Okay, don't get me wrong. I love to sweat. (Don't most fitness instructors?) I love high-intensity workouts and challenging my body in new ways -- whether that's with a kettlebell or a battle rope workout or a mountain I want to hike my butt up. So when I tell you that you don't have to wage war on your body to get fit, I am not saying to skip intense workouts. I like the intensity of CrossFit, HIIT workouts, boot camps and mud runs. I like seeing sweat drip, heart rates elevated, and heavy breathing. What I don't like is the trend toward thinking we need to beat down our bodies until they hurt. Working out until you can't move is not a badge of honor.
What is going on in our heads that makes us think that if we assault our body to the point of pain, we have accomplished something? Isn't the point of exercise to support our bodies, not break them down? But why do we so often ignore this piece of advice and come into the gym swinging with a "No Pain, No Gain" attitude? I love a challenge and I love endorphins, but there is a fine line between using our bodies as a punching bag for stress and making ourselves better. If you are intentionally beating up your body, that's one workout mistake you may want to consider changing.
Here's how to support your body with your workouts rather than wage war on your body:
Put the "fun-tensity" back into your workout.
We know, not a real word. But "fun-tensity" should be a real part of your workout. If your main goal is to walk out of the gym wounded, where will that get you? Not far. You will become obsessed with lifting more weights than you did yesterday. You will be overly concerned with exact calories burned. You will take pride in three days of soreness because you killed that arm workout. But no matter how well you perform in the gym, you will never feel good enough. And guess what? That quickly becomes no fun and working out should be fun! "Fun-tensity" does not mean ditch the heart-pumping intervals that leave you lunging for your water bottle. "Fun-tensity" means go hard but make sure it's enjoyable and leaves you feeling happy walking out of the gym. Rather than seeing exercise as punishment and pain, pick a workout you like and don't over analyze every detail of the results. You'll only get fit, healthy and stay that way if you enjoy the journey that takes you there.
Make your mind a motivator, not an inner-hater.
Is your mind a safe place for your body to hang out? Your body hears everything your minds says, so be mindful of what you say to yourself. Think of the things you like about your body or the things you are working on instead of letting your very own body be the recipient of criticisms from your mind. Even if you aren't comfortable with showering yourself with compliments, start with empowering thoughts like: "I feel strong today." Or, "I really tried hard today during my workout." Open the door a crack to let those good thoughts in -- yes you can.
Listen to your body instead of hitting the mute button.
In the middle of a workout, are you paying attention to your body's signals, or are you pushing through pain even though your body is screaming to stop? Your body is good at telling you what it needs, so start listening and stop muting! Do you need more rest? More water? Fewer running days? More muscle training? A good stretch or a weekly yoga class? Start paying attention to what your body needs. By listening to our bodies we are respecting and taking care of ourselves. When you treat your body well, you will increase your energy and feel your best. Those of you who know me know I always give modifications in my classes and DVDs and would never ridicule someone for modifying a move. My goal is always to have you challenge yourself without hurting yourself and that allows room for creativity. Accept your limitations, embrace your strengths.
You are not invincible; recovery time is necessary.
The tissues in your muscles need time to heal after exercise breaks them down, so it's important to give your body that recovery time to build up your muscles. Don't beat up the same set of muscles day after day. Take a recovery day and rest, or take an active recovery day where you do a less intense form of exercise like walking. You also need to replenish fluids your body has lost and eat a healthy meal after an intense workout that includes protein, carbs and healthy fats. If you don't allow your body recovery time you could risk injury or exhaustion.
Cross train instead of concentrating.
If you have one exercise you love and that's all you do, you are putting stress on the same muscles and bones involved in that activity and your risk for overuse injury increases. Work a different set of muscle groups by mixing up the type of exercise you do. Cross-training allows you to work out different muscles in your body so you can do more activities safely. Mixing up your workout types increases your performance and fitness without pushing your body past its limits.
Why do we feel the need to be so extreme with our bodies? Our bodies are our only place to live. Let's rethink how we talk to our bodies and how we beat up physically on our bodies. Let's treat our bodies with respect and love -- from the inside out.