The New York Times posted a great article last week “Losing Weight May Require Some Serious Fun“. The article featured recent studies finding that people reward themselves with more food and calories after exercise – if they don’t consider the exercise to be enjoyable.
This is a problem, and it has been for a long time. People eat back the calories they just burned off and then some- because they feel they deserve it after putting themselves through a grueling workout. And many do it unconsciously.
The Times’ article brings up an important consideration about exercise. But, only part of the problem is how much people eat afterwards. Another big part of the problem is that so many people aren’t finding enjoyment in exercise.
Many people find exercise to be so outright uncomfortable that they
absolutely hate it but do it anyway, and then
yo-yo between starting and stopping, and finally
quit and never start up again.
It’s true that exercise needs to be challenging in order to stimulate the body to get fitter, stronger, faster, or thinner. But some uncomfortable physical feelings may be unnecessary, or even bad for you.
In this post I’m going to highlight three, infrequently discussed, bad habits that can make exercise less enjoyable, more painful, and sometimes even harmful. Many people don’t even know they have these habits. The good news is, with a little mind-body awareness while you exercise, you can ditch the bad habits and make exercise much more enjoyable.
Here they are:
1. Unnecessary Tension
During any given exercise certain muscles need to be working. But others don’t need to work much at all, and it’s best for your workout if they stay as relaxed as possible.
When we tighten unnecessary muscles during exercise we redirect energy away from the ones that need to be working to perform the task. Our exercise becomes inefficient, and it takes more energy than it should to get the workout done.
Tensing unnecessary muscles can also make recovery more painful as we create soreness in areas that shouldn’t even get sore.
Exhale to Make Exercise More Enjoyable:
While exercising, be mindful and notice if there are any parts of your body that your are unnecessarily tightening. Some of the most common areas are the neck and shoulders, the lower back, and the bottoms of the feet. Sometimes even the hands clench when they don’t need to.
When you notice the tension take a deep breath in, and with an exhale release the tightness in the area. Do this a few times. Exhale. Release. Exhale. Release.
If you normally tighten these areas during exercise, you might not be able to completely relax them the first time you try. Keep working on it as you go. The tensing habit will gradually go away. Exercise will get easier and more enjoyable. After your workout you’ll have less menacing soreness and more of the good “my muscles have been worked” feelings.
2. Shallow Breathing
During exercise we breathe deeper. But, you’d be amazed at how many of us don’t breathe to full capacity. When full breaths of air come into our lungs our body gets the oxygen it needs to perform the work we’re asking it to do. Many of us aren’t getting all the oxygen we need.
The problem arises because many of us hold our breath, or breathe shallowly, during stressful circumstances. For some, this is most of the day. If we perform shallow breathing (or stress-breathing) regularly enough it can become part of our normal breathing pattern instead of the exception. This is how we take shallow breathing into exercise without knowing it.
Nose Breathe to Make Exercise More Enjoyable:
While you’re exercising, see if at any point you can inhale a little more air when you breathe. It doesn’t have to be a lot. You can do this in your daily life as well. Whenever it comes to mind, take a little deeper inhale.
When you can, breathe through your nose. Air coming through the nose and sinus cavities stimulates nitrous oxide in the blood vessels which causes them to expand. This will immediately improve your blood flow and oxygen transport.
Your body will move with more power and less effort when you breathe deeper. Space will open up in your head and your sinus cavities. You might even feel like some unnecessary tension is released.
If you’re used to breathing shallowly, your habits won’t change in one workout. But, you’ll get a lot of benefit from allowing fuller breaths to enter your lungs whenever you think about it. Soon you’ll be breathing more fully on a regular basis.
3. Bad Posture
When your posture is off, it takes more effort for your body to move.
When the spine is out of alignment, certain muscle groups have to work harder just to hold the body upright. In particular the muscles of our neck, our shoulders and our low back take on more work.
As a result of bad posture, other joints (like the shoulders and hips) can be put out of alignment, which means the bones won’t move easily within the sockets. Movement can feel uncomfortable, especially during higher intensity exercise.
Lift Your Spine to Make Exercise More Enjoyable:
First of all, practice good posture during your day. If you catch your reflection in a mirror or a window, check to see if you’re standing upright, with your ears over your shoulders, your shoulders open in front, shoulder blades flat on the back, and your ribs aligned over your hips. Open up your hip flexors in front, and your knee joints in back. Pay attention to how your body feels when both standing and moving with good posture. Once you’ve memorized this feeling, imitate it during exercise.
Certain types of yoga and Pilates classes can provide excellent training for stronger posture muscles. These types of exercises can also help open joints that have tightened because of bad posture. I recommend my clients take at least one of these classes per week. (I’ve got some great exercise videos that focus on these areas if you’re interested.)
When we exercise with good posture and alignment, our body moves more fluidly. Our muscles can work in a balanced and healthy way – the way they were meant to. Movement feels easier and exercise is more enjoyable.
Are you already practicing any of these elements of exercise? Have you figured out how to make your exercise more enjoyable? Tell me about it below.