If you’d much rather do literally anything else apart from put on your running shoes and sweat it out, or if you find yourself negotiating and justifying your way out of exercise (you had to walk a bit extra to the bus the other day, so you’re good for this week)... you’re not alone.
There are women everywhere who don’t fit the stereotypical gym bunnie image (thin, tanned, toned, blonde and perpetually smiling with flawless hair as you blitz your way from the elliptical to the rowing machine) and live in fear of the day where their body is going to say “No more!” and they’ll have to actually hit the gym. I know, because for 99.99999% of my life, I was that girl. I hated exercise with a burning, fiery passion. Not just didn’t like - but actively loathed. I thought I was hard-wired to hate exercise; that some people just weren’t designed to feel that elusive endorphin rush.
Boy, was I wrong. And it was only after some serious therapy and a lot of mental work that I realised why my relationship with exercise was so troublesome.
I was viewing exercise as the problem, but it wasn’t - I was the problem. Specifically, my mental blocks surrounding exercise. And since I started working on clearing those mental blocks and eliminating all my BS excuses, I’ve since come to love exercise. If you want to reach that place too, I’d like to share some tips with you that have greatly helped me:
(Disclaimer: I pinky promise you that I’m not about to get all preachy and tell you to go put on your sneakers and slap on a smile and fake it till you make it - that’s crap, and that won’t work. This is all about meeting you where you’re at - not transforming you into someone you’re not).
STEP 1: Find your why.
In order to change the way you see exercise, you first need to trace it back and understand what’s shaped your currently negative view of moving your body. Dig deep into your past experiences with movement and ask yourself if there were any defining moments. For some of us we've been taunted or ridiculed, for others it's a matter of being pushed too hard. Whatever your "why", once you understand your reason for hating exercise, it's so much easier to heal that relationship.
Now, consider this: there are 5 stages of change when it comes to exercise, and we all move back and forth in these stages throughout our lives.
In each stage, a person can move forward or backwards.
With the above stages in mind, can you identify a time in your life where you were in each of those stages?
What stage do you feel like you're in right now?
STEP 2: Stop forcing yourself.
Whilst exploring your past experiences around exercise, you may have noticed that certain movements made you feel particularly negative. In a lot of fitness circles, there’s this idea that you need to “push through” what you don’t enjoy otherwise you’ll never love it. And, for those training hard for a specific purpose, that can certainly be true. But for those of us starting from scratch and just wanting to be able to move our bodies without wanting to cry, it’s so not about pushing through things that we hate. It’s about finding a way to enjoy them!
If an exercise or movement doesn't make you feel good - that is, positive, happy, uplifted and energised - stop doing it.
Of course, some exercises are designed to be challenging and not feel good - those exercises aren't "bad". This isn't about fitspo and forcing yourself to keep going unless you "puke, faint or die" as one particularly famous disordered trainer loudly proclaimed. What I mean is that if you're coming at a particular exercise from a place of guilt, fear or self-hate, you're not going to enjoy it. You're not going to stick at it. You won't be giving it your all because you'll be so damn focused on what a shit time you're having, and because of this, you likely won't see whatever results that you're after.
And there's nothing airy-fairy about this either... it's proven. Let's take a walk on the science side, shall we?
When we're stressed, it's not just mental - our body has a physical reaction, sympathetic nervous system dominance and this creates an increase in cortisol and insulin, simultaneously. Those two hormones are great but when secreted excessively, all hell breaks loose and they signal to the body to store fat and not build muscle. If you're doing an exercise that you absolutely hate or if you've emotionally bullied yourself into doing it, you're likely not in the best mental place in that moment and likely just a tad stressed. And that emotional experience around exercise can trigger the same physiological stress response that I discussed above.
You see where I'm going with this?
When you're stressed out, filled with self-loathing and hating the exercise that you're doing, the chemistry of your body is actively stopping you from losing weight or building muscle.
You may as well be banging your head against a wall. Think about that, and now look back at what you've written on your worksheet today - all those exercises that you tried once and then gave up, or the ones that made you feel embarrassed or incapable... it all starts to make sense!
STEP 3: Re-frame your mindset.
So often, we hear this recycled, “NO EXCUSES!” stuff in relation to fitness - and shaming is proven, proven and proven again not to work. When you start allowing yourself to have a rational conversation with yourself, rather than viewing your inner dialog in excuses and justifications, you can start to change the way you view exercise. To reframe your mindset, you need to take a good look at the reasons you tell yourself that you hate certain exercises.
And those are all valid reasons - you don't want to be over-exerting yourself to the point where you feel like death is imminent. But, although they're valid reasons, they're still quite surface level. Instead, we want to get to the core of the issue: they hard? What specific movements made you exhausted? What part of the experience made you feel like you were going to die? If you're like most people, you've likely noticed some trends in the exercises that you like the least. Those trends might be:
This information is super dooper useful because with that, we can then construct a profile of all the exercises that you're likely to hate (so that you can avoid anything that fits that profile quite safely) and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we can put together the profile of exercises that you're likely to enjoy (so that you can embrace them with open arms)! This means less time spent saying 'yes' to every exercise or gym invite that comes your way because you don't know what you'll enjoy or not, less guilting yourself into workouts that you hate and less time wondering why you don't enjoy the workouts that you're told that you 'should' enjoy.
And, just because you don't enjoy fast paced workouts, for instance, doesn't mean you can't still get in some great cardio, or just because you don't like lifting heavy things doesn't mean that you can't still build strength. It's all about playing to what you love - because the movements that your body loves? Your body rewards those activities! It gives you those wonderful endorphin rushes that you hear about (yep, they're real!) and doesn't actively try to stop you from losing weight or building muscle out of fear of being perpetually in stress-mode.
You're happy, your body's happy... win win!
STEP 4: Focus on function and feeling, not aesthetics.
If you ask many people why they want to work out, they’ll tell you that they want to look good in a bikini or lose 10 kilograms or tone their abs. And that’s all well and good… except that fixation on purely aesthetic goals when it comes to your health will ultimately only serve to lock you into a cycle of insecurity.
Why? Because health comes in shapes and sizes. It’s fast and slow and gentle and hard and everything in between. And it’s all about how your body functions, not how it looks.
To reframe your focus to function, it’s helpful to start by focusing on the emotions that you want to experience before, during and after a workout.
Let’s try a little visualisation - slowly close your eyes and picture yourself tomorrow. You've just returned home from a workout and you feel glorious and alive and radiant. You're glowing and filled with a sense of achievement. You move on with the rest of your day - showering, changing and going about your business, and you're filled with a sense of strength and happiness for the rest of the day. How does it feel to look at yourself feeling so happy? Doesn't it feel wonderful to know that you enjoyed a workout?
When you're ready, open your eyes slowly and let that feeling sink in. Future you actually enjoys working out. It makes you happy. It makes you strong. You do it willingly - no kicking or screaming, and free from the movements that make you feel negative. How awesome is that?!
Now, think about how that would feel, and the type of movements that you’d enjoy doing. Start with those.
STEP 5: Meet yourself in the middle.
The mistake that a lot of us make when trying to start exercising is going from 0 to 100 - which isn’t exactly fun, and actually serves as a demotivator. Instead, making it fun and enjoyable (not just bearable!) is about being realistic and meeting yourself somewhere in the comfortable middle. If you can only exercise for 5 minutes at a time - do that! Your daily exercise doesn’t have to be in one massive block. Don’t let time constraints stop you - get it in wherever you can for as long as you can, because they all add up. And we all have to start somewhere!
If yesterday you did nothing and today you did 5 minutes, that’s still an improvement and that’s still a step in the right direction! Every little victory counts.
And, if you don’t enjoy a particular movement - that’s okay. Try something else! You’re not obligated to do the same exercise every day or even twice if it just doesn’t sit well with you. Keep your mindset positive and view this as a chance to explore, experiment and have fun!
If you can start to examine the mental blocks you feel around exercise and slowly break them down, you’ll be well on your way to an awesome relationship with exercise. It’s a lifelong relationship and it’s so worth nurturing, I promise you!
I’d like to leave you with one final tip: keep your eyes on your own exercise! Comparison is irrelevant - your body is different and unique, and so are your goals. You’re not obligated to follow the same workouts as anyone else, you’re not obligated to jump onto the latest trends and you’re not obligated to compete with anyone else (or yourself!). Exercise is what you want it to be - so embrace that!