Over the past weeks, the world has responded to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and our lives have been drastically changed. One of those changes has been the closure of many gyms and fitness studios as we all work on social distancing and keeping ourselves and others safe. Gyms are closed without a definitive open date and for many of my clients and community working on their relationship with their body and exercise, it’s bringing up a lot of emotion or anxiety. If you’re feeling the same, you’re not alone.
This time without access to the gym might not be the reality check you expected, but may have needed. There’s a difference between being frustrated or annoyed with not being able to do something we like, makes us feel good vs. feeling anxious, scared, worried about the effect of limiting exercise on your body.
This change in routine, while inconvenient, can also be an opportunity to check-in on your relationship with exercise and your body. This article shares some insight and tools you can put into place to check in and work on your relationship with exercise.
What if I think I’m struggling with my relationship with exercise?
If your relationship with exercise or the lack of access to a gym is something you’re struggling with, its okay. The first step is noticing it & giving yourself some kindness. You can journal about what you feel the positive parts of your relationship with exercise are as well as the parts you’d like to change. Make a note of when you notice black & white or all or nothing thinking, leaning into the grey area than we realize.
Journal Prompts: What do you like about exercise? What areas do you feel worried about? What parts feel inflexible or are a struggle for you that you’d like to work on or change? What do you think a healthy relationship with exercise and your body would look like, for you?
You can also reach out for support! A non-diet therapist and registered dietitian make great teammates for working through this and supporting you along the way.
What is a healthy relationship with exercise?
Enjoying exercise, feeling strong, challenged and energized after a workout are all positive attributes of your relationship with your body and movement. Finding ways of moving that feel good to you can be a way of connecting with and feeling grounded in your body. It can also be a healing part of body acceptance, body appreciation and body image work. Any movement can be a part of a positive relationship with exercise. Similar to how we talk about food, the intention and context matters. Take away the comparison of the exercise routine your friend or an influencer does, what do you like and what feels good for your body? This will change throughout your life, because our bodies change throughout our lives. (aka maybe you liked running in the past but now are liking lower impact options – cool! There are so many options, you can find some that you do like and feel good to you.)
Check In On Your Relationship With Exercise:
Would I do this if there was no chance of my body or weight changing?
What factors influence what kind of exercise/movement I choose to do?
Do I exercise differently depending on what I’ve eaten that day? Do I exercise to compensate for eating?
How flexible am I with taking rest days?
Can I tell when my body is craving rest and when it’s craving movement?
Do I cancel or miss plans to accommodate my exercise routine? Am I able to be flexible when plans change or my routine is changed?
Am I using exercise as a celebration of what my body can do? Or as a punishment/way to change it?
I’m nervous about not having access to my gym right now
Being frustrated at a change in your routine (including your gym routine) is completely normal and valid. What might also be coming up is nervousness about what this might mean for your physical body – your weight, your fitness level, etc. The truth is that these things might change because our bodies change and adapt to change in routine, stress, and many other factors going on right now, AND our bodies don’t actually change that much day-to-day. The idea that if we don’t stay exactly on track our bodies will drastically or quickly change is a product of diet culture and something you can work on challenging when that comes up for you.
If you’re noticing this break from the gym or your typical workout schedule is feeling scary because you worry about what will happen to your body/weight/“progress” it’s a good chance to check in.
Choosing How (and If) You Want to Move:
Ask yourself what I need right now/today?
If it’s movement, what type?
How will it make me feel?
Would I choose to do it if there was no chance that my body would change?
Will this energize or deplete me?
Exercise is my identity
If you were training for a race, your season was cut short or your schedule revolves around sports and training, these past few weeks have probably been more than tough for you. I want to hold space for that, you are likely grieving that loss and it’s okay. What are you noticing and learning about yourself when you need to find different outlets or ways to spend time than with training? What else do you enjoy doing or have you not had the chance to explore with your normal schedule? This is hard but temporary and it is also an opportunity to get to know parts of yourself outside of exercise and athletics.
What can exercise look like while I’m socially isolating?
There are also a ton of workouts streaming on Instagram and online right now. Which is cool, convenient and great. But, it can also send the message that you need to be participating in them, that this is a deal (since many are normally paid) you don’t want to miss & can also put pressure on what already be a stressful or unbalanced relationship with exercise. Workouts streaming on Instagram all day does not mean you need to do them all day, and you might even want to ‘mute’ or temporarily unfollow accounts that post this often.
When you are looking for resources, limited access to the gym doesn’t mean that you need to stop moving completely, there are many ways that you can stay moving, even when at home. Gyms and fitness studios are offering free online and streaming workouts. Going outside for walks (and fresh air!), or Facetiming a friend to do a workout or some movement virtually, together can be ways to feel connected to your body and others while moving. This can also be a time to try out some different types of movement and really notice what kinds you like – a workout that’s normally intimidating or price-prohibitive is now something you can check out from your living room!
I’m having a hard time letting myself rest
In a go-go-go life, we are really good at being busy but not so good at being and letting ourselves be still. Even though your social and travel calendar is now clear, you’re still allowed to take a break. The world feels upside down right now and it makes sense that you need more downtime than usual, and can even use this as a time to better tune in to how you’re feeling what you need right now. Resting is healthy. It is an act of self-care, relaxing and needed for all of us. You can choose to rest without explanation.
Cut yourself some slack
These past few weeks have shaken our lives as we knew them and the silver lining is it has given an opportunity to get to know ourselves outside of our usual routines, busy-ness, and the things that make up our identities. With so much newness, you’re likely going to notice many areas – maybe including your relationship with exercise or the lack of access to a gym – as something you’re struggling with or thinking about differently. And that’s okay. The first step is noticing, and giving yourself some kindness (and cutting yourself some slack!). We are all navigating this unknown and there’s no right way to do it.