Exercise is NEVER Punishment
by Erik Castiglione
“Ugh, it was a rough weekend. I drank too much watching the Derby, gotta sweat it all out.”
“I had cake last night and need to burn it off.”
“I gotta work out hard enough to earn the steak dinner I’m having tonight.”
Do any of these sound familiar? Maybe you’ve heard them, maybe you’ve even said them, or something similar. I heard the first two quotes in the gym earlier this week. They are, unfortunately, common sentiments that stem from a common and unfortunate mindset – exercise as punishment. It’s time to reframe our thinking!
Exercise needs to come from a place of self-love, not self-loathing. When you’re in the gym, celebrate what you CAN do. You ate an entire pizza last night, and today you’re lifting 100 lbs overhead? That’s amazing! How many people can’t do that, regardless of circumstances? Probably a lot more than you think. So, focus on what your body did, and get over how you ate. You went off the rails? It’s okay, and even healthy (for psychological reasons) on occasion. Maybe focus a bit more on your nutritional habits in the immediate future, but keep that separate from what you’re doing in the gym.
Also, working out for vanity’s sake IS a valid motive. Everyone wants to look good naked. It’s a common motivation, and to deny it would be dishonest. But, at the same time, I’m sure everyone can think of something they’d like to change about their body. And if you fixate on it, even if you change it, will it really make you happy?
Maybe, maybe not. For many of us, that flaw will never be perfect. So, instead of fixating on it, let’s focus on what our bodies can do. (And if you want to focus on how it looks, look at the whole picture, not a specific part.) By focusing on performance, progress in the gym will be your new gauge for success, rather than how you look. And, assuming your nutrition is mostly dialed in, how you look will change as you progress in the gym anyway. Form tends to follow function.
That being said, I do need to bring up an important distinction. Recently, the “healthy at every size” movement has gained a lot of traction. While your performance in the gym may improve even if your other body markers don’t, at some point, you do need to take them into consideration, and adjust accordingly. If your cholesterol and/or triglycerides are at unhealthy levels, the gym alone won’t fix them; you’ll need to adjust your diet. Furthermore, while the athletic community loves to dismiss BMI, it is still a valid measurement. No, it doesn’t tell the whole story, and looking at body composition in addition to BMI is better. But it’s still an important number. If you’re 5’7” and 240 lbs, it doesn’t matter if that’s solid muscle (yes, I’ve seen bodybuilders achieve this) or adipose tissue. Your heart still needs to pump blood to 240 lbs of human being, which is a lot of work. Obesity applies to overly muscular, too. So, let’s call it “happy at every size,” because that is a more accurate descriptor.
And, if you are truly happy at every size, then you won’t fixate on your imperfections. It doesn’t matter if they’re appearance related, or based on your food intake over the last 48 hours. No one is perfect, and we shouldn’t strive to be. Yes, we do want to be healthier. Improvement is the goal, not perfection. Exercise should never be punishment – do it to enrich yourself, and take care of your body, not as punishment for falling off the wagon in some way, shape or form. And certainly not as punishment for some perceived imperfection in your appearance. Chase performance, not perfection. See you in the gym.