I admit it – I haven’t always been into working out.
Being completely truthful, I’m still not.
But without a doubt, nobody can deny that regular exercise is one of the most crucial elements of any healthy and happy lifestyle. Whatever you do, any and every type of movement is just so good for the body and brings about a range of benefits, both mental and physical.
However, knowing this is one thing – doing it is something very different.
Over the last four or so years I’ve worked hard to make exercise a regular part of my lifestyle, even though I’ve never really been naturally sporty or athletic, save for running.
I’ll save talking about my favourite ways to work out for another post. For now, here are just some of the things I’ve learned along my exercise journey.
1. Do what you enjoy, and only what you enjoy
It does sound cliche, enjoying what you do is absolutely ESSENTIAL to any long-standing exercise routine. There are literally NO long term benefits to slogging away at an activity you hate, that your body protests to desperately, and that makes you feel shitty afterwards. What is even the point?
There’s a huge difference between feeling uncomfortable or challenged, and feeling absolutely terrible. Only YOU can know what is right for you, and our bodies are amazing at telling us what they do and don’t like, if we let them.
You might think there is absolutely no form of exercise you could enjoy on a regular basis, but I really do believe there’s something for everyone. If in doubt, you can take this fun quiz on Vibrant Life.
2. Focus on the activity, not the results
This is probably the same as saying “Progress not perfection”; “It’s a process, not an end”, or as my good friend Gretchen Rubin says, “Exercise for sanity, not vanity”.
Basically, if you work out or start a workout program JUST to see a fixed result that you happen to have in your head or saw in a magazine, the chances are you’re going to be disappointed.
Seeing the long-term results of exercise takes time – like, a LOT of time. If you spend your days expecting to see huge changes straight away, you’re going to get impatient and discouraged. Once you’ve found something you love, do it with enthusiasm, do it with joy, and do it with an open mind.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t have physical goals – of course these are huge motivators and amazingly rewarding when reached. But there are tons of short-term benefits you can enjoy after each and every workout – boosted mood, improved self-esteem, better confidence, more energy, a revved metabolism etc etc.
By using these short term benefits as motivation to stay consistent, there’ll eventually come a day when you no doubt do see those physical results you’re after.
3. Don’t compare your progress to somebody else’s
It’s something we all know is bad for us – self-comparison is the thief of joy, as Theodore Roosevelt so succinctly put it.
But yet we do it anyways, because we seem to easily forget that we are all so utterly and incomparably different, to the point where self-comparison becomes obsolete.
We all have different bodies, different abilities, different metabolisms, different approaches. What works for you might not work for your friend, and vice versa. What’s important is that we try different things and find what works with OUR body and OUR routine and OUR outlook. It sounds obvious, but it’s an easy trap to fall into.
The next time you find yourself comparing your abilities or progress with that of others’, just remember that you’re the only competitor in your own race.
4. You don’t have to kill yourself to see results
There’s a rather common and worryingly popular idea that to get results, you need to put your body through hell. Not just like, sweat and aching muscles and fatigue hell, but “Oh-my-god-I-think-I’m-going-to-pass-out” hell.
I’ve heard stories from people I know about how they began seeing stars during their PT session, or literally threw up afterwards. Why oh why is this something we must do to ourselves, and furthermore, why are so-called professionals allowing people to reach this ridiculous point of exhaustion?
You can be exhausted, yet still have a body that is fully functioning in that moment. You can be exhausted, yet still be able to think straight. You can be exhausted, but still fight through a little bit of pain to make that one last push up or hold that boat pose for longer.
However, there’s a big difference between feeling comfortably uncomfortable, and feeling like the oxygen is being cut off on its way to your brain.
This ‘militarisation of fitness’ is a myth perpetrated by the fitness industry. And it’s actually a pretty dangerous myth.
5. Learning to listen to your body is crucial
It’s so easy with exercise to do too much without even knowing it; to tip over into the realms of feeling unwell or run down.
Learning the difference between apathy (“I don’t want to work out”) and fatigue (“I need to rest”) can have a huge impact on whether you spend the following day more exhausted than ever, or feeling refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to kick butt again.
I’ve been through a number of various exercise routines over the last couple of years, and it’s been a trial-and-error process learning to listen to my body and give it a break when it needed one. I’ve made a lot of mistakes – and am still learning.
But I can seriously say from experience that resisting rest only hinders your body’s recovery (and therefore, your results) in the long term. So when you need to sleep, sleep. And don’t feel guilty about it.
6. It’s okay to start small
Starting small is often the only way people can be coaxed into exercise – and as one of those people, I can sincerely say this works.
Start slowly with things you know you can do – a long walk; a short run; an easy swim; a chilled-out yoga class. After a little while you’ll feel ready to increase the distance; the intensity; the weight, whatever.
There are going to be days where you don’t feel like working out, or at least don’t feel like doing your usual. On these days, 15 or 20 minutes might sound more appealing than 30 or 45. If that’s the case, do a shorter or a gentler workout, even if it feels kind of pointless. After starting, you’ll usually feel more energised and motivated to finish the rest of the workout.
Everybody has to start somewhere – wherever that place is doesn’t really matter. The important thing to remember is that small things often lead to big things.
7. Exercise shouldn’t run your life
UNLESS you are a personal trainer, fitness model, fitness blogger or have some particular physical goal, exercise shouldn’t really be dominating your life. I personally see exercise as a way to support and enhance every other aspect of our lives – from our hobbies, ambitions and pursuits, to doing practical every day activities and simply being better for the ones that we love.
If you find yourself skipping one-off social occasions or organising your calendar around exercise, you’re probably thinking about it a little too much. It doesn’t have to be about sticking to a hard and fast schedule or punishing yourself when you skip a workout. If you can work out – great. If you can’t, don’t sweat it. Just tell yourself you’ll be back to it as soon as you’re able to.
Sometimes, life itself really is more important.
What key exercise tips and lessons have you guys learned? Please let me know in the comments below!