All exercise is healthy. Right?
Not so much.
While there isn’t anything wrong with any one training modality, form of exercise or exercise class, per se, the mindset and practice we cultivate around it can be damaging, for sure, toxic even.
It can foster feelings of hatred, resentment, failure, and frustration towards physical activity and exercise and therefore becomes a TOTALLY counterproductive thief of our joy!
Come see what I mean!
Raise your hand if you’re someone that is either “On the exercise wagon” or completely 100% off of it.
Do you have a rigid idea in your mind of what exercise needs to look like?
Does it need to take a certain amount of time? Occur in a specific place in certain clothes?
Does it have to look exactly like what your peers are doing? What celebrity “X” is using to get her amazing body?
Does it always have to leave you pouring sweat and gasping for air?
Do you believe that if you miss a day you will fall behind? Lose momentum? Lose results? Gain weight? Backslide into old habits?
This is the sort of mindset that I used to have around exercise and just like with dieting, I was TOO restrictive and so I never found my groove. I would binge, restrict, binge restrict, overdoing it with BOTH sedentary AND active phases-never finding the balance between training, moving and resting.
I never could figure out how to make my fitness and movement practice just a part of my life because I had REAL rigid ideas of what I needed to do in fitness in order for it to “count.”
Can you relate?
I was either running 6 miles a day 5 days a week, or nothing.
I was sticking to a strict schedule, attending a certain class, consistently using only one training modality or I was doing nothing.
And I wasn’t “healthy” when I was exercising hard and constantly.
I became injured, I was tired. I lost my appetite…
Just like when we are on a diet, I felt locked in by “the rules” .
Whose rules? I have no idea.
I’m sure they were a combination of
what I saw others doing
what fitness culture was telling me was “effective” and
whatever routine was JUST enough out of reach that striving for it made me feel like I was really accomplishing something-making up for lost time. I mean if it didn’t sort of feel like punishment, would it even work? Was it enough?
Consequently I was happy for excuses to skip out on workouts, miss runs, take it easy.
And when I was “off the wagon” I missed how exercise made me feel but I NEVER actually missed the exercise itself.
I didn’t miss the pressure, the feelings of failure, the guilt when I “skipped” a workout.
And the more I grew accustomed to this cycle of inactive vs. super active , the more I had to REALLY PUMP MYSELF UP to want to get back into the active part of the cycle, because I didn’t enjoy it-even if I felt there was an aspect of it that did make me feel better.
But my sedentary habits weren’t make me feel great either.
My mood and digestion would suffer. My body was achy and I felt like I was craving movement!
So I would find something new- a new class at the gym, swimming, training for triathlons, lifting weights and that worked for a while, but I finally realized that it wasn’t the exercise itself that was the problem, it was my mindset.
I was too restrictive.
I was dieting, white knuckling it, so super perfectionist and holding myself to standards that I thought were what I needed to do in order to get results!
It wasn’t until I had my second baby that out of necessity, I began to change my mindset and FINALLY found my groove with training and movement.
Here are the guidelines that I used to cultivate a consistent and life nourishing relationship with movement and exercise! THESE ARE NOT RULES, but simply a framework that I used to integrate movement and fitness into my lifestyle and get out of the cycle of fitness dieting!
Move daily-no matter what it looks like, and do it outside when you can!
I knew that movement made me feel good. I knew that getting outside in the sun and fresh air was good for my mental health, vitamin D and my babies, toddler and infant at the time.
So I made a commitment to move every day in one respect or another, no matter for how long or how it looked.
Movement took place in a number of different forms, but it happened.
Often it was a leisure walk around the neighborhood with kids in the stroller.
Sometimes it was yoga in the living room with them close by.
Other times it was just crawling around in the grass in the backyard or doing some raking or simply doing yard work while the littles were hanging with me outside.
And several times a week, when I could make it work, it would be some version of a short workout.
Moving daily in all the different ways helped me to maintain momentum. It made the hurdle of getting up or getting out to move, far less intimidating and when I had the time and energy to do so, it made it FAR easier to get in a real workout, because I was already used to moving, and now I just had to move a little more intensely for a period of time.
Yes there were days when no intentional movement happened either because I was tired, the kids were sick, or whatever, but on those days, I missed my movement practice and because I had such lax requirements for what movement needed to “look like” it made it easier to get back to it!
Strength train your body-
I transitioned away from an “exercise” mentality and gradually started to train my body. I trained for strength, resilience, body composition changes and endurance.
I realized that part of my problem with exercise was that there was never any clear goal. For me, exercise was largely about showing up to burn off calories or fat, lean out…and those are such nebulous goals that are not always appropriate for new nursing mommas (which I was at the time), are difficult to measure, and impacted by our hormonal cycles. I needed a clear bullseye, I wanted something to work towards, so strength and endurance because my new targets.
This was awesome because regardless of how many calories I burned doing one set of pushups in my kitchen while emptying the dishwasher, I knew for certain that I was building strength and getting better at pushups.
Maybe sprints in the driveway didn’t take the full 60 minutes that I had believed and exercise class needed to take, but I could feel my legs, core and reflexes growing stronger, my speed and lung capacity were increasing and I didn’t need more than 10 minutes for a sprint workout.
Besides, strength training was convenient for me. I could leave weights in any room of the house and do a few rods of weighted squats while the kids played on the floor. I could throw a kettlebell in the bottom of the stroller, walk to the play ground and work on my swing. I could bring bands to the park or out in the backyard to do some presses or pull aparts while the babies napped in the stroller.
I learned to view rest part of my process-
Whether you’re an elite athlete or a total amateur momma just trying to hold it together while you care for two young kids, you need REST and RECOVERY! I had totally bought into the mindset that we are supposed to exercise almost EVERY DAY, 5 to 6 days a week for sure! And if we didn’t, we weren’t doing enough to get good results. But there is no science to support that this approach over time is the best option for all people and there is PLENTY of science that shows if we don’t rest, recover, sleep and move gently between training sessions, we will get hurt, we will create loads of chronic inflammation, we will NOT get good results.
So I started to make rest part of it!
I even learned about some of the hormonal benefits of resting in my life, between rounds, between workouts, or whenever I needed it. Rest was intentional.
Rest was strategic.
Rest was what was going to keep me consistent with my fitness and movement practices!
#persistenceoverperfection became my new motto for life-
Moving away from rigid expectations and approaches to exercise helped me to finally get consistent.
Movement and training because actions that NOURISHED me. I wanted them to be a part of my life, so I began to prioritize them.
I also knew that if I was tired, training wasn’t going to be good for me, that movement was OFTEN the key to feeling better about my day, even when everything felt like it was falling apart and I was constantly failing,
And I saw the value of rest because resting one day almost ensured that I would get back into my training or movement practice of BOTH the next day.
The more lax I because in my expectations, the more disciplined I actually wanted to be.
The more I gave myself a pass to shorten my workouts, or not train at all, the easier it became for me to make them happen. Sure maybe it would take me ALL day to get in 4 rounds of a simple 5 minute circuit consistent of 4-5 exercises, but I would do it! And because I did, I became more consistent, got the best physical results I have ever gained form exercise and I finally had a relationship with fitness and movement that wasn’t one of obligation and guilt.
It was there FOR ME to make me better and when I was rested and had the time I would use it to the best of my ability that day, because I was PERSISTENT in my pursuit of movement and fitness practices, but I was NO LONGER perfectionist about what it needed to look like.
What about you?
Are you stuck on the “on again, off again” fitness dieting cycle?
Do you feel locked into a specific approach to exercise?
Are you consumed with the message that exercise needs to kick your ass and burn ALL the calories in order to be of value?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
IF YOU WANT TO TRY A NEW AND DIFFERENT APPROACH-you can download my Strong Guts n’ Butts movement protocol AND or my 5 minutes circuits that can be done at home with MINIMAL equipment!
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Sarah Smith is a personal trainer, level two Russian Kettlebell Instructor, postnatal fitness specialist and pelvic floor and gut health advocate working online and in Raleigh, North Carolina.
She specializes in helping women online and in-person feel strong, confident and capable in their bodies!
Sarah is a mom to three boys and one English Bulldog. She loves soil, coffee and not folding laundry.