Is Your Exercise Routine Actually Fun for You, or Are You Doing This Because You Feel like You Should?
"Love your body!"
A commandment, nowadays, it seems, no?
In sentiment, I tend to agree: being friends with your body (or at least not actively hating it) frees up a lot of time and space and energy. But, for years, I read that advice, went to the mirror to declare I suddenly loved all these things I'd spent my entire life hating about my body, and instead of, "oh, you're right! I love you, self. You're beautiful. Now, on to bigger and better things," I heard, "self, you're a fucking terrible liar. Now brush your teeth, stooge."
"Love your body," is lazy advice given by well-intentioned coaches (myself included, before I had this realization) who hope to impart the lesson that we are worthy, we are lovable, we are more than a body.
Knowing that is complicated, though, isn't it?
Not only because it's difficult to do, like any relationship, but also because, there are myriad factors standing in the way of us doing so. Not the least of which is... HOW?
That process is different for everyone, and I've found much of it, at least if you're recovering from what Decolonizing Fitness calls Toxic Fitness Culture, begins in exploring movement you love—the kind that doesn't feel like punishment, but that invites you to be more, to experiment, to explore.
"Find what you love," though, is equally lazy advice, especially as part of what makes Toxic Fitness Culture so toxic is its simmering teabag steeping us in shame and punishment; "love" often doesn't seem to enter the equation, unless it is discipline masquerading as such.
Let's set the record straight from the get-go, shall we?
Movement is not punishment for off-macro meals or rest-forward seasons. Exercise bouts are not a metabolic credit card, providing an allowance to cash in calories later. They’re standalone sessions of exploration, of joy, of your current ability, of connection, of so many things that have nothing to do with, “making up for,” a single thing (other than perhaps time lost to slogging away on a towel-covered treadmill).
When I’ve broached this subject with clients, their eyes get wide, with both joy and a bit of fear:
“But how?” they say. “How do I find what kind of workout I like to do?”
A potentially-intimidating question, as the world has suddenly lost some of its borders.
The process looks different for everyone, but here are some Key Indicators I use (with myself and others) to hone in on the answer to, “is this actually fun for me, or am I doing this because I feel like I should?”
PHYSICAL FEELINGS: Are you clenching your muscles? Are your shoulders near your ears? Do you feel tightness in your chest or sick to your stomach? Lightheadedness? Wooziness? Anything that feels off?
EMOTIONAL FEELINGS: Do you feel sad? Afraid? Worthless? Or do you feel excited? Brave? Surprised? Powerful? Somewhere in between?
SAFETY: Do you feel like you can perform the movements you’re performing and remain aware? Safe? In your body? Not judged? Not in harm’s way (harm of any kind)? You don’t owe anyone this sort of compromise (and it’s not on you to make an unsafe environment safe. This is a rabbithole of a conversation; more on that another day, but important to note and/or register who is missing from spaces, who is moving, and how and why).
EXPANSION/JOY: Do you feel called to shrink, disappear, or move only in a corner? Some situations necessitate that, to piggyback off the previous point, but I’d hope when considering what you actually love to do, you include feeling called to be exactly who and how you are, or more of yourself even, lit up and sparkly without apology.
GUILT/SHAME: Does moving in a certain way call to mind all the other times you’ve gotten things wrong? All the shots you’ve missed or times you’ve been picked last or ways you’ve been left out? Make you feel like you’ll never be enough, like something about you (or all of you) is wrong? Shame is not an access point, yet we’ve all felt it. You can say no.
CURIOSITY: Does your movement inspire you to wonder what else is there for you? Does it make you wonder what else you could do, physically or otherwise? Does it cause you to question why you’ve moved or eaten or existed a certain way, in a way that feels like possibility?
You deserve to enjoy yourself, to move in ways that feel good, to feel alive and at home and at peace, even when things are challenging.
You aren't resigned to spending what-feels-like-years on a treadmill, if you don't want to. There's room for you to find what sort of movement it is that makes you feel alive.