3 exercise enthusiasts talk the messy reality of fitness – Women's Health UK

The sweaty reality of working out is real – it’s hugely empowering and super important for body and mind

If you’re not red in the face and dripping with sweat after a workout, does it even count? Well, if Instagram is anything to go by, the answer is, apparently, yes.
We’re regularly fed the myth that exercise is an entirely unblemished activity, where your hair stays perfectly done no matter how many burpees you do, and your mascara remains untouched by those sneaky beads of forehead sweat. But if you’re well acquainted with an intense workout, you’ll know that it’s nothing but a facade.
Working out is rarely going to be flattering – but its hugely empowering. Women’s Health talks to three women who are not exercising for likes, but who are exercising for their own positive mental and physical wellbeing – sweat and all.
Between testing products for Women’s Health, working as a personal trainer and practising CrossFit for fun, Yanar Alkayat knows first-hand how the fitness industry is full of ‘cliched aesthetics for women’ and how the algorithm plays into these. ‘Not buying into this version of fitness means that I have to work harder to show a different side of it,’ she says. Despite this, training and goals will always come before catering to social media’s expectations for Yanar, which she believes has allowed her to see more physical and mental growth than she ever could have if she curated her workouts for the ’gram.
Instagram workouts that fail to show the reality of fitness suggest that transformations come without any graft. ‘Depending on your goals and what fitness you’re doing, the reality is that it can be a slog, it takes effort, discipline and long-term commitment,’ she says.
Yanar also stresses that there is so much more to fitness than how you look. ‘Part of the joy of fitness is discovering how incredible your body is at moving, whether that’s through dance, lifting weights or tackling a sport, and discovering new levels of mental capacity. I feel so proud when I achieve a new PB or reach a goal I previously would have thought was out of my reach, and that boosts my mood for the rest of the day – even week!
‘If fitness becomes just about dressing in the latest co-ord, then you’re missing out on the power of movement and the extraordinary dedication that goes into improving yourself.’
A professional runner and athlete, Azeline Martino admits she often shies away from sharing the reality of how she looks while competing in a race due to the judgement of others.
‘Even if it slows me down, I try to be less expressive when I’m competing,’ she says. This is partly down to this ‘fake’ image of sport. ‘[It’s] the perfect athlete who doesn’t sweat, who arrives looking perfect and who is always smiling,’ she says. ‘The truth is, I sometimes throw up, I grimace, I cry or I sigh. But overall, movement helps to uplift me and supports my mental strength.’
The positive impact of movement on both body and mind is proven, with an ASICS State of Mind study showing that the more we move, the better out mental state is likely to be. It doesn’t matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ you think you look while doing it, getting a sweat on has benefits that can far outweigh the buzz of fire emojis on social media for many people.
Azeline believes that as an ambassador for ASICS, she has a responsibility to share realistic content. ASICS stands for ‘Anima Sana In Corpore Sano’, or “a sound mind in a sound body”, and is focused on supporting the power of movement for positive mental health.

‘I try to create and share realistic snapshots of my daily life, and I share my whole life as a woman and an athlete… In my routine, I share everything without filters, even my pillow head and my tears.’

Whether it’s lifting heavy weights in the gym, high-intensity sprints or competing with her netball team, Natalie Morris isn’t a stranger to getting sweaty during a workout. ‘Women have always been up against unattainable and unrealistic standards of beauty, and this is no less prevalent in fitness spaces,’ she says.
‘These standards feed into the belief that we are not allowed to look sweaty, exhausted or like we are working hard – or to show that we have real body parts that move and jiggle when we workout.’
She adds that attempting to filter your workouts for Instagram and focusing on aesthetics can be ‘deeply limiting’.
‘One of the key benefits of fitness for me is the mindfulness that comes with it,’ says Natalie. ‘When I am entirely absorbed in a netball training session or pushing my body with sprints or heavy weights, there is no space in my brain to think about emails or how much washing I need to do. That stays with me long after the workout finishes.’
Fully committing to the messiness and authenticity of exercise is the best way for Natalie to get the most out of her workout.
‘It’s such a rare and beautiful escape from a modern lifestyle that demands so much for us and rarely lets us switch off.’
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