Is “No pain, no gain” your motto? Do you go to the gym only to lose weight? Then this post probably isn’t for you, unless you are ready to shift how you look at exercise. I want to talk about letting go of using exercise as some type of punishment or body manipulation and find ways to bring more joy into daily movement.
Why is “No pain, no gain” hurtful? Well, first of all, it hurts. I understand that when we exercise it breaks down our muscles so our body can create new stronger muscle fiber to withstand more weight and give us more stamina. So why am I hating on this popular phrase?
Let me take you back to when you were a kid. What did you do to move your body? I loved to run and play. I played tag at school or at home with my sisters. I practically spent the summer living on my bicycle. We walked down to the river and played. We played capture the flag in the evenings until it was so dark that we couldn’t see the flag anymore. We walked to the Circle K to get a candy bar. We played ring around the rosie, red rover, catch, basketball, baseball, swimming, hula hoop, jump rope, and so much more! As a teen, I was a dancer and cheerleader.
How many times, in that list of activities did you sense that “no pain, no gain” mentality?
Even when I was showing up at 5:00 am to practice for cheerleading competition, I did push myself. I pushed hard.
Why, as adults, do we change movement into something that has to hurt to be useful? When was the last time you counted calories burned as you walked or ran on the treadmill, or climbed stairs, or tracked your 10,000 steps a day? Counting the calories you burn is the fastest way to take all the fun out of the exercise. That’s my personal opinion. You can argue with me if you want. Maybe counting calories burned is like a fun game to you. I dunno.
At the gym, most of the machines count calories for us, so we can’t just stop doing that, but maybe we can stop paying so much attention to that and create joy in other ways.
The first tip to finding joy at the gym is to focus on WHY you are there. Get down to the values underneath you why. (Weight loss is a strategy, not a value. There is always a value under the desire for weight loss.)
Here are some ideas to find joy in different areas of the gym:
Treadmill: The treadmill can become dreadfully monotonous, so try finding ways to take your mind away from the monotony. I love to listen to audiobooks as I walk. I choose a book that I can get lost in. Make it a treat for yourself. The best part about listening to audiobooks or podcasts as you walk is that the increased blood flow to your brain from the exercise makes it easier for you to remember what you learn as you listen!
Free weights: I like to use my intuition when I hit the free weights. I ask my body what parts need to be strengthened and fortified, and some part of my body will pipe up and say “me!”. Then you can plan your exercises around those body parts. Turn up some good music and focus on the muscles you are working. If you have a friend there you can create a little friendly competition by having each of you come up with an exercise and see how many you can do before your muscles tire out.
Classes: If you are avoiding classes at the gym, it might be time to give them a try, especially if you are a social exerciser. The energy in these classes can be really fun and supportive.
Try something new: Learn to use a new machine, or learn a new exercise for a part of your body that tends to get neglected. You can even learn a different type of exercise, like Tabata, Kickboxing, or Yoga! You never know if you like it until you try.
Make it into a game: Play “I Spy” while you run or lift. Look for specific colors, letters, or numbers. Get a buddy involved and keep track from start to finish to determine who the master spotter is.
One more tip to have more fun at the gym: Forgive yourself. Let go of the judgments about yourself (and others) and allow yourself to explore what is possible! Lean into your values and explore your discomfort with curiosity!
Sending you love and light,