Check out this body positive guide to working out and body image.
There’s plenty of body-shaming to go around in this world—and unfortunately, we in the fitness community aren’t always immune. The vision of a slimmer, more attractive you makes for a powerful motivator, and why not?
After all, one of the perks of working out is that you can finally try on that tiny swimsuit you threw into the back of the closet.
Of course, that attitude can totally backfire. In fact, science doesn’t support it at all, at least not for long-term health outcomes. Studies have shown that the people who start and continue workout programs usually have some form of internal motivation: the desire to be stronger, get fresh air, or enjoy some time to themselves, for instance.
External motivation, like finding a new bae, doesn’t tend to last for long. So while you may crush your workouts and drop a few pounds in the beginning, you’re less likely to stick with the program—especially if the weight doesn’t drop off as quickly as you’d like.
So how can you adjust your workout focus so that it’s kinder to your body (and more likely to deliver the results you want)? Here are several strategies to make working out all about you.
Don’t Get Too Wrapped Up in Numbers
Weighing yourself on a scale isn’t bad, per se—it’s important to keep track of your progress, after all, and weight is one of the more objective ways we have to do that. But whether it’s pounds or inches, it’s easy to get obsessed with measurements.
Remember, the number on the scale isn’t a perfect indicator of how well you’re doing.
The time of day, where you are in your hormonal cycle, and how much water you had the day before can all affect your weight. Instead, try checking in with the scale once a week. Keep track of the read-out so you can compare it to last week’s weigh-in, but remember: it’s just a number.
Workout Your Body In a Way That Makes You Feel Good
You already have enough obligations and unpleasant tasks in your daily life. Working out should feel good, so if hitting the gym isn’t your style, don’t do it. Try a variety of different options—working with a personal trainer, walking outside, or a video at home—until you find something that fits your style.
Hate all forms of exercise? Gamify your routine with an app like Zombies, Run!, which has you complete “missions” to outpace a gang of hungry monsters.
Honor Your Body
Your body has its limits, and learning how to interpret messages about those boundaries is one of the tricky parts of working out. You’re a lot more likely to hurt yourself if you’re just getting back into a routine—when your body is deconditioned, you’ll have to work harder to maintain your balance and push to accomplish strength exercises.
Honoring a tender knee to you or obeying a shoulder that can’t take any more reps is one of the most powerful forms of body acceptance. Give yourself the room you need to get stronger on your own timeline—you don’t have to push too hard at first. In fact, some experts believe that light weights are just as effective as heavier ones, so there’s no need to overdo it.
Along the same lines, when you work out, it’s important to thank your body for its service. After a run or tough CrossFit class, take a second to appreciate what you’ve just done.
Even if you had to stop early or you couldn’t accomplish exactly what you’d hoped, you still showed up—and that’s not nothing!
Add Mental Health into the Equation
Are things tense at work? Exercise can help! Just fought with your SO and need to work out your feelings? Yep, exercise has your back again. Working out is chock-full with mental health benefits, from stress relief to depression easement, so there’s a lot more to it than slimming down.
Focusing on your mental health—instead of how your pants fit—is a game changer. You may just find yourself looking forward to your workout as a way to recharge after a particularly fraught day. Now that’s what I call positive!
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Jesse Silkoff is an avid runner and tennis player. He currently resides in Austin, TX where he works as the President and Co-Founder of FitnessTrainer, the leading online marketplace to find a local personal trainer that can help you achieve your health and wellness goals.
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