How do you know if your exercise routine is not right for you? This can be a tough one to figure out. I know I used to be so bad at listening to cues from my brain. I thought body cues were important, but brain cues like “I hate doing this” or “I’m really dreading this exercise class”, that was just me being weak. As I’ve gotten older I’ve decided that my brain cueing me to exercise that’s inappropriate for me is as equally important and it’s lead me to a much happier existence. Here are 5 body and brain cues I’ve learned to listen to over the years that I know will help you:
1. It hurts during and after.
I’m not talking the pain you feel when you push the muscles. That pain is necessary for growth. And I’m not talking about the pain you feel from bad technique. I’m talking about when you’re doing everything right and yet the joints still hurt, a nerve is still pinched, or a muscle or tendon feels pulled. Don’t push through that pain.
Joint pain cues are essential to listen to because either you are eventually going to end up with a chronic injury and/or (especially if you have arthritis) end up with worse pain later.
Pinched nerves are no fun. You can still exercise if you’ve got a pinched nerve, but don’t go heavy and don’t push the pain. You’ll certainly want to avoid exercises that make the pain worse.
Muscles hurting from working and breaking down as a result of load bearing exercises is a pain you’ll learn to distinguish from the pain that is telling you to STOPPP. It’s usually a pain that comes on slowly as you go through the exercise, whereas a pain to be alert to is a sharp and inhibits movement. Tendon pain is especially crucial to be aware of. This is the tissue that connects muscle to bone. If you push the pain in tendons too much it could lead to tendonitis, or it’s very possible you already have it. If your muscles hurt from your workout the day before, you can still train through it, but always be sure to do warm up stretch and then foam roll and stretch afterward.
2. You absolutely dread doing it and come up with all the excuses.
In a world where many people have jobs that they wish they weren’t doing and obligations that just don’t fire them up, don’t add movement to that list of things. Yes, it’s essential to move the body, but pick something that brings you joy. Name that time when you do it something other than “exercise” if that word triggers dread in you. You could call it your “dance party.” I have started to think of my workouts as “system cleansing time” because I am washing my body and mind of toxins and negative energy I was holding onto from the day before. This helps me launch into it easier. Often, getting the brain to change the way it thinks about an activity is the way to get yourself to do it.
3. You can’t physically do it. . . yet.
There are exercises that you can’t physically do YET. Exercises that require you to get better at easier types that will lead up to the challenging one. But don’t jump into an exercise you saw your favorite influencer do on the Gram if you’ve never done it before. As a dancer who started in my teens, I didn’t just suddenly start doing pointe. I had to go through years of developmental exercises to get myself there. It’s the same for any advanced exercise. Find out the developmental steps it takes to get yourself to that harder one. And have patience. It can take a bit.
4. It doesn’t leave you feeling accomplished afterward.
If you finish a type of exercise and just decide it leaves you feeling more depleted than you like, then don’t do it! I felt that way after I took a boxing class. Took me one class and I thought, “Nope. I’m tired of being yelled at by teachers who are telling me to ignore the pain in my body.” And this style of workout really made my shoulder and wrist joints ache. I didn’t see the point of putting myself through that torture for what? If you feel this way about a type of workout, just listen to that feeling. No one is making you do it.
5. There’s, like, one million places you’d rather be as you do it.
It’s impractical to suggest that your movement sessions will always feel like you’re at Disney Land. Hey, if they do, that’s awesome, keep doing what you’re doing! But if you are in the middle of an exercise and you’d rather be doing the dishes, it’s time to re-evaluate the type of exercise you are doing. Body movement should bring you into the present, like a moving meditation that clears your head. If your heart is cleaning the litter box instead, it’s likely you won’t get that clear head from your workout and it’s time to look into a new form of activity.
There are some cases where we have to do the workout we don’t want to do. But it doesn’t have to be every single time. Moving the body is a celebration everyone has an invitation to, and not everyone has the ability to attend. If you do, take advantage of it, because it’s the most cleansing thing you can do for your body. Did you know that sweating is the best way to get rid of toxins like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury? Yup! How’s that for cleaning out the system? So make sure that you are choosing movement that brings you joy. There’s no need to be negative about body celebration. Take a moment when you are done to thank your body for the effort it put in and the ability to move.