For decades mainstream western exercise practices have often focused on a single factor: weight (& usually how to lose it). For many, this single focus has created obsessive exercise patterns, disordered eating, low-self esteem, injuries and a range of other physical and mental health issues. Now, we are seeing a new generation of health, fitness and wellness professionals pushing back and letting us know – it’s okay to want more from movement. Intuitive movement is gaining traction. So what is it?
Using intuition to improve our health is in itself not new. Many of us are familiar with the idea thanks to Intuitive Eating, a 1995 book by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The book guides people through breaking free of diet cycles by using 10 principles to learn to trust and follow their natural instincts around food. This book was considered revolutionary in the diet space and has inspired similar recommendations in a range of other health-based industries. More and more it is finding its way into fitness.
Applying the general idea of intuition, moving intuitively seems like a pretty simple principle – do what you feel like, when you feel like it – but putting the idea into practice can be a bit more complicated. We’re so used to being told to never give up, push through the pain, fake it ‘til we make it, that it’s difficult to even recognise what our bodies are really telling us. On those days it tells us to slow down, or stop completely, it can be hard to accept. This comes back to the idea that we have been conditioned to believe the most important outcome for exercise is weight loss and that we should always be pushing our workouts to 110% with the goal of burning the most possible calories or breaking the biggest sweat we can. However, listening to those signs may be the very thing we need to make the most of our movement and appreciate all the other benefits we’ve been overlooking.
By taking days off or including low impact or low intensity workouts into our practice (if that’s what our bodies tell us we need), many people find the focus of their practice shifts away from weight and they become more aware of and able to appreciate other incredible benefits of movement like mental clarity, better sleep, better mood & functional strength just to name a few, not just how we look.
Weight change can be a healthy goal in some circumstances, and this is not to say you should never smash out a HIIT work out. If that’s what you love and it feels good five days a week– go for it! That’s you moving intuitively. But if you’re finding you’re having to psych yourself up every day, fighting your way through every workout or you constantly feel sore and tired no matter how well you stretched or slept – you could be selling yourself short and it may be time to consider changing it up.
Here’s a few ways to experiment with intuitive movement:
- Try something new, maybe you up the intensity or maybe you bring it all the way down
- Workout without your fitness tracker / smartwatch once in a while, focus on how you feel rather than the numbers
- If you’re in a routine take a week (or even just a day) off. You can still schedule in your exercise time but wait until the day of to see what you feel like doing
- Set some non-aesthetic, non-time constraint goals like increasing your weights, practicing a new yoga pose at the end of each workout or distance based goals if you’re a runner
- Think about the outcome you are looking for, on some days it may be more effectively achieved through meditation, journaling or recovery practices like restorative Yin yoga.