Forcing yourself to work out when you really don’t want to is so passé, that’s why we think it’s time you got on board with intuitive exercise
You may have heard of a little something called intuitive eating – the idea that you eat only what brings you joy, whether that’s a big green salad or a double chocolate chip cookie, but what happens when you apply this concept to movement? Peace, headspace and empowerment, according to the experts. With the ever-changing rules around fitness, training plans and daily step goals, it appears we’ve lost the ability to really listen to what our body wants when it comes to exercise, so are the days of punishing, mindless workouts behind us? We investigate why compulsive movement may be a thing of the past…
The struggle is real
We’ve all been there: the alarm’s set, your gym clothes are ready to be put on in haste and you’re mentally preparing yourself for the exercise to follow the next morning, regardless of how you may feel. But why do we force ourselves to work out when we really don’t want to? Enter, intuitive movement. A concept that involves listening to our overarching inner voice and building the connection to our body that we may have lost. “Intuitive training is exercising according to how you feel, rather than following a prescribed plan,” explains Luke Worthington, human movement and elite performance expert (lukeworthington.com). “In recent years, we’ve seen the growth of torturing workouts, but there is a better approach to exercise to suit your body, lifestyle and goals.” So when did we stop listening to and respecting our bodies’ needs?
Breaking the mould
“I think it’s because we’ve got a fitness industry that makes a lot of money by telling you that you don’t know what you’re doing, so you need workout classes and a personal trainer,” explains Tally Rye, author of Train Happy: An Intuitive Exercise Plan For Every Body (tallyrye.co.uk). “I do believe in those things as a personal trainer myself, but we look to those people as the experts of our bodies when in fact, you’re in control and in the driving seat.” And it starts with you. Does your workout buddy get her kicks from burpees and squat jumps, while the same exercises leave you feeling exhausted? It might be time to make a switch according to how your body responds. “Intuitive fitness is all about looking at exercise as a form of self-care that comes from a place of love and enjoyment,” continues Tally. “Ultimately, it’s getting people to that point so they feel like they have the knowledge, combined with intuition, so they can do the best thing for themselves and their bodies.”
That’s all well and good, but what if our intuition is telling us to embrace our lazy-girl state and binge-watch The Crown? “The key is looking at why you don’t want to exercise,” says Luke. “If you don’t want to because you aren’t in the mood, then it can be a case of giving yourself a shake and getting on with it, but, on the other hand, if your body or brain is overworked, then you might want to consider the risks that come with that, such as hormonal irregularities and illness.” Let’s face it, the intention can be there to want to do a workout, but life simply gets in the way sometimes. “If you have a trainer, they should be able to plan your fitness schedule to suit your body and lifestyle,” explains Luke. “Late nights, injuries and personal or work stress are factors of life, so they should also be able to adjust off the cuff.”
Don’t forget to breathe
Whether you struggle to make it to the gym or can’t keep away from the weights rack, Swami Purohit, yoga and meditation expert (swamipurohit.com), suggests mindfulness and breathwork to become the expert of your own body. “Change needs to be imposed on the mind and, after a while, we start to see the benefit and find ourselves doing things out of love rather than obligation,” Swami explains. “Breathing creates harmony in the mind and, when our breathing is in perfect harmony, we have more time to dedicate to our thoughts and communication.” If you’re battling with taking days off, Tally wants you to be aware of the signs of over-training. “If you’re sacrificing sleep to work out at all costs, it negates the benefits of exercise and also isn’t something you can maintain in the long term, because it will lead to burnout,” she explains. The solution? Understanding body connection and trust, she suggests. “If you’re forcing yourself to do that particular activity, you may want to reconsider your options. It might mean spending some time experimenting and figuring out what you actually enjoy, rather than punishing routines in the four walls of a gym.”
The intuitive impact
So what are the benefits of giving diet and fitness culture the heave-ho? Happiness and contentment, according to Tally. “In my personal experience, it’s been absolutely liberating because I’m not constantly secondguessing myself or doubting the decisions I make. I used to spend a lot of time obsessed with exercise and what I ate, but by having that headspace back on a daily basis to do more valuable thinking and learning, I’m able to contribute to society in a more meaningful way. [Intuitive movement] helps you to find peace with yourself and your body, giving you so much confidence in other areas of your life.”
Resolving fears around intuitive movement
“Cultivating a healthy and happy relationship with [exercise] takes time, work and compassion, so I’ve attempted to anticipate and respond to any fears you might have about fully leaning into this process,” says Tally. Here are her top tips:
If I stop a structured plan and just listen my body, I won’t do anything at all.
There may be moments of working through this process when you don’t do anything, and that’s OK. The pendulum needs to swing one way and then the other in order to recalibrate and find your sweet spot somewhere in the middle. If exercise has been strongly associated with body transformation for you, then taking this out of the equation might mean you’ve briefly lost motivation. But just go back and remind yourself of the incredible benefits of movement and start thinking about, and even writing down, how they could fit into the context of your life.
But if I change the way I move and work out, then my body will change.
Yes, it might, but if you’re happier enjoying the way you move your body, feeling less guilt and anxiety around exercise and still reaping the health benefits that come with regular movement, then isn’t it worth it? Isn’t the freedom and fun that come with intuitive and joyful movement worth celebrating more than a dress size? It’s normal to fear change in appearance, particularly weight gain, as we live in a society that demonises fatness. Part of this process is challenging that and trying to let go of that pressure as you learn to have fun with movement again.
If I work out intuitively without the same rigid structure, then I won’t be able to achieve my goals of getting fitter or stronger as my training won’t be as consistent.
As you are discovering how to intuitively exercise, you will need to hit pause on performance goals initially because they will stand in the way of building intuition with your body. Training may feel more sporadic and less intentional, but exploring structure vs no structure and what works for you as an individual, is part of the process. That’s not to say you can’t ever have performance goals again, but it’s important to remove the boundaries at first to give you clarification on what your real motivation is and the freedom to explore what feels good. Whether you are usually driven by goals or not, there may still be times in our lives when we take a break to move our bodies just for the enjoyment in the moment.