You don’t have to be mean to yourself to exercise
Before we kick off, here's a content warning that this post goes into the specifics of how i exercise. If you don't think that'd be a good thing for you to read, don't, it's so not worth your time. Read something else! Funny stuff here. Life stuff here.
Cupboards full of leftover mince pies.
Random crap drawer full of random crap presents.
Notebook full of resolutions.
Gym full of people.
And as it's January, I'm sure a slew of diet companies and gyms and hashtag spon Insta posts will be telling you to tone up! Lose weight! Burn off the Chrimbo calories! Be better! Be fitter! Be in this here gym ploughing your hard-earned pennies into our company because you doesn't fit the culturally-accepted body type! Or something like that.
So, if I'm sure like many people, you have been thinking that it might be nice to incorporate a little more movement into your routine (and it goes without saying that it's totally cool if you haven't), then I just wanted to put it out into the universe that you don’t have to be mean to yourself to do so.
I‘ve written about it before but these days, I actually like exercise. It’s part of my routine. I exercise consistently, in a dedicated way (by which I mean, in a ‘I’m putting on my trainers/rolling out the yoga mat/praying that this sports bra will prevent me from taking anyone’s eye out in this combat class’ kinda way) between 2-4 times every week. Sometimes less, rarely more. That's just want works for me. And I think that these days I have a pretty intuitive relationship with movement. So if you're looking to cultivate that too, here's some steps that I go by.
I don’t do shit I don’t like
I can’t really be arsed with weights. I would rather be outside than on a treadmill staring at a subtitled re-run of an old episode of Homes Under The Hammer. I don’t like the loud music of waiting for a machine or the groans from the men’s weight section. I don't really like going to the gym, so I don't. I'm undone the theory I had in my head, the one that is sold to us, that one type of exercise should be loved by everybody. Not everyone likes the same type of music or the same sitcoms or the same component parts to a full English breakfast so why would it be the same for exercise? I love classes at my local leisure centre, I still love a little run at the weekends, stopping and chatting along the way, I like an early morning swim or a session of Yoga with Adrienne before bed. The gym doesn’t work for me and it doesn’t have to. Equally, I don't push myself beyond what is moderately challenging. I don't sprint. I don't do front crawl until I can't breathe. I don't do sit-ups until my stomach starts audibly weeping. I rarely look forward to stuff that makes me feel like vomiting (exclusion applied to all the flavoured shots I had in Vodka Revs every Tuesday between 2011-2013). My theory is that if I like doing something, I’ll actually look forward to it, and if I don’t, I refer to the next step.
I'm kind to myself
If I don’t feel like exercising: I don’t. I roll with the ebb and flow of motivation and preferences and energy levels and calendars and commitments. To me, that is what an intuitive relationship with exercise looks like. And if I don’t exercise for a while or skip a workout or sleep through my alarm for swimming, I don’t get angry with myself. Exercise is meant to be of benefit to me, not a (hockey) stick to beat myself with. If it happens, it happens. That's life. Maybe I'll see how I feel tomorrow. Or the next day. Or next week.
I sleep a lot.
Since I only do exercise that I like, one of the only reasons that I tend to skip whatever workout I was planning on is because I don’t have the energy. Committing to a proper eight hours of sleep a night and cutting off screens at 10pm mean I tend to get the rest I need to function as a normal grown-up lady person and energised enough to want to exercise. To want to. To genuinely want to. Not to push myself through or just about manage to pull myself through a slow jog and take a nap on the yoga mat mid-downward facing dog. If I feel like I don't have enough energy, I will always prioritise rest over working out. Got caught at a fun dinner or a work event or a Netflix hole (come on, it happens to us all)? Cool. Probably no swimming tomorrow morning. I'm a better, nicer, happier person when I sleep.
I don't track anything
Steps walked, miles run, calories burned, star jumps done, minutes endured- counting all that stuff totally screwed my relationship with exercise. I wrote about that here. It made my mind like a constant maths lesson that I didn't want to be in, the focus being x being the sum of carbs consumed minus minutes on the treadmill divided by disordered eating multiplied by I'm-going-to-have-a-slice-of-my-brother's-birthday-cake-later equals pure dissatisfaction, a screwed relationship with food and my body and a whole lot of work to do. It made me think of exercise as a chore, as homework, as something that I had to do, no questions asked. It also made me do stuff that didn't feel good to me- it made me push myself into doing stuff I didn't enjoy, I ran miles I didn't want to, pushed myself through spin sessions when I could've been eating pizza with my friends and it made exercise all about the numbers rather than about the feeling.
I know my motivations
Unlike a couple of years ago, I'm not in this exercise game to lose weight. I'm not here to hit targets or to combat my douoble chin or to repent for the 'sin' of having eaten a cheeseburger or I'm just there to show up, move about a bit and hope that the endorphin rush lasts long enough to not have a slanging match with my boyfriend over whose turn it is to clean the bathroom. I'm here to have a nice time. That walk can be some much-needed alone time with your thoughts and fresh air and a podcast. That little swim can be a time away from your phone and to enjoy moving through the water. That Zumba class can be some time to laugh with a friend and listen to Latin remixes of old Justin Bieber songs. Rarely have I done something, and truly enjoyed it, because someone forced me or was nasty to me about it or said I could only have Dairy Milk if I did it. And it's the same for exercise.
If you’re trying to create a better relationship with movement, make sure you sign up to receive the Since Sliced Bread newsletter. February is an exercise special!