What is your relationship with your workouts? Do you do them because you “have” to or is your motivation a favorite food or drink that you think your workout will offset? Do you judge yourself by what you see in the mirror each morning and believe the answer to a reflection you like better is within a hard workout? Or, do you have no relationship with workouts whatsoever because they are just not your thing?

If you answered yes to ANY of those questions, you are absolutely not alone!

My Unbalanced Relationship with Exercise 

Up until about 8 months ago, I fell into the category of working out because I thought I HAD to. I needed to run or bike another mile to burn just a few more calories, I needed to hold a plank for just another 30 seconds to get the strong abs you could see on the surface and I needed to do more, more, more so I could fit in a certain size pant and look a certain way.

At one point, my exercise routine was so out of control that I was riding my Peloton bike at home at least five times a week, teaching 4+ barre classes, taking 3 barre classes on top of those that I taught, AND I introduced pilates to the routine…because I was clearly not doing enough already!

Bottomline: I was completely out of balance with my workouts!

I was at that point where I was living proof of the idea that you can have too much of a good thing! Any benefit that you could get from working out was completely lost on my body at this point. Could I tell you that I was in the best shape of my life when I was at the peak of my workout routine in terms of the time I spent working out? Nope…not at all!

How did I Get to That Unbalanced Place? 

I found myself in this incredibly unhappy relationship with working out from a place of pure stress! The more stressed I get, the more I turn to exercise. It’s my way of feeling in control of something (anything!) when everything else feels out of my control. At the time, I had just finished my PhD and could give you a laundry list of things I didn’t want to do but couldn’t give a direct answer to what I DID want to do after graduation. I already had a full time research job but I knew it was time for a new chapter. What that chapter should be and look like, was as much a mystery to me as everyone else and that scared me to pieces.

The girl who always has a plan, always has a vision and always has a goal could not tell you what the next step was going to be and I felt completely out of control.

My answer to those emotions was to exercise my way out of them to the point where I actually lost control rather than gained any.

Redefining the WHY Behind My Workouts

While there is research, solid research in fact by the National Institute of Mental Health, that shows exercise can help relieve stress and anxiety, when you reach the point where you actually stress more and your anxiety increases about missing a workout, it’s time to reevaluate. And, that’s exactly what I did.

Tips to Help Redefine Your Relationship With Your Workouts 

  • Energy OVER Appearance: The first shift I started to make had nothing to do with the physical and everything to do with the mental. Rather than asking myself what I wanted to LOOK like, I changed the question to what do I want to FEEL like? When you wake up in the morning and you jump into your day, you want to feel energized and bright. You want to feel alive and unstoppable. You want to feel grateful for what your body allows you to do, the places it takes you and the interactions it creates for you (i.e. bear hugs, keeping up with the kiddos, chasing down dreams). After a few months of focusing on the feeling that exercise gave me, I started to find myself excited to jump on the bike each morning, not to offset food or get closer to an “ideal” image of myself, but to simply feel alive! I could feel my strength and be reminded of my full capabilities, I could get my dose of endorphins and use them to take strides toward the people and things that mattered most to me…I could literally feel myself filling up on energy that I simply wanted to radiate.
  • More Movement, Less Exercise:  Rather than thinking you need to engage in more high cardio exercise every day or else it doesn’t count, think about engaging in more movement on the daily. The simple act of standing at your work desk or going for an afternoon walk outdoors can absolutely change your mood for the better and boost your energy. Most of us have jobs these days that require us to be at a desk all day long, reducing our daily movement and thus reducing the amount of energy we can create and apply to the things that matter most to us. So, it’s not about how much more exercise can you squeeze in before or after your 8 hours at your desk but instead it’s about focusing on ways you can add movement throughout your day to counter all that sitting. Some small changes that I’ve been doing to add more movement to my every day include:
    • Taking the stairs whenever possible
    • Parking further away, requiring me to walk more
    • Throwing in a set of squats here and there (maybe not in your office but for sure in your kitchen or bathroom)
    • Standing for at least 10 minutes every hour
    • Afternoon walks with Wally or even walks around the office when I’m not at home
    • Stretching / Foam Rolling in the evenings when we are watching TV
  •  How Do You Want to Feel When You’re 80? Serious question! How do you want to feel when you are 80 years old and what do you want to be doing. Everything you are doing right now to and with your body is preparing you for that state. When you think about the larger picture and the idea that you are trying to fuel and care for your body so that you can sustain yourself when you are 80, you automatically start to change how you treat yourself now, or at least you should. Take a moment to envision yourself at 80, how you feel and what you’re doing, and then assess if what you are doing movement wise now, will help you feel at your fullest and best 80-year-old self.
  • What Movement Actually Brings You Joy? Stop doing exercises that you genuinely do not enjoy. Honestly! Don’t force yourself to spin classes or force yourself to lace up a pair of running shoes if you actually count down the minutes until it’s over. Instead, find the movement that you actually excited to do and that actually fills you with joy. I’m a firm believer that the energy boost we create through workouts actually doesn’t come unless you enjoy the workout. So if you’re going to carve out time in your Happy Balance Planner to exercise and move, carve out space for something that energizes you for the right reasons. It can be a dance class, yoga, long walks, pilates…I think my mother-in-law was taking drum aerobics at some point! The point is that there are endless options these days so choose to do something that brings you joy!

All of these tips are ways to redefine the why behind your workouts. Will your 80-year-old self care what size pants you’re wearing today? Probably not! Will your 80-year-old self care if you got in any kind of daily movement that you enjoyed and that made you feel energized? Absolutely!

Like any sort of balance you are trying to redefine or create, it won’t happen overnight. Redefining how you view your workouts and how you approach exercise will take time. I’m on month 8 and still have days where I fall back into my old ways. But the point isn’t that you make the change overnight but that you start to build a new relationship with working out that is sustainable and life-giving. 

I adopted the very best metric to measure movement, exercise, even your day, from one of my absolute favorite spin instructors turned life coach of sorts (Nicole Meline) and that is the JOYMETRIC. Decide today to trade in your calorie counter, step counter, speed and heart rate monitor for the measurement that really matters most: JOY!