This article was first published on the AEA Website, under the title “Exercising Intuitively.” Updated to appeal to both instructors and class participants, this article is a good “client share” as it provides a strategy for exercising more sanely and safely.
Fitness instructors often sound like a broken record when imploring students to “work within their own abilities.” The mantra is repeated every time an instructor sees a student huffing, puffing, wincing and grimacing. Why do some class participants ignore common sense and the instructor’s admonishments? Learning how to adopt a more intuitive approach to exercise can help fitness seekers own the workout.
The first issue to address is the ritualistic nature of workouts. Sticking to a rigid exercise routine regardless of how your body feels can tank your mood, cause physical malaise and plateau results. The physical needs of your body not only change over time, they change on a daily basis. Learning how to adapt your fitness pursuits to your daily barometer is referred to as exercising intuitively. Embracing a more intuitive approach to exercise can increase joy and effectiveness in both self-directed workouts and group fitness classes.
Participating in a class can get you in trouble if you play “monkey see-monkey do” with the instructor. Ignoring common sense and following every movement the instructor does regardless of personal comfort or stamina is an invitation to injury. Group fitness instructors are almost never privy to the health histories of their participants. The best they can do is offer exercise regressions and encourage participants to work to their own abilities. Unfortunately the pressure to conform in a group often causes class participants to abandon caution and push beyond their limits.
OWNING THE WORKOUT
Consequently, any benefits from participating in a group fitness activity are negated by post-exercise pain and lethargy, which is definitely not a winning formula for exercise adherence. Exercising beyond your personal fitness level or exercising inefficiently can exacerbate existing physical ailments. The solution is to own your fitness experience and move in a way that is compatible and beneficial to your fitness level and goals. Of course, that is easier said than done.
Intuitive fitness is all about listening to your body and participating in exercise activities that match how you feel on that day. Intense aqua aerobics may not be what your body needs on a day when you wake up tired and sore. Maybe you need to make a cup of coffee, stay home and do some gentle stretching, yoga or meditation. Perhaps a walk outside in the sunshine might be a better choice. Exercising intuitively is about interpreting what your body, mind and soul need on that day. It doesn’t matter what you choose. All exercise is good as long as you honor your body.
EXERCISING INTUITIVELY IN A CLASS
Exercising intuitively in a group fitness class can be more challenging due to the pressure to conform in a group setting. Recently, I posted a video, Aqua Rejuvenate. The routine included three segments of intuitive fitness that were designed to help individuals listen to their bodies and move in an appropriate manner. The goal was to remind my students that they have options – as does anyone who participates in a fitness class. Students can choose to perform exercises powerfully, focusing on the water’s resistance with a goal of muscular strength and endurance. Or, they can opt for performing the movements slowly, assisted by the water’s buoyancy while focusing on flexibility and joint mobility. Introducing this concept has helped empower my students to own intensity and intention, ensuring that they are more likely to work within their own abilities.
Exercising intuitively in a class while ignoring the actions of the instructor and the pace of fellow classmates is not always easy. Consider approaching your instructor before class and informing him/her that you will be making modifications to the class to accommodate your body’s needs. This way you can rest easy knowing that the instructor will spare you the evil eye while you are marching to your own drummer.
Developing a sensible and joyful approach to exercise takes time. Embrace exercising intuitively by asking, “What does my body need today?” or “What would I enjoy doing for physical activity today?” Take an intuitive leap of faith and stop stressing and obsessing about sticking to your planned routine. Instead, perform a mental body scan and choose an exercise activity that reflects your mood, stamina and physicality. Shifting away from a mentality of “must do” to a mindset of “can do” will do wonders for restoring joy into your exercise routine.