If you struggle with keeping up with workout programs and always find yourself giving up, you may want to consider trying intuitive exercise.
Many of us have an unhealthy relationship with exercise, in the same way we have an unhealthy relationship with food. Think about why you exercised growing up and until this point. Were you forced to participate in a sport you disliked? Did you always view exercise as a way to lose weight or manipulate your body shape? Was exercise a way to punish yourself after a “bad” day of eating?
If this sounds like you, intuitive exercise is a wonderful way to heal your relationship with exercise and start enjoying movement in a way you never did in the past.
What is intuitive exercise?
Intuitive exercise emphasizes the importance of enjoying movement and improving your health and wellbeing without focusing on changing your appearance. It’s basically intuitive eating, but for exercise. It involves listening and trusting your body, moving in ways you genuinely enjoy and look forward to and focusing on the experience versus the results.
We often see exercise as a means to get a result. And typically that result is appearance based, whether you are looking to lose body fat, gain muscle or change your body shape.
With intuitive exercise, the objective isn’t appearance driven. The goal is to exercise in a way that is enjoyable and that you can keep up with without constantly experiencing burnout. Just like intuitive eating, intuitive exercise emphasizes the importance of balance. Exercise should be enjoyable, but also challenging enough to provide health benefits.
Why is it important to enjoy exercise?
Finding enjoyment in exercise is an important part of intuitive exercise. So why is it so important for you to enjoy exercise? Well, there are several reasons.
First, when you enjoy the exercise you do, you’ll likely exercise more often. It’s hard to be consistent on just motivation alone. For example, you may feel like running is the best exercise to get you the body you desire. But, if you hate running, you may be able to stay consistent for a few weeks, but once the motivation wears off, you will find yourself skipping sessions and eventually giving up.
But, if you decide to switch to a form of exercise that is more enjoyable for you, you will find that staying consistent is much easier. While the most enjoyable form of exercise may not be the most ideal form to get the body you desire, what really matters is consistently.
Let’s say you enjoy walking, but feel like running is a better option to get faster results. Let’s see how running compares to walking over 3 months:
Running vs. Walking (Intuitive Exercise) over 12 weeks
|Week||Running||Walking (Intuitive Exercise)|
|1||3 miles, 5 times a week||2 miles, 4 times|
|2||3 miles, 5 times a week||2 miles, 4 times|
|3||3 miles, 4 times a week||2 miles, 4 times|
|4||3 miles, 1 time a week||2 miles, 4 times|
|5||2 miles, 3 times a week||2 miles, 4 times|
|6||3 miles, 4 times a week||2 miles, 4 times|
|7||1 mile, 2 times a week||2 miles, 4 times|
|8||No exercise||2 miles, 4 times|
|9||2 miles, 3 times a week||2 miles, 4 times|
|10||No exercise||2 miles, 4 times|
|11||No exercise||2 miles, 4 times|
|12||3 miles, 3 times a week||2 miles, 4 times|
|TOTAL||80 miles in total||96 miles in total|
Notice how with running, motivation is inconsistent and there are periods of burnout where no exercise is performed. With walking and intuitive exercise, there is far more consistency. Even though the exercise is performed less intensely and the initial volume is smaller, more exercise was performed overall. Moral of the story? Consistency is more important, and choosing more enjoyable exercise leads to more consistency.
Tips to practice intuitive exercise
1. Think about what has worked or has not worked in the past
Let your past be a guide into what will work in the future. It’s likely that you’ve tried several forms of exercise in the past. I want you to reflect on your experiences with each of them. What forms of exercise did you dislike or dread performing? What forms of exercise did you genuinely enjoy and look forward to?
Use your past experiences as a guide to what may work best for you. And consider all forms of movement, not just formal workouts. Things like cleaning, gardening, walking, plowing the driveway, playing with your kids or dog, hiking, swimming and dancing are all forms of exercise. Anything that increases your heart rate goes.
Try to make a list of your top three to five forms of exercise that you have enjoyed the most in the past and try them out again. Which ones do you still enjoy? Continue on with those!
2. Find something to look forward to every session
Exercise doesn’t need to be punishment. Finding little things to look forward to each session can make initiating and performing a workout much more doable. In fact, the more things you have to look forward to, the more you will workout!
Here are some examples of things you look forward to at your next session:
- A new album or playlist to listen to
- A new exercise or form tip you want to try out
- A partner you want to exercise with
- A new outfit or pair of shoes to try out
- A new gym or walking trail
- A cute boy or girl at the gym (let’s be honest, this can be a huge motivator)
- Beating a personal record
- Watching the sunset or sunrise
- Getting to see a new place you have to travel to on foot
And these are just a few! Depending on what exercise you enjoy, brainstorming little things to look forward to every session can make working out fun and exciting, as it should be.
3. Allow yourself to take easy days
It’s easy to skip a workout if you expect yourself to go hard every single day. Remember, consistent imperfection is better than inconsistent perfection. If you aren’t feeling an intense workout, it’s ok to commit to an easy day.
If you had planned to run 5 miles, try walking 2 miles instead. If you had planned to go for a PR on deadlifts, try reducing the weight and performing some easy sets. Instead of not going at all, make the workout match your energy. We aren’t made to go hard every single day of the week.
That being said, some days our bodies just want some rest, and that’s ok too. Taking an off day isn’t something to be ashamed of. In fact, rest days are important for muscle growth and overall health. Rest is important!
4. Consider what forms of movement you enjoy vs. what gets you the “best body”
It’s tempting to choose workouts based on what will get you the body you want. That’s likely how you’ve chosen workouts in the past. But, if you don’t enjoy those workouts, you’ll likely experience a dip in motivation and even burnout.
Instead, choose forms of movement that you enjoy, even if they won’t get you the body you desire. Remember, trends are always changing. In the 2000s and early 2010s, being thin was in, meaning doing ample amounts of cardio was the best way to reach the beauty standard. Starting in the late 2010s and early 2020s, having a small waist with large hips and butt came into style. Suddenly, weight lifting was in.
Trends will always change. So instead of exercising based on what look is “in”, find workouts that you genuinely enjoy, since this won’t change that much.
5. Try new forms of exercise on a regular basis
Next, it’s important to try out new forms of exercise. As you get older, move to different places, live with different people, make new friends, have different schedules, make a better income, you will notice that workouts you once enjoyed are no longer enjoyable or even possible in some situations.
That’s why it’s important to try new things as preferences change. You may find you once loved walking, but since moving to a cold city, you don’t enjoy it as much. Trying out new forms of exercise can be a great way to branch out and find other forms of exercise you enjoy.
6. Allow your preferences to change over time
To go along with the last point, it’s ok to have different preferences as time goes by. If weight lifting isn’t as enjoyable as you once found it, it’s ok to try something else. Perhaps trying circuit training or a group class is the change you need.
That being said, it’s definitely possible for you to start enjoying workouts you liked in the past, but hadn’t been interested in lately. It’s normal for interests and preferences to ebb and flow.
The point I’m trying to make is that you need to let change happen, as opposed to resisting it. It can be especially hard if you stop enjoying a form of exercise that got your ideal body. But in the long run, what matters is consistency. And as mentioned above, performing workouts you enjoy consistently is better than performing workouts you don’t enjoy inconsistently.
Ready to heal your relationship with food?
If you struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food alongside an unhealthy relationship with exercise, check out my free binge eating guide below. I also have an online course and ebook for those who struggle with binge eating and an overall unhealthy relationship with food.