Our Bodies, Our Selves: A New Framework For Understanding our Individual Health
If you want to achieve your goals, exercising will be much more than just lifting random weights for one hour or two and coming back home. It takes dedication, and sometimes a lot of effort. It also requires preparation, because we know from many sources how a poor technique can result in serious injury.
For many years, punishing exercise was regarded as the only way to achieve big goals in the world of fitness. Nowadays, the approach is slightly different, and doctors encourage listening to your body and taking one day at a time; building a habit instead of engaging in a sudden burst of adrenaline.
One of the most recent advances in this approach is intuitive fitness. As you will learn in this article, it is based on your relationship with your organism, and understanding what your body needs and when.
A bad relationship with exercise
Not all of us are on good terms with exercise. Some people won’t even do a push-up properly, and feel no interest in becoming active. On the opposite side, others take this healthy habit to an unhealthy extreme, and feel guilty for every rest day. Sometimes they use illegal and potentially dangerous products to boost their physical performance.
Either way, we should all avoid this dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship with exercise. A recent article published in the journal Eating Disorders evaluated how mindfulness integrates with exercise. The researchers accurately mentioned that many people feel violent bursts of euphoria, withdrawal symptoms, or guilt around their exercise habits. This turns into a problem if we develop compulsive exercise behaviors or adopt a complete lack and disinterest for exercise.
When we have a routine already set, many of us feel the pressure to continue one more day, even under the worst conditions. Most trainers also contribute to this pressure under a “no excuses” slogan that does not take into consideration the most important part of training the body: our own body language.
Another problem about exercise is that it is often sold as an aesthetic improvement only. People tend to forget the health focus and only worry about fitness. Thus, we can find in this world a lot of individuals who share a distorted view of the body, and this often translates into all sorts of unhealthy behavior.
Why is intuitive fitness becoming a new trend?
Intuitive fitness is listening to your body and finding out the best exercise program and the right moment to work out depending on how you feel right now and what your body is actually telling you.
In another journal named Eating Behaviors, PhD Justine Reel, a researcher of the intuitive movement said that intuitive fitness prompts awareness of your own senses in order to start or stop exercise according to your own bodily cues instead of feeling forced to complete a rigid program.
In a context of a bad relationship with exercise, what intuitive fitness is doing is promoting mindfulness and helping us connect body and mind to find the perfect balance between exercise and health. That’s why it’s becoming a new trend in 2020.
In short, intuitive fitness is about finding out when is the appropriate time to exercise, which body part and what exercise will give you an edge depending on many different factors:
- The muscles you’ve already trained throughout the week: This is very important in any exercise routine, not only in intuitive fitness. Ideally, you should exercise a muscle again after giving it two days of rest.
- Your energy levels: It would be counterproductive to go for your leg day and engage in heavy squats if you’re feeling weak and tired.
- Your stress levels: Exercise can help you release tension and stress, but it might not be a good idea to perform exercises that require a careful technique or a lot of attention if you’re worried or anxiously thinking about something else.
- Your emotional state: It won’t hurt if you exercise with an angry mood, but you might need to look for the right exercise for you. Maybe throwing medicine balls and sprinting can release -and maybe make use of- this energy better than dumbbell curls.
Through this approach, you go beyond a chart or program created for a robot, because you’re not one. This approach is probably what we needed for many years, and realizing this, people are starting to adopt it as a new method to figure out their exercise routines.
Benefits of intuitive fitness (and potential setbacks)
This new trend of intuitive fitness has many interesting benefits. It is a good way to start, and an even better way to continue your goals. Simply put, when you listen to your body you are more likely to keep it up for longer. Forcing yourself is not always a good idea, and this approach helps you distinguish discipline from stubbornness.
When you learn to listen to your body cues, you realize when is the appropriate time for a rest day. But you also understand that some exercises might still be useful for you if you’re not feeling quite well. Instead of giving you an easy excuse, intuitive fitness gives you more options to be flexible, maximize your performance, and prevent injury.
Sometimes you need to be quiet and left alone, listening to music and lifting weights. But another day being by yourself might not be a good idea, and you need to socialize; a group class would be a better idea, then. When you feel focused and with a sharp mind, use that mindset for more complex exercises that require your full attention. If you’re feeling weak today, start with the muscle group or exercise that feels easier for you. Or maybe you feel angry and want to burn that energy down in 100-meter sprints or strenuous HIIT sessions.
In her exercise and mindfulness study, mentioned above, Justine Reel and fellow collaborators state that when you feel forced to complete your training and take it to the extreme, there’s a higher chance to get negative consequences. Overuse injuries are more common in these cases, as well as fatigue symptoms. You may even start experiencing sleep disturbances, not knowing exactly where they came from.
However, you also need to be careful when you start practicing intuitive fitness. It is not meant to allow for easy excuses, but it may sometimes slow you down instead of maximizing your performance. Remember that motivation is not the only thing you need to reach your goals. Motivation is temporary, but only discipline remains. And if you have not yet adopted discipline as a part of your routine, it might be difficult to find the perfect balance to listen to your body while encouraging hard work at the same time.
Thus, if you’re only starting to explore this world, give yourself time and explore your real motives if you consider it is better to go home instead of hitting the gym. Are there any alternative exercises or routines that suit your current state of mind? Some trainers are currently adopting this intuitive fitness approach, and asking for help might be what you need if you’re struggling to find motivation and still don’t have the discipline you need to go on.
How to practice intuitive fitness?
This is a completely new approach, nothing similar to those rigid workout plans. So, if you’re not used to it, there’s a few recommendations we can give you to start right away:
- Before starting, perform a body scan: Scanning your body every day is essential for intuitive fitness. The closest approach to a body scan in the average training protocol is measuring your Heart Rate Variability to evaluate your neuromuscular stress. But this time, a body scan does not only involve your physical estate but also your emotional state and mindset. Evaluate your body parts and muscle groups. Evaluate your energy levels and how focused and sharp you feel. Each one of them are meant to guide your upcoming exercise routine.
- Remember exercise is not an all-or-nothing activity: Being overly strict sometimes results in quitting. But as a part of intuitive fitness, you should avoid that mindset. You don’t want to feel guilty if things are not happening as expected or if you miss a workout session. Intuitive fitness expands your horizons to adapt to every situation. If you only have 15 minutes today, you don’t need an hour to train. Go ahead and give your best in 15 minutes. If you notice joint pain in the middle of your workout, pick another exercise or muscle group instead of quitting altogether.
- Allow yourself to do what you really enjoy: Ask yourself what would you enjoy to do and what type of exercise feels appropriate today. Cultivate your relationship with exercise every time. If you dislike leg day or it makes you feel uncomfortable, try bodyweight exercise, an upright bike, or HIIT. You can try heavy weights again after one week or consider reducing your load on the next session and see how you feel. If you don’t enjoy exercise, think about your childhood and the type of activity you liked, or try different classes and workout approaches -there are many options out there-, and keep exploring until you find something you truly enjoy.
- Be mindful during your exercise: In the middle of your workout session, ask yourself what is happening to your body and how you feel. Focus on the benefits and instead of doing movements automatically, give each one of them a clear purpose. Also, look into your motivation and find out your reasons to exercise. Is it only for aesthetics? Are you missing other health benefits? Why do you think you “should” exercise? Are you feeling encouraged or forced to work out every day? Make more questions. Feel more curious about yourself and your relationship with exercise.
In a nutshell
Intuitive fitness is a new approach to fitness different to those rigid outines based on all-or-nothing thinking. It encourages a healthy relationship with exercise and practicing mindfulness to find out your appropriate rhythm and type of exercise for each session based on your physical, mental, and emotional state.
To practice intuitive fitness, it is recommended to perform a quick body scan to assess your energy levels, stress levels, and the current state of your muscles and articulations. As you exercise, intuitive fitness prompts you to be more mindful and listen to your body cues, considering your reasons, motivations, and aspirations. It is meant to widening your view, including activities that you enjoy and will stimulate your body. The ultimate goal is to achieve better health, a better relationship with exercise, an improved body physique, and a strong connection between body and mind.