Before You Judge Someone Else's Fitness Routine, Read This
Hi my name is nat and I work out a lot. Saying those words is a little scary in this space. Isn’t that silly? As a certified personal trainer and wellness junkie I shouldn’t we sweating writing those words. But I am. And you know why?
The criticism I witness around exercise that varies from the "norm" these days is frustrating.
I used to love sharing my workouts on my stories, but I slowly stopped after getting one too many messages saying my workouts seemed “pretty long,” or “pretty intense,” or “over the top.” I felt frustrated and found myself at a (three-pronged) fork. Do I keep doing me and sharing and getting criticized? Do I stop sharing my workout all-together? Do I mold my workouts to what Instagram seems to tout as the “ideal” workout?
You know, those quick and fast at-home kinda workouts. THOSE are what the masses seem to like. That’s what normal. That’s what’s popular (trendy even?).
And don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with those workouts. Heck once in a blue moon I like a quick, HIIT-style workout to get the blood pumpin’ with minimal time and equipment needed. But most of the time?
Most of the time I like lifting heavy weights (at least heavy for me), reveling in my time spent at the gym, testing my limits out on the road during long runs, testing both physical and mental strength at the climbing gym for hours, testing my athleticism in so many different aspects.
I don’t feel the need to make my workouts quick. I factor in extended time for my workouts because I truthfully LOVE every single second of it. It’s my hobby, my passion and my “sport.” I never did group sports (unless you count dancing and one year of 9th grade track) so working out at the gym and, later, long distance running on my own became my thing. Just like soccer, gymnastics or basketball are other people’s things.
And I’m sharing this because I’m fed up with everyone preaching “exercise freedom” and “listening to your body,” but turning around and judging others for working out longer than 30 or 45 minutes. I’m tired of feeling like I need to walk on eggshells when I talk about exercise in case I offend someone on Instagram or make them feel uncomfortable.
Ya’ll know I also preach exercise freedom and listening to your body, but I think I have a broader or more diverse vision of it. Listening to your body can mean more than just rest and relax. True, that’s a HUGE part of it, but that’s only half of it.
Exercise freedom means doing any movement that feels good and not getting stuck to a schedule.
Exercise freedom means doing a long run one day and restorative yoga the next because that’s what your body is craving.
Exercise freedom means not putting a label on who I am as an athlete. I’m a runner, weight lifter, rock climber, yogi.
Exercise freedom means saying f*ck it to the plan and doing something different that day because my body told me to do so.
And listening to your body means honoring it when your body tells you “abort abort do something different today!”
Listening to your body means resting when it feels worn down.
But listening to your body also means pushing it when it feels strong, alert and able.
Exercise freedom and listening to your body can mean both, does mean both. It encompasses being gentle with your body, but it also encompasses the realization that your body is strong and it’s okay to push it too.
The thing is is I used to suffer from exercise addiction. About 3-ish years ago I was a slave to the gym.
There were SO many factors playing into my exercise addiction. Self-hatred, anxiety, grief and an eating disorder, all making my body and mind weak and unfit to work out so often and so hard.
And I find there’s this kind of fear around eating disorders and exercise addiction. There’s this constant questioning – am I making this health-centric decision because I truly want to and enjoy eating or doing XYZ or is this a past exercise addiction or eating disorder behavior? I remember it being hard for my mom to tell the difference when we were at the store and she would question me – are you getting that snack only because it’s super healthy and free of sugar or do you actually want it?
It always made me stop and think which I think was good. For a while there I did have to be really careful and monitor my own behavior to ensure I was making true progress in recovery and breaking free from past disordered and obsessive thoughts.
I realize in this space, sadly, a lot of girls and woman have dealt with or are dealing with similar internal demons I dealt with for so long. And that’s why I speak out about these topics. I want to help show any of you struggling that it gets better. You CAN fully recover. You can have a healthy relationship with your body, exercise and food again, just like I do today.
But I also want it to be a reminder to do what’s best for YOUR body. Maybe you think my workouts are too long or intense for your liking, but that doesn’t mean they're wrong or bad or stemming from a disordered place. I’ve fully and completely left my disordered and obsessive thoughts around exercise in my past, and over the past couple of years I’ve felt true freedom from both, allowing me to push my limits without fearing that I will fall back into old patterns.
So to me, exercise freedom and listening to my body means I like to lift heavy sh*t, and run really far, and climb walls, and punch bags, but I also love my rest days and am okay switching up my plans. They mean I love taking care of my body, but also testing my physical limits as an athlete.
And that’s the biggest difference here. Working out for athleticism vs. aesthetics is hugely different. I used to be a slave to the gym because I was obsessed with being skinny. Thinking skinnier meant better, happier, prettier. Thinking a thigh-gap and a wash-board-flat stomach would fix the war going on inside my head. I worked out to look a girl I thought would be the vision of happiness I so desperately wanted to feel in my soul.
But that thigh-gap and wash-board-flat stomach didn’t provide me with the happiness I thought it would. They just made me tired. So tired. Mentally and physically. The gym became a prison and sucked the life out of me.
Now? Now the gym gives me joy, it shows me my strength, it clears my mind, it makes me happy, it grows my booty and legs and arms and I love that.
The gym has helped me grow both mentally and physically and I’m really damn proud of where I am today in my fitness journey.
I’m in a healthy enough place where I can trust myself again to push myself.
So next time you think to criticize or question someone’s exercise actions, stop and ask yourself –
Am I questioning their behavior based on my own insecurities that it brings up?
Am I only questioning their actions because they are different from my own?
Or, am I genuinely worried about this person?
If it’s your own insecurities – squash those suckers. Be confident in YOUR fitness choices. If you truly love what you’re doing, no matter the movement, who cares what others are doing? It doesn’t matter if I went to the gym for an hour and you went for 30 minutes if we’re both doing what makes us happy and is healthy and balanced for US individually. If you’re recovering from exercise addiction or an eating disorder and know working out as much as someone else wouldn’t be healthy mentally or physically, be okay with that. I know it’s hard, but know you’re making the healthiest decision you can for YOU.
On the flip side – you can also turn insecurity or jealousy into inspiration. If you’re jealous of Suzie on Instagram for running 5 miles every weekend, stop and think. Is this something that you wish you could do and it actually sounds fun and you’re healthy enough to do so? Then put in the work and do it girlfriend (as long as it’s healthy for you)! Jealousy is an icky icky feeling. But inspiration? It’s a damn good feeling!
If you’re only questioning other’s actions simply because they differ from your own, well, newsflash – you aren’t always right. ;) Maybe you think running is the worst thing in. the. WORLD. But that doesn’t mean it is and that doesn’t mean anyone who loves running a lot is insane or obsessive.
If you’re genuinely worried about a friend or someone else who seems to be toeing the line with exercise addiction – reach out, be a friend, offer support. Don’t accuse or blame, just be kind. Ask questions, show that you care.
Exercise is unique to every individual, so sweet friend - stop worrying so much about what others do and start focusing inwards. Find movement that makes YOUR body sing just like I have.