Intuitive Movement for Couch Potatoes and Athletes

Today was one of those days. You know the one where you head out for a long run with all the things: water, shoes, fanny pack with some yummy electrolyte goo, brand new pretty neon run top, but you forget one thing... your phone and headphones are still sitting on the kitchen counter top at home. Now you have to face a long run without tunes, might as well be the end of the world...or so I used to think.

Okay so some of you have no idea what I'm talking about, but some of you runners totally do. I'm not crazy, I promise. The point is I used to NEED music to zone out on runs and push past all of my internal signals, so that I could complete whatever mileage and pace I had planned for the day. Oftentimes, the next day I would be so sore and tired that I'd end up taking the rest of the week off, and if I'm being honest, I would feel a little dejected afterwards. This is not how movement is supposed to feel. Movement should be energizing, stress relieving and even exhilarating at times. It should be sustainable and enjoyable, and it can be. 


If you aren't a runner or even someone who works out regularly, let's consider another example. Can you remember a time back when you thought trendy diets and mass produced exercise plans held the key to health? Did you set out to lose X  number of lbs (maybe starting on January 1st, or a Monday, definitely a Monday), with a diet plan in one hand and a strict exercise regimen or video in another? You started the program, but after a few days when you were too sore to get off the couch, you told yourself, "I hate exercising" and quickly threw the diet plan and video out the window.  Have you ever considered that maybe its not exercise that you hate, but just forced activities with weight loss as the primary motivator? 

Enter intuitive movement. Just like eating, we can learn how to make peace with exercise by listening to our bodies and being mindful during workouts and regular daily activity. We can learn to move in a way that is enjoyable and rewarding to us as individuals. It may sound like intuitive movement is about EASY exercise, but that's not necessarily true. Instead, it's about paying attention to your body and being mentally involved in your workout (i.e. unplugging from that podcast or playlist for your run). When you do this you start to notice things. You may notice a certain activity is challenging.  You may also notice you feel amazing after it's over. Remember this positive feeling, it's far more motivating than a number on the scale or the time at the end of a race. Alternatively, you might notice that you really don't like certain activities allowing you to continue finding what works best for you!

Intuitive movement can make a huge difference in the way you enjoy exercise (movement)  regardless of whether you currently consider yourself a couch potato or an elite athlete. No matter where you are on the exercise spectrum,  here are 4 ways you can start practicing intuitive movement and begin reaping the benefits.

1. Do what you enjoy!

This one is a no brainer, yet I see so many people who don't follow it. The form of movement that you do is really not that important. What IS important is that you enjoy what you do enough to continue doing it regularly.

For those who aren't elite athletes and are just looking to start moving more often, listen up -- If you hate running, PLEASE stop/ do not start running. And if you do not like working out in the gym - stop forcing yourself. Find something you do enjoy - it could be the traditional walking, biking, swimming, running, etc., or it could be intramural sports, group exercise classes or dancing. It could be as simple as cleaning your house, gardening, going to the mall, playing with your kids. Whatever it is, do it with joy, remember how it makes you feel and don't ever let anyone convince you it's not enough. Not sure what you enjoy? Start trying things out! Search for local group workouts like yoga in the park, group runs/bikes, outdoor bootcamps, local gyms and give them a try. If you are in a larger city try out Class Pass or search Meetup for ideas. More of a social butterfly than a lone wolf? Find a buddy and try doing something with them, combine movement and quality time.

For the athlete, I understand that sometimes we can get in a rut with our sport and may not always feel like we enjoy doing it. But I would argue that if you once loved the sport you're doing, you can love it again, like a little kid. Try remembering what you love about your sport. You might also consider working with a sports psychologist - such an amazing resource for helping athletes find joy in their sport. Additionally, mindful exercise can be huge for bringing enjoyment to your workouts -- this leads me to my next point.

2. Practice mindful movement

Like my running example above, being mindful during exercise can be a game changer when it comes to reaping the rewards of regular movement. Research suggests that mindful exercisers are more likely to reduce their stress and improve health outcomes than mindless exercisers. So what is mindful exercise? Simply put, it boils down to body awareness and being engaged in the here and now. When you are working out or active in your day to day life are you zoned out thinking about your to do list? OR, are you paying attention to your surroundings, to the task at hand, noticing what is in front of you right now? Are you noticing how you feel, where you're engaging muscles and what movements you're doing? Mentally engaging in the activity you're presently doing is the key to mindfulness. Try this - next time you're doing something active, don't look at your phone. Every time your thoughts wander to something that's not happening in the present, bring them back. If you want to go further than just focusing on the present moment, try meditating on good things during your workout: the benefits of exercising, or maybe what you're thankful for, etc. You might be able to do this for 10 minutes the first time, 15 minutes the next time, and so on. Mindfulness is like a muscle, it needs training, but remember the more you practice it, the better you will become at it. 

3. Respect your body's signals for rest

This one is so so important, and at the same time it's the hardest to convince people to do. REST. We as Americans are pretty much allergic to this concept. Even when we are quote on quote "resting" we're usually engaging in some sort of technology addiction, always keeping busy. So it shouldn't be surprising that when I tell people they have to rest in order to develop a consistent healthy relationship with movement, they usually stutter and stare in disbelief. Typically, I hear something like, "well, if I stop now or skip a day, I'll just completely fall off the band wagon," this fear is accompanied by concerns about gaining weight in one day (really that fast?). And herein lies the issue, exercise, when done with weight loss as the sole motivator, is not sustainable and rarely enjoyable. But I digress. 

Because of our obsession with "doing", our belief that exercise should mostly be painful, and our aversion to resting, many of us are out of touch our body's signals. If you have super low energy, you're a straight grouch, or you're relying on extra caffeine to get through the day, you might need a rest day. If you are constantly sore and stiff or you're getting the sniffles all the time, you might need a rest day. If you just don't want to do something you normally love doing, you might need a rest day! Just try it - take a day off and give yourself permission to relax and recharge, see how much better your relationship with exercise becomes. 

If you are an athlete, I strongly encourage taking rest days if you can. This topic is so so close to my heart as I am fairly certain looking back on my college swimming career that I spent a large portion of my freshman and sophomore years overtrained and overtired due my own mentality that rest was for the weak and slow. I was convinced that pushing through would solve all my performance problems, but it usually left me sick and in a bad place.  If you aren't able to take a day off, be extra careful to get rest outside of your workouts when you notice these signals. Another way you can tell if you need some rest is through monitoring resting heart rate. You can take your heart rate immediately upon waking (and while still lying in bed) for a week or two and figure your baseline or average resting heart rate. If you not a sudden spike in your resting heart rate or rising trend, this is a sign you might need to back off.

4.Ditch the Pressure to ALWAYS follow a plan & just move

My final tip for practicing intuitive movement is to just move! Well, Doi. But seriously, just like my diatribes about throwing out the diet plans and just eating. It's just as refreshing to realize that you don't have to follow a strict exercise plan with perfect mileage or strength training periodization, or set workouts. Just like diets, this often results to all or nothing thinking. It can leave you feeling like, "if I didn't run X miles or I don't have time to do Y strength training workout might as well just sit on the couch all day, and then for the rest of the week and feel yucky. Forget that. Instead, can't do your planned workout? Just move, anyway you can. It all counts! Go for a walk with the dog, or on your lunch break. Do some squats with your kiddo or a few pushups on a commercial break. Do half of your planned workout. And then enjoy the energizing health giving feeling of moving, however you can! Movement is incredibly important, it's what we were designed to do and it's rejuvenating. It would be a shame to let the pressure of being perfect stop you from experiencing the blessings of regular movement. 

Think about it, what's one thing you can do today that'll  take you away from an all or nothing exercise mindset to practicing intuitive movement??


As for myself, I'll be chasing this man down the gravel driveway -- but it'll be phone free this time ;)