It’s good to be glad: Tough on our muscles, Kind on our bodies


No pain, no gain. Go hard or go home. Earn your body. Sweat is fat crying. Pain is weakness leaving the body. Wake up, put your head down, work out and go to bed. The grind never stops. 

These are the phrases we hear from people who seem like they’ve mastered fitness. These are the quotes we see from influencers online and on the signs we walk past as we enter the gym. 

We are hyper aware of the benefits of consistent exercise, especially variations of cardio and strength workouts. However, many of us reluctantly drag ourselves to the gym, especially when we’re first starting out. We see exercise as a chore rather than a break or an activity to look forward to. 

Modern exercise culture has convinced a lot of people that without supplements, 6:00 a.m. lifts and three protein shakes a day, we won’t see as much progress. Fitness influencers capitalize on the insecurities and inexperience of their young audience —  an audience desperate for tips that might help them achieve the unattainable physiques that we see so often while scrolling. 

I want to explore how we can collectively benefit from reframing exercise as an enjoyable, self-directed activity a hobby and a habit that should feel less daunting and be more accessible to any given person. 

We exercise in an act of moving away moving away from feeling sluggish, out of shape, undisciplined or from feeling bad about ourselves in general. This “movement away” begins when we compare ourselves to others. Before we have even stepped onto a treadmill to warm up, we look around and compare our fitness level, our experience and our progress to others. This is not a healthy way to approach exercise. 

An effective way to calibrate yourself to feel more comfortable with exercise is to begin with positivity. Be grateful for what you are able to do, for what features you have and that you can have fun and enjoy exercising. At times, I view exercise as more of a task to cross off of my to-do list than as a privilege. Movement is medicine. Being physically active should not be taken for granted. 

If you feel unmotivated or uninspired by the thought of following a workout plan, consider varying your workouts to be more enjoyable using self-selected exercise intensity. 

According to a 2009 study, when people are given the option to select their own exercise intensity (as opposed to following a workout plan or a trainer’s program) they generally choose intensities that are both physiologically beneficial and do not “elicit displeasure.” This approach can make exercise more autonomous, which is one of the key psychological needs outlined by self-determination theory and is more likely to boost adherence to exercise. 

A 2016 article in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology further demonstrated the benefits of self-selected exercise intensity. The results of the study showed that participants in the self-paced group worked out an average of 26 more minutes per week than their moderate-intensity counterparts. Additionally, the self-paced group reported more positive affective responses to exercise. In essence, allowing individuals to determine their own exercise intensity appears to have numerous benefits, including increased exercise adherence and greater enjoyment of physical activity. 

In light of these studies, I think we all should offer ourselves and each other more grace in how we stay fit. 

Some people may like to approach every workout with intensity, while others may simply enjoy the time to clear their mind. By adjusting our idea of what a “good” workout looks like, we can find more enjoyment in exercising and eventually attain some consistency in our regimens. 

Personally, I am going to apply self-selected exercise intensity in my workouts by acknowledging how I am feeling on a daily basis. Staying motivated can be achieved through consistency — on an off day, I don’t need to outperform myself from last week or push myself to the limit. I could simply allow myself some flexibility by exercising in the way that feels most comfortable. 

For instance, last week I was particularly down and my friend wanted to do an hour-long weight-lifting workout. I joined him for the first half but soon realized how distracted and unmotivated I felt. Instead of forcing myself to complete the second half, I decided to pivot to a 20-minute jump rope workout. I felt very satisfied with myself because it was encouraging to engage in a manageable workout rather than giving up entirely. 

This approach to reframing fitness could help a lot of people feel capable of beginning and maintaining an exercise routine, while most importantly enjoying the free time that we spend improving our health. 


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