, as a result, emotional discomfort more easily.
"Image and the perception of others can be a fantastic motivator and also a huge barrier to exercising," says personal trainer and TV regular Matt Roberts. "There is a fear amongst many women of being seen without looking 'prepped'. If that means that they are focused on looking good, that's fine, but only if they are getting the workout done. Otherwise I let them know that we are just wasting our time.
"Whilst it is difficult to break the habits of a lifetime, there is great kudos to giving off the image and perception that you do workout, and you do take great care of yourself. Whilst the short term self-perception might be scary, the implications of your actions are nothing but positive. The important thing is that someone feels at ease and comfortable in their workout and in themselves."
Broadimage, Rex Features
"There is pressure on women to look good whilst performing at their best," says personal trainer and personal trainer business mentor, Andy McGlynn. "I've had female clients who admitted they felt uncomfortable sweating in front of me." Andy's whole-hearted approval of sweating when working out has helped them relax and work harder: "A professional PT (personal trainer) - male or female - will only ever be concerned with the attention and effort being put in. As you relax and get to know your PT, you will probably find you become more comfortable and it stops being an issue."
"I've worked with women who say they'd love to get into the gym or start swimming but fear looking so awful they don't want to go," says Linda Aspey, a therapist and executive coach who works with female leaders.
"Wearing sportswear - which looks close to underwear - can make you feel quite vulnerable and exposed. If you look in the mirror and think, 'Urghh,' you're unlikely to want to go. Some gyms look very fashionable and can be competitive. Remember, they're often strangers that you may never see again. Even those people looking great are there either because they don't think they look great or they are trying to keep in shape. They may have their own vulnerabilities.
"Find stuff that fits well and know that it will get better with time. Have a goal in mind. Not that you're going to turn into a six foot supermodel but maybe, 'This time next month, (if I do this regularly) I'll be able to look in that mirror and think "Well done, girl!"' Focus on what's good about you, the bits that you love. Remember that you won't look hot and sweaty forever and find an exercise you like doing. Experiment with a number of things until you find something you love. And remember people are not thinking about you, but about themselves."
Do all you can to support yourself. Don't throw yourself in at the deep end with, say, swimming (if hair is your biggest concern) or a class that will really work up a sweat. Take a walk. Climb the escalator instead of standing. Dance around your home. Start at a level that you can manage and build on it.
Appreciate what your body can do rather than what you look like. If mirrors make you uncomfortable, avoid your reflection as you work out. As you notice yourself getting stronger, faster and more flexible, and you focus on doing your personal best (whether at home, in the park, the pool or the gym), you may even forget your looks while you're working out.
The more you allow yourself to enjoy the benefits of moving, the more natural activity will feel. You'll soon feel strange on the days you don't work out.