Working out without the gym: Joyful movement and my ongoing fitness journey

Like many people, I’ve had a tenuous relationship with exercise and working out throughout my life, especially in adulthood as I moved away from the active extracurriculars that kept me moving in high school. In college, I walked miles every day just going where I needed to go on campus. And while I was teaching in the classroom, I walked miles and basically did squats just by helping my students each day. When school shut down back in March and we all started staying home, I realized how much I missed moving. Since then, I’ve been trying different forms of exercise to keep moving and help my body feel good.

In today’s blog post, I wanted to share a little bit about what I’ve been doing specifically, as long as the general mindset I’ve adopted that has helped me have a better relationship with my body and with exercise.

Why I don’t like the gym

A couple years ago, I wrote a blog post about how to exercise if you hate the gym. I still stand by my advice in that post, but my thinking has evolved a bit, just based on changing life circumstances. However, my general dislike of the gym still stands. There are lots of reasons why I feel like the gym just isn’t the place for me to get my workout in.

  1. Gyms cost money (and often a lot of money).
  2. Related to point #1 — finding a gym that has everything you’d want is either difficult or expensive and I’m probably too picky for my own good.
  3. I don’t like people looking at me because it makes me self-conscious. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that nobody actually cares about what I look like or what I’m doing, I get in my head and then I can’t focus on what I need to do.
  4. I’m easily distracted and all the grunting, loud banging of weights, cute outfits, social interactions, etc. just give me too much to think about and break my focus from my actual workout.
  5. Sometimes I just feel like laying on the floor or taking a break to online shop in between sets and that’s something that’s difficult (if not gross or rude) to do in a gym.

In addition to all that, the pandemic is making it difficult to have a normal gym experience anyway.

What I’ve been doing instead

Since I’ve never really had much of an interest in the gym, I’ve always found my movement and exercise fulfillment elsewhere. At the beginning of quarantine, I started running fairly regularly again, but once my shin splints showed back up, I switched to long walks instead. I love walking outside for a lot of reasons. It’s good exercise for my whole body, it lets me see parts of my neighborhood and areas I don’t always get to pay attention to (I discovered some fun lawn decor, pretty lakes, and cool paths I had no idea had been within a couple miles of my house for more than 20 years!), and of course, it gives me time to listen to audiobooks.

But then, as our time staying home extended into the summer, it started to be too hot to walk unless I wanted to get up really early (no thanks) or go in the evening (ew, bugs). So, I started trying out some of the home workouts I’ve seen on Instagram that included exercises like squats, planks, and crunches.

After dipping my toes into the “fitsta” community, and trying out different types of workouts (like ones that included some weight training elements), I found that I really liked the way my body felt after squatting and curling and crunching and pressing and lifting. So, I got myself some cheap resistance bands and some light dumbbells and ventured more into home lifting workouts. After spending a month or two following the workouts one of my favorite content creators posted on her Instagram feed, I decided to try out her paid workout program since it was only $9/month. So far, that’s been an amazing decision for me. I love not having to choose what workouts to do, having tutorials on form since I’m new to a lot of these exercise terms, and the community of amazing women I’ve met online since I started the program.

I definitely don’t think anybody has to pay money or buy anything special to start working out at home, but for me the structure has really helped and I’ve discovered a whole new side of fitness that I never really thought I’d enjoy.

What is “joyful movement?”

So, you might have seen the term “joyful movement” in the title of this blog post and be wondering what the heck I’m talking about as I ramble on about walks outside and weightlifting in my bedroom. Fair. Joyful movement is a term I’ve picked up after spending time in the Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size (HAES) communities. I’m not going to go into detail on IE or HAES in this post and I’m definitely not really qualified to educate anyone on either of those philosophies, but I really love the idea of joyful movement.

Basically, the idea of joyful movement is getting away from society’s idea of what exercise should be. When you say the word “exercise,” a lot of people imagine running on a treadmill and feeling miserable (or whatever form of physical activity you really hate but have been taught is the “right way” to exercise). Focusing on joyful movement instead of on traditional ideas of “exercise” means focusing on what kind of movement makes your body feel good instead of using working out as a way to punish your body for looking a way you don’t like or a way to “justify” eating junkfood or any nonsense like that.

Since adopting this philosophy, I feel like I’ve had a much better relationship with my body and with working out. I no longer work out under any sense of obligation. If I take a whole week off because I’ve got cramps or I’m too busy or I just don’t feel like working out, that’s fine. If I start out on a run, but partway through I realize it’s feeling punishing and not making me feel good, I stop running.

Joyful movement also recognizes that there are ways to move your body that don’t involve running or lifting weights. You might like to move your body by going on walks with your partner, by playing soccer with the neighborhood kids, by chasing your toddler around, or by kayaking in the river near your house. These all “count.” They’re all ways of moving your body and if it brings you joy and makes you feel good, keep doing it.

How I stay motivated

With all that said, sometimes it seems easy to just stay in bed and not move your body at all, especially with everything going on in the world right now. While I definitely feel like that’s totally fine, I know that I can’t do that every single day because I simply feel better when I move my body.

There are lots of ways that I stay motivated to work out. I’m in a groupchat of amazing women I met through the workout program I’m participating in and we talk and motivate one another daily. I participate in a monthly fitness challenge on Instagram, which helps me stay on track. I’ve got a checklist on a whiteboard in my room of habits I’m trying to make daily things and that’s a visual reminder. But most importantly, I just feel better when I’m working out consistently. I feel stronger, I feel like I’m actually using and caring for my body, and it helps my mental health as well. There’s no better motivation to me than the proof of how I feel when I’m striving toward my goals.

Giving myself grace

Lastly, I wanted to remind you that it’s important to give yourself grace in all things. This is something that I particularly struggle with all the time. I tend to be very much an all-or-nothing kind of person and so I have the tendency to beat myself up when I take a break or when I don’t achieve a goal. But, I’m constantly working on treating myself with the grace I give other people and reminding myself that all-or-nothing is usually an unhelpful mentality to have. Each day is a new day and I can always take steps toward my goals the next day if I didn’t do what I wanted to today.

I’d really love to hear about the ways you take care of your body and what kind of exercise makes you feel good. Leave a comment below and let’s have the conversation!

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