Did the name of this post get you excited…or cause a mix of fear and dread? (If the latter was you, congrats on opening it anyhow!)
Truth of the matter is I don’t have an actual program for you, but I can help you figure out the perfect exercise plan for you!
Historically, the overwhelming reason for a woman to exercise was simply to lose weight. Any other benefits like improved mood, strength, etc., were just pleasant side effects.
Sometimes (ok maybe oftentimes), intense exercising to the point of over-exercising is used like a punishment to our bodies for them not looking the way we want, or maybe because we ate too much and need to ‘burn off those calories’ to assuage our guilt.
There are several issues with this type of exercise model.
The first issue is that this type of activity is not something you truly enjoy participating in – it feels more like you are just paying your dues. If you don’t enjoy your exercise, how easy do you think it will be to get derailed? A holiday or an injury will likely get you off track, and even thinking about getting started again will make your stomach queasy, and you’ll keep putting it off and putting it off…
The next issue is that you are highly unlikely to be in tune with your body’s need for unscheduled rest days. When you ignore your body and push through anyways, you are astronomically more likely to sustain an injury (which could potentially sideline you for a long time).
Another fun fact is that people who exercise strenuously usually engage in ‘compensatory eating’. We tend to overestimate how much extra food we need when we workout hard and therefore actually eat more than we burn off while exercising.
Lastly, this style of exercise can majorly stress your body and cause it to release extra cortisol. I’m sure you’ve all heard this before, but high cortisol is associated with overeating, craving high caloric fatty and sugary foods, and increasing abdominal fat stores.
Stressing your body over a long period of time can often lead to physical, mental or emotional burnout.
Ok so now you see some of the cons of the ‘exercise as punishment’ plan. I may burst a few bubbles here, but an increasing body of research shows that exercise does very little for you when it comes to weight loss.
I’d like you to consider two scenarios and see what sounds more logical for you.
Imagine you are planning on signing up for a super intense exercise class with the intention of going at least 5 days per week and sticking with it indefinitely. I’d like you to look back and consider the other times in your life you started a gruelling fitness program. Did you end up sticking with it forever? I’m guessing not.
Do you think based on your past experience that there’s a pretty good chance you burn out and quit like all the other times?
Now let’s look at an alternative option. Imagine finding a way of moving your body that is enjoyable, doesn’t feel like exercise, and you actually looked forward to doing! And it feels like a self care activity – and not a self punishing one.
Here’s how this works. You decide what days and times you plan to move your body and then based on how your body feels you choose the activity that will best meet your body’s needs that day.
Say you are feeling run down from a stressful week at work; rather than dragging yourself to spin class anyways, maybe some yoga would be more restorative to your body. You’d walk away feeling relaxed and loose, rather than exhausted from pushing your body to do something it didn’t want to.
Maybe another day you’ve sat at a desk all day and are itching to go outside and burn off some steam, so perhaps going for a run that day would best meet your body’s need.
And then there will be days when you feel like ass and the best thing you could do for your body is simply to stay home and catch up on netflix.
By tuning into your body (and taking the focus off gruelling workouts for weight loss – because remember that doesn’t actually work!), you are infinitely more likely to stick with an exercise schedule for the rest of your life – which I’m sure you will agree is better for your health than the on again/off again thing you’ve done in the past.
We can now focus our intentions on moving our body to help us feel energetic, improve our mood, be strong and pliable to resist injury, and to improve our health and well being for years to come.
And since we’ve matched our activity to our body’s need for movement, we walk away feeling restored rather than burnt out.
I know we’ve been fed the myth of ‘no pain no gain’ for a few decades now, but the reality is there is no reason to believe that that is actually the case. By following a more intuitive approach to exercise we keep our stress hormones and injuries to a minimum, but most importantly exercise becomes something we want to do rather than have to because now we genuinely enjoy it.