Fainting, Failing, and a “Creative Approach” to Fitness (Guest Post)

This week I fainted during my first-ever personal training session. I’m okay now, and everyone at the Toronto West-End YMCA who helped me were real champs about it! (Special thanks to my boyfriend who came and retrieved me afterwards as well.)


I was doing squats with the barbell, which weighs around 50 pounds. That might not seem like a lot, but it was more than I have worked with before. I wasn’t sure how it happened, but based on what the trainer said, as I was bracing myself for the exercise, I may have been holding my breath. (Rookie mistake!)

Anyway, by the time I put the bar back on the rack, I stopped to catch my breath and suddenly everything went blurry and dark. The next thing I knew, there were 3 YMCA employees around me, including the trainer, and I had an oxygen mask in front of my face. I was also slightly damp because I had apparently spilled my water bottle as I blacked out.

I wanted to write about this because I felt like it should/could have been a really embarrassing or discouraging moment. I could have thought all manner of things about myself: I’m weak, I’m out of shape, I’m not cut out for this, I should give up, I suck! I’m sure for some people who try new things incidents like this could turn you off from such activities altogether.

While some people might see this episode as a failure, I found it to be a valuable learning experience. And hell, I’ve had my fair share of fitness “fails,” including altitude sickness on a hike, nearly vomiting at hot yoga, sprained ankles, getting a nosebleed during horseback riding and tearing my riding pants fully open on my stirrups to reveal my floral underpants (unrelated incidents). Anyway, these things used to absolutely mortify me. I would definitely beat myself up about them and consider them proof that I was never meant to be a very active person.


But this time I feel surprisingly fine about it. In fact, I’m even a little excited to get back to the gym. Who would have thought! (Couch-potato Tracy can’t believe what she’s hearing!) So what’s changed?

For one thing, I know I had taken all the proper precautions beforehand: I was well hydrated, I had eaten balanced meals, and I wasn’t ill. I also followed up with the trainer after the fact and he noted that my form was good, I was strong enough to complete the exercise and up until the fainting, I seemed to be doing very well. I’m even going to a clinic in the next couple of days just to be sure the fainting wasn’t related to anything more serious.

The other thing that’s changed is probably my approach to new things and I credit this to the value creativity has in my life.

I’ve always been more artistically inclined than athletically inclined. I grew up with my mother and sister—both of whom are visual artists—in a household where we were allowed (encouraged!) to draw on the walls, repurpose things, make messes, break things and turn them into new things, and more! Creative and artistic endeavours were always non-negotiable.

Even as a busy grad student, I’ve always made sure that I’m pursuing or developing a creative skill. Some of these include basket weaving, photography, paper arts, crochet, wheel throwing/pottery, and more recently I was learning to sew in order to alter and draft my own clothes.

With my recent fitness commitments, I decided to put my creative hobby money toward personal training sessions, specifically to learn how to weight lift. Now, as an artsy type who was brought up in an all-female household, weight training might seem like an out-of-character choice. And to be honest, I’d never really been inclined to work with a trainer before—something about working one-on-one with someone in that context always weirded me out.

For better or worse, in the past I would have imagined training or an athletic approach as scary and intense (in a bad way). That’s probably why I avoided personal training for as long as I did. Training, to me, conjured images of a huge muscly person shouting in my face telling me to give them “5 more!” while snot, sweat, and tears dribbled down my face. (And sure, some people are into that! And that’s cool too.)


But for me, categorizing fitness as my new creative pursuit made me approach it differently. This time, instead of working with clay or fabric, I’d be working with my own body. And in a way, this idea made me more curious than fearful.

For example, when working with materials, painting or wheel throwing or what have you, you make a huge mess. With pottery, there’s clay e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. And I’d never make it through a session without having something I was super proud of completely collapse. In fact, this was a technique I learned the first few times I threw on a wheel: we weren’t allowed to keep anything we made. The purpose was just to play around, figure things out, be curious, and enjoy ourselves.

I have always loved this mentality when it comes to creative endeavors: most of the time, it’s messy and can often be more about the process than the result. It’s also unpredictable; with pottery, I can’t count the number of times I planned to make mugs and ended up with bowls. Or vases, or tumblers, or bowls. (Bowls are probably the thing all pottery “wants” to be if you leave it to its own devices.)


I think I unconsciously applied this approach to my renewed interest in fitness and the reality of failures: it can be messy and it’s a process. It’s unpredictable at times, and when you’re starting out you’re not necessarily going to churn out beautiful mugs every time. Or lift weights like a pro.

And while I know that the stakes are definitely higher with fitness, (i.e., you’re not going to injure yourself if your clay collapses), I’m speaking more to my desire to keep going and not to succumb to discouragement or embarrassment. I would never give up on my usual creative pursuits just because I made a few ugly things. Likewise, why should I give up on fitness from a few failed attempts?

I can only learn from my mistakes and keep going.


What sort of “fitness fails” have you experienced and what did you learn from them?


8 thoughts on “Fainting, Failing, and a “Creative Approach” to Fitness (Guest Post)

  1. There was a time I nearly passed out in Aikido class. We’d just stood up after fifteen minutes in seiza listening to Sensei lecture, and like the non-wimp I was trying to prove myself to be, I stood up too fast. With Sensei’s permission I sat back down for a few minutes and recovered. But I also learned to eat something before class to keep my blood sugar up. Somewhat ironically, it was passing out at work years before that had prompted me to get off my butt and check out Aikido in the first place.

  2. Thanks for sharing this — I have never fainted or puked but I have hurt my knee irrevocably by not listening to the twinging. Really good reminder to listen to the nuances.

  3. Great attitude that failing is nothing to be ashamed of. I was cycling last yr. in a bike lane very slowly. Then all of a sudden I fell to the side off my bike. Thankfully not into a car path. It was a busy road and I had many drivers at the intersection with traffic lights, witness my fall.

    I didn’t faint, but it was as if I Iost focus to balance. I wasn’t embarrassed. A lady asked me if I was ok. It was kind of her.

    I rode home,wondering what happened. Then I forgot about it until now.

    Embarrassment because of human fraility? A lot worse things in life. A lot worse.

  4. Thanks for this. I feel a bit of a wooosh after a set lots of the time. I’ve never actually fainted but I can see how it could happen. I don’t like to think in terms of workout “fails” either. But the bike is my biggest and most obvious. The main thing I learned is that if I give something a more than fair chance and still hate it and suck at it, I can quit. I feel kind of embarrassed about it (because seriously, what kind of person can’t ride a bicycle?) but mostly just relieved.

  5. Sometimes I hit a low point and I have to keep repeating to myself, “keep on keeping on” again and again every time some negative self talk comes in. I realize that when I’m down like that I’m not thinking straight and so the best thing is to simply keep focused on my goals and soon it passes and I’m feeling good again.

  6. I was coming back to deadlifts after a long break and sharing the small weight room with some dude who, for some dumb reason, I felt like I should impress. I put too much weight on it, did a couple reps, racked, and when I unracked again I pulled my QL lowering the bar. Dude came over to compliment me on my form right after the injury (lol) and faced with the choice of asking him to unload the bar for me or struggling to lift 45lb plates hunched over in pain I did it myself.

    So lessons learned: I ain’t in there to impress nobody, ask for help if I need it, and thank goodness for having a physical scheduled the next day because muscle relaxers are wonderful.

  7. Oh i wouldn’t worry about it, although it has never happened to me I have seen it happen to a lady at my gym. I have also had a near miss with vomit which was not pleasant, but hey still going to the gym!

  8. You’re such a trooper! I’m no stranger to workout shame. I’ve had to walk out of hot yoga 10 minutes in from dizziness. I’ve had to walk my bike up slight hills. How about dropping your phone on the treadmill? Happens every time.

Comments are closed.