From a proven pep talk expert.
Everything has felt so off, so chaotic, so uncertain for so many of us for months now. Between the pandemic, the police violence, and the uprisings reacting to those injustices, things feel, to say the least, unsettled. And I find that when the world feels unsettled, it can infiltrate into all areas of my life and can shake my confidence right across the board.
Maybe you relate?
So, hey–if you’re feeling some uncertainty right now, I totally get it. If you’ve been thinking of ways to improve your mental health and overall outlook on life and build your confidence, maybe you’ve considered exercise, which can be a great way to do those things. But for some people, just getting started comes with so much apprehension that you avoid it all together. That reluctance combined with what’s going on around us right now can make it awfully difficult to try something new. Feeling uncertain or self-conscious around exercise—especially right now—is normal for so many people.
If you’re in need of a How the heck do I get started? motivational talk, you’re in the right place!
Who am I to give you a pep talk? Well, I am kind of a pep talk expert.
I have worked with thousands of women, over many years, and helped them embrace exercise. I have been able to transform the most fitness-shy, intimidated, and the most gym-doubting people into regular exercisers. The weird thing is, I don’t have any special powers to make this happen. I just listened, observed, and adjusted my coaching to serve their versions of joyful exercise.
What I have learned over the course of my 10,000 hours of hands-on instruction is that people want to be met where they’re at. They want to be seen and not judged, they want to trust and know they are okay, that they will be challenged but won’t be pushed too far out of their comfort zones. For many people, there’s a real, acute fear about working out—and there are plenty of good reasons for this.
Many people, especially those of us socialized as women, have been at war with our bodies for a long time, for some of us for as long as we can remember. For those of us who saw our bodies as the enemy, exercise was often punitive and associated with negativity. It was often tethered to an unhealthy relationship with our minds and bodies and used as a tool to look a certain way and fit into a normative box. Sometimes, exercise was pushed upon us by a well-meaning parent to meet an expectation. All of this rings loudly in our ears even many years later, a lingering reminder of not being enough.
There are many other reasons, but often fitness apprehension is based on fear surrounding old stories, shame, body distrust, or fear of failure.
But what if you could rewrite your fitness story? What if exercise was fun? What if it was joyful and rewarding and had nothing to do with how we looked or our body size? What if we could let go of all the harsh expectations we have for ourselves and stopped caring about the expectations of others, or at least stopped giving them so much primacy in our own thoughts and decisions?
What if we just move like many of us did when we did when we were kids—without reservation?
Well, we can.
That’s what I coach women to do: reframe their relationship with fitness and rewrite the story so they can make it a joyful part of their lives for the long term.
Here are some things to remember when you are approaching exercise after a long time—or for the first time—that might help you transition to movement. They are simple but powerful truths and, in my experience, exactly what anyone who wants to exercise but is having a hard time following through needs to hear.
1. Fitness is for everybody, including you.
Not only is this true in the macro-sociocultural sense, but nowadays it’s starting to be true in real, practical ways. Despite what we see in a lot of fitness media and advertising, the fitness industry is getting better at making fitness accessible to more people. In fact, this is a trend right now (lucky us) and we are starting to see more options and classes for people of all walks of life and interests. There’s never been a time in fitness history where there were so many options: Tons of kinds of dance, Pound classes where you use drumsticks to air-drum, all kinds of yoga, water Zumba, and more. Even with gyms and fitness centers still closed, there is a lot of variety offered online and classes that you can do in the comfort of your own home. The options to match your interests, body type (like these fat- and body-positive workouts you can do at home), or preference, are endless.
2. You are doing this for you.
Some of us feel fear of judgment or failure and that stops us from getting started at all. We have to remember that we are doing this for ourselves and no one else. Most often, people at the gym, park, in your online workout class, are focused on what they are doing, not on you. I know some people have had negative experiences with others when working out (heck, I have!), but even if that is your story, we can’t let negative people take away our joy of exercise and feeling good. Of course, if you’re working out in a place that feels unsafe or is a hostile environment, that’s a different story. But if what you’re up against is feeling self-conscious around other exercisers, I encourage you to create your own pep talk before heading into an exercise space, perhaps something like this: My mission is to be the healthiest and/or happiest version of myself, I won’t allow myself to miss this opportunity. I am doing this for me!
The only person whose opinion that matters is your own.
3. Fitness can be fun.
I want you to abandon what you think or have been taught fitness needs to be in order to be doing it “right.” Explore activities that make you laugh and feel good but also bring in some challenge and get you to sweat. Maybe it’s dancing, pickle ball, or Barre class. It doesn’t have to be conventional fitness activities like lifting weights, running, or high-intensity workouts. It can be whatever you want. Take some time to explore—try out different activities and if something doesn’t feel right, that’s cool. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed forever at fitness. It just means it’s time to move on to the next thing. You’ve got this.
4. Abandon the idea that the purpose of exercise is to change your body.
I say this because when I think of the main purpose of exercise as weight loss, it leads to an on-again, off-again relationship with working out as well as an all or nothing mindset and self-punishment. For most people, wanting to lose weight just isn’t enough to sustain a lifelong relationship with fitness. I wrote about my journey to separate weight loss from exercise here; it’s the thing that has made exercise a lifelong habit (and love) for me.
Sometimes a healthier lifestyle and finding fitness that truly makes you happy can result in a changed body composition, but try to remove this as the sole focus or motivation for working out.
More importantly, I want to reaffirm, there is no right way to have a body. Moving your body is an act of self-care and cultivates self-love; doing more of it cultivates self-love even more.
5. You are in control of the process.
This is your journey and you get to decide what is right for you. You can decide to only engage in movement that feels right and to only exercise when you want to and for however long you feel like. That said, it can be hard—especially for newer exercisers or those looking to change their relationship to working out or their bodies—to tell the difference between the good kind of challenging and the bad kind of challenging that is unsustainable or actually unsafe. It’s important to consider not just the physical demands of the workout but also its mental and emotional demands.
Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you tell the difference and stay in control of your process.
- Does the activity feel manageable? Are you overwhelmed just thinking about it or scheduling your workout?
- While you’re exercising, are you able to talk relatively comfortably? Perhaps you’re unable to carry on an in-depth conversation, but for most people exercising for everyday health and wellness the majority of your workouts should be done at a “comfortably hard” intensity, which you can measure by how much you can talk as you exercise.
- When you feel like you’re working hard and sweating, do you feel ill or in pain?
- Do you feel safe in the environment where you’re exercising? Do you feel supported and encouraged to rest, drink water, and adjust as necessary?
You are the CEO of your body and you get to decide what works for you and what doesn’t. You also get to decide who you work with, so you don’t have to take the first trainer that your gym assigns to you or take a class with someone who doesn’t resonate with you. You can take your time establishing relationships, asking questions, choosing workouts and instructors. Sometimes there’s a sense of hierarchy with the trainer-to-client relationship but you are the boss and establishing relationships that align with what you love/enjoy most about exercise is paramount.
If you are thinking about getting back in the game, your time is now.
You can do this!
This article originally appeared on SELF US