Habits of Fit People: Listen to Your Body

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
5/13/2011 2:00 PM   :  107 comments   :  108,735 Views

You want to be a fit person, right? That's why I'm sharing my own habits for keeping fit and staying healthy in the ongoing Habits of Fit People series.

Here's one that works for me: Listening to my body. It may seem counterintuitive to the "no pain, no gain" philosophy so that so many subscribe to, but listening to how you feel really makes a difference in your workouts. How?

Your body is one smart cookie. If you're really listening, it'll tell you important things like when you're tired, hungry, stressed or sick, and hopefully, you'll trust your body and honor its signals most of the time. But it can also give you signs when you're sore, injured, or exhausted—all of which could be clues that you need to cut back on your current workout routine. The opposite is also true; I find that I can tell when I have energy to burn, which often happens if I'm slacking in the gym or having a really stressful workday. On those days, I want and NEED a good, tough workout to combat stress and use up my pent up energy.

Here are some of the ways I listen to my body when it comes to fitness. Most of these are a combination of listening and knowing how to remedy the situation that arises.
  • Take time for recovery if you're injured. I can't tell you how many times someone asks me what they can do to exercise despite being told by their doctor or physical therapist that they need to rest. Rest is important for recovery—a fact that some of us have learned the hard way. Before I became a Pilates fanatic, I had some lower back issues. I'd throw out my back and be unable to walk or stand upright for days at a time. My health care provider watched over me and gave me specific guidelines for exercise: I could only walk on a treadmill for cardio, going no faster than 4.0 mph; and I had to reduce the amount of weight I lifted at the gym if I noticed that it compromised my form or alignment even the slightest bit. This went on for months and although it was really frustrating to not work as hard as I knew I was capable, I knew that too much impact or too much strain would make my injury worse—and my recovery period even longer.
     
  • Make time for sleep. Whenever someone asks me what is most important, getting up early to exercise or sleeping, you may be surprised to hear that my answer is always sleeping. This is only the case, however, if you feel exhausted OR you are not getting adequate sleep (think 7-9 hours per night) on a usual basis. The occasional night with poor sleep won't kill you (although your workout may suffer), but forgoing sleep for the long haul in order to exercise will cause problems. I wake up early to work out a few times per week and I'm pretty good at sticking with that. But occasionally, I'm just too darn tired to make myself get out of bed. On those occasional days, I listen to my body and honor my desire to sleep, which means my workouts are actually better in the following days. Similarly, the first sign that I'm coming down with an illness is usually extreme tiredness. On those days, I take a sick day from work and hit the sack, sleeping as long as possible and skipping the gym. Usually, after a good day of rest like that, I can prevent that illness from getting the best of me—but when I ignore that exhaustion I know so well (opting to stay away and exercise as usual), it always comes back to bite me!
     
  • If it hurts, stop. This is important exercise advice for anyone. If you feel sharp pain or discomfort during any type of workout, don't push through the pain. Doing so can result in serious injury that will sideline you for a long time—talk about frustrating! Listen to your body: It's telling you to slow down or stop.
     
  • If you feel tired, do less. I love working on new workout streaks, where I exercise as many days in a row as possible. But I definitely don't do maximal, high-intensity workouts on every single one of those days. In fact, I usually let my energy levels and body awareness dictate how hard I work. While I love to run fast and for long distances, some days I head out, planning to do 6 hard miles, only for my legs to feel like lead and my heart rate to race at a slow clip. I take that as a sign that I need to go easier that day, even if it means not fulfilling that particular goal. I'll slow down, ignore my pace, and run a shorter distance, usually even throw in a few recovery intervals of walking. This is one of the ways that you can stay active and make fitness a habit, but without overdoing it.
You might say, "My body never wants to exercise! I'm tired! Sore! Old! If I listen to my body, I'll never work out!" You may feel that way now, especially if you're new to exercise or just getting back onto the exercise wagon. Most likely, we feel this way because we've ignored our bodies for so long that we've lost the desire to exercise. As kids we called it playing, and it was fun. But as adults, it's a "work"out. But if you truly listen to your body, it does want to move and be strong and fit. Once you get in the habit, it'll tell you that more often—but also give you cues when it needs a little downtime from the gym.

Put simply, listening to your body will help you stick with a workout routine, prevent injury—and make it more enjoyable, all of which will help you make exercise a lifelong habit.

Do you listen to your body when it comes to planning (or sometimes skipping) workouts? Does this habit work for you?

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Comments

  • 107
    This is so true I did just that I did not listen to my body and got burned out and I'm getting back on the exersice wagon and this is really going to help me this time around.Thank you! - 12/2/2013   1:55:06 AM
  • 106
    I know a lot of people like to exercise every day, but after a week or so straight of exercise, I find my energy going downhill and my sleep suffering, so I will take a day off to rest. I might go for a short walk on those days or I might do a quick ten minute exercise, but I don't push myself. It is more of a relaxing stress free way to wind down. - 7/19/2013   9:04:59 AM
  • 105
    Really well written blog - 6/11/2013   8:23:22 AM
  • 104
    This is SO true and so important!! I think many of us (because we are HERE because we struggle with our weight) have in the past been couch potatoes so we are AFRAID to take a day off or to listen to our bodies when they tell us we need rest AFTER we took a 'planned' day off. We have to learn the difference to listening to our bodies and quitting!! More than once in the past I failed to listen when my body said I need rest and ended up sick. Now I'm RARELY sick (once in the last 5 years for more than a day) because I've finally learned that lesson. - 5/27/2013   7:34:34 AM
  • 103
    I need to not listen right now because I am in the new lazy area. I have to push to exercise. Still, I will know when my body is doing too much by real discomfort or pain and not just the old "tired now" bit - 3/8/2013   2:00:23 AM
  • 102
    it is true! I have a crazy schedule that doesn't allow 8 hr sleep most days of the year. But I feel the need to push the exercise, after all, it's good for stress, high blood pressure, sleep, and weight loss. It seemed to take forever (it's been a year) and only 20 lbs lighter, my speed and endurance has picked up nicely. I am still not sleeping regularly, but since I started pushing myself to do 1000 fitness minutes a month, that is about ALL I can do! I am treating myself to doing less cardio when I hit that magic goal. - 3/29/2012   1:24:05 AM
  • 101
    Maybe I need to listen more. - 3/19/2012   9:28:52 AM
  • 100
    At 72, I do not run - too many body parts have been beaten up too many many times - LOL. But walking now-a-days is my forte. Even when I'm too tired to lift weights, walking seems to awaken the stored energy within. And it does not put an undue strain on my body and it is good for my heart. Keep walking, it's healthy. - 12/20/2011   11:50:08 AM
  • 99
    Great Article; Yes I do listen to my body - took me a while to get there
    This habit works for me! - 12/11/2011   3:18:59 AM
  • 98
    Good points! Thanks for the affirmation of what we know is true. - 11/28/2011   1:53:21 PM
  • 97
    I can truly attest to this article... - 10/25/2011   9:33:48 AM
  • 96
    This was great advice and some of what you said is what I needed to hear. Thank you - 9/25/2011   10:12:23 PM
  • 95
    As a newbie this was GREAT ADVISE. Just today I noticed when walking my knee hurt a bit. I'm learning to tell the difference between injury pain and just the fact that I'm using a part of my body differently. I will Listen and act accordingly ~ be safe ~ be strong! - 9/10/2011   2:45:29 PM
  • 94
    This is a great article. I was just saying that yesterday after a hard week of workouts. I felt tired during my spin class yesterday. I finished, but had to decide to take a break for today. - 8/25/2011   3:02:58 PM
  • 93
    I absolutely have to "listen" to my body since I am recovering from a hip problem and retraining after a long time off. it is frustrating, but I know if I push too hard, too often I will end up regretting it. - 6/28/2011   2:56:38 PM
  • 92
    I tend to push myself with exercise. When I'm running, I set myself intervals and I won't deviate from those intervals unless I feel like I'm about to throw up and pass out. Last week, after pushing myself to run for a long interval, I was totally exhausted the next day, physically bone-tired. I took it as a sign that I should cut back on the interval time.

    It's always hard for me to strike a balance between challenging myself in a good way, and pushing myself too hard. Like LINDATHOME, I have trouble differentiating between my body "whining" at having to go a little beyond its comfort zone, and telling me something's really wrong.

    I keep learning small lessons in listening to my body, but I still have a long way to go before I really understand it! - 6/27/2011   3:48:23 PM
  • 91
    I should have listened to my body last week. Now I'm sidelined due to shin splints! - 6/27/2011   12:33:17 PM
  • 90
    Thanks for the reminder. Today is supposed to be a running day, but I just can't face it. As I started reading your blog, and considered challenging myself to my fastest walking pace instead, I felt so much more motivated....

    I can run tomorrow, if I listen to my body today. - 6/27/2011   3:07:51 AM
  • 89
    Great article! Definitely one to sock away for future reference! - 6/27/2011   2:15:14 AM
  • 88
    thanks nicole!

    I've been working out and tracking calories for almost 2 months, and felt guilty on the days when I was too tired to go to the gym, or days I did a lot less work than usual. I won't feel guilty anymore! - 6/26/2011   11:45:36 AM
  • 87
    Thank you... I really sparked to your comment about it being play when we were kids and "work"outs now... Maybe that is why I enjoy Zumba so much... to me it's dancing not working even though it makes me sweat. Thanks a gain for the perspective! - 6/26/2011   8:54:00 AM
  • 86
    It takes experience to learn how to hear and understand the body's messages. So many of us are out of touch with the body. But, speaking for myself, I have gotten better and better as I've tried. Listening to the body is good advice, however, one might misinterpret what they hear at first. - 6/26/2011   6:09:21 AM
  • 85
    I ABSOLUTELY listen to my body. I know when to push and when to cut back -- and I know it's important to pay attention to that! Today, for example, I thought about doing some core strength work but I realized that my legs and hips were really "feelin' it" from time I spent on the elliptical yesterday (not my usual routine -- something I was doing while traveling). I decided to skip the strength and just go for a nice easy walk. When I got back, my sore spots actually felt much better. I know my body appreciated my choice and that I will be ready to do something more strenuous tomorrow! - 6/25/2011   12:32:00 PM
  • 84
    This article comfirms my decision to slow down is the right one. I jumped in and tried to do too much. Now I will listen to my body. Thanks. - 6/25/2011   12:10:41 PM
  • 83
    Great article. I recently injured my lower back from a fall I took while on a ladder. It has been 7days since I have been to the gym to do the type of workouts I normally do. My exercise this week has been limited to walking, stretching and some upper body. I cannot wait until I can get back into my routine. - 6/25/2011   10:44:12 AM
  • 82
    This is a great message! I am pretty good about listening to my body and learned this years ago. Now I am having to learn about my changed body messages. I have an autoimmune disease and my physical abilities have altered and I am learning what my new thresholds are. I am learning which aches I can push through to a stronger me and when I need to lay low and recuperate. I am now slowly feeling stronger and more in control of what my new body tolerates & does not. I am actually beginning to belly dance again. - 6/24/2011   9:39:55 PM
  • AQUABLUE43
    81
    Thanks, I needed to read that! I'm listening to my body and taking today off. - 6/24/2011   7:46:07 PM
  • 80
    Thank You for this info,I sure did need it today.I been feeling so sore and tired and tried to walk but legs just would not let me .so went and rested instead.I was feeling quilty about it,but now I know I did the right thing for me. - 6/24/2011   4:22:18 PM
  • 79
    I've just begun to follow this advice, and I have finally given myself permission to skip a session or go more slowly on days that I just don't have the energy. Thanks for the good advice! - 6/21/2011   1:43:07 PM
  • CYNNANE
    78
    I just listened to my body yesterday. I had a 35 minute workout goal (I'm slowly increasing, I had started with 20, then 25, then 30, and was hoping to push through to 35 last night) but I didn't. I got about 10 minutes in and my legs felt like lead, and I just didn't have energy. I finished 20 minutes and stopped. I moved onto a toning video for my Bootcamp Group and called it a night. I still burned the amount of calories I was supposed to, but I didn't wake up today dragging, I felt great. I'm slowly learning to listen to my body, but also when I can and should push myself. - 6/7/2011   4:30:56 PM
  • SNOWYGIRL13
    77
    If I listened to my body I would NEVER workout. I am so stiff and sore, especially when I wake up. Normally, the pains go away after 10 min.'s on the treadmill, but if one pain in my knee or hip stick around, I still have gotten in the cardio. My Yoga class hurt like heck, but it put my back into place eventually. And exercising can turn around my being tired. - 5/19/2011   10:18:17 AM
  • FLZOSO62
    76
    Wow! That is excellent advice especially the part about reminding us that we use the term
    "work" out instead of playing. I like to think of it that way instead. I have been athletic all my life until about 3 years ago and put on so much weight. I was very discouraged but I have started small and know I will get there eventually but after reading your article, the journey will be much more pleasant! Time to play! Thank you! - 5/18/2011   6:33:27 PM
  • 75
    Wow, if I didn't know better, I would think you've been watching me this week! I took that sick day Monday and stayed in bed. Planning to go to bootcamp (it's like church to me, I never miss) but I even skipped bootcamp. Yesterday, I decided to jog on the treadmill because I figured it would either kill me or make me feel better. I decided to stop at 2 miles because I had real pain in my stomach. The jogging did give me energy and my stomach is feeling much better now. I am sure my body was fighting a stomach bug.

    Thanks for sharing, it is all great advice, and nice to know I'm not the only one that feels that way!

    - 5/18/2011   1:19:55 PM
  • 74
    Great advice. Thanks for the encouragement!

    I've been practicing listening to my body a lot lately, and like you said, some days I'll have big goals, but my body just IS NOT up for it. It's important to recognize those cues because it's likely then the next day I'll be ready for more rather than just dog-tired and worn out. - 5/18/2011   9:40:29 AM
  • LADYTINA1
    73
    Wow Just last night I called and rescheduled because my body was really talking to me to rest. I have been very faithful with my personal training and felt I would do more harm than good if I went this early morning. Thanks for instructing us with balance. The best to everyone! - 5/18/2011   2:22:34 AM
  • 72
    What a timely reminder for me - I was listening this morning when I shortened my work out. I still got up and made it to the gym but when my legs were leaden and I was tired after 20 minutes - instead of relishing it as I usually do - I made that call. Great to have the reminder that that is a good thing - setting a goal and establishing a routine is one thing but we don't have to be 100% perfect every single day to still get the right result and look after ourselves. Thanks so much Nicole!
    Nat - 5/17/2011   8:31:04 PM
  • 71
    Wow this is great information for me at this time. As I was reading this felt like the most loving thing I can do to my body is listen.
    Thank you!!! - 5/17/2011   5:40:02 PM
  • LJEINVT
    70
    Thanks for this. I know there are times when I can find plenty of things I need to do that keep me from the gym, but I feel so good when I go and afterward. I just have to get there. - 5/17/2011   5:22:36 PM
  • 69
    Thanks for a great blog! I have a hard time telling if my body is telling me a hard truth or is just being bratty. - 5/17/2011   3:14:08 PM
  • TOKEEPMYPEACE
    68
    i LOVE THIS article! this is what makes a huge difference for me and makes my exercise sustainable and fun :) - 5/17/2011   2:57:09 PM
  • 67
    I am not good at listening to my body. I feel if I don't exercise I gain everything I worked hard to loose. That if I don't push through the pain I am cheating myself, especially when it comes to running.

    I am trying to get better about this though and is apart of my total makeover a new healthy me. My mindsets on my physical and mental state as well as thoughts on food and exercise are in need of this makeover. It is a slow process but I believe I will get there. - 5/17/2011   1:41:50 PM
  • 66
    My biggest handicap is my brain. There is a diff between listning to your body and listening to your brain. My brain can be quite negative. It will tell me I am to depressed to work out, you don't really feel like it, this work out is to hard so just quit, who do you think you are, It's not going to work out., let do something easier, because this isn't feeling fun at the moment. My brain can go on and on. I try to shut it up by just ignoring it, turning up my headphones, zoning out, etc. - 5/17/2011   12:35:50 PM
  • 65
    This is such a great post!

    I've found that listening to my body also motivates me to get moving - there are days that I've designated as a "rest day," where my body is just humming with energy and the idea of just sitting around bums me out. So even on those rest days, I listen to my body and go for a nice long walk, or do a quick SparkPeople video, or something. Nothing too intense, but something to make my body - and its new found energy source - happy! - 5/17/2011   11:03:02 AM
  • 64
    I really needed to read this today! I did a 10K charity walk on Sunday and took Monday off, especially since my lower-body joints were still sore. I had planned on getting up early this morning to workout - something I never do - but... I couldn't get out of bed. Literally. Couldn't do it. I normally work out at night, you see, and I thought I should push myself this morning but my body evidently knows better! I'll workout tonight and will still feel good about my decision. - 5/17/2011   9:58:17 AM
  • LOVERAIN55
    63
    Loved this message, as I tend to beat myself up mentally if I am not doing all I "think" I should be doing. Just strained a hamstring behind my knee so I am following this advice. Keeping my long range goal and fitness in mind not short term goals. Thanks for the blog! - 5/17/2011   9:28:31 AM
  • KARATEMOMJG
    62
    Nicole,
    Thank for this--I've been being told to push through & that a routine of getting up earlier to workout & have it done for the day is best. I know I need my sleep [I'm a bear without my 7-8 hours] so have been feeling guilty that I can't do it. Especially when I work until 10pm & need to be back at work for 8 the following day. Wondered why I was feeling exhausted but my Bodymedia bugg is also telling me that my sleep is off. - 5/17/2011   9:25:56 AM
  • MILGON
    61
    Yes, listening to our bodies is very important. Even when we're exercising in groups we should not over strain overselves. If our body is telling us that it can't keep up at a fast pace then we should listen to it and continue exercising at a slower pace. I discovered that if I take each month a week off exercising, when I return the following week I lose more weight. If we listen carefully, every muscle and organ within our body talks to us. Have all a very Blessed workout or restful day! - 5/17/2011   9:17:15 AM
  • QOFHXO
    60
    Coach Nicole,
    I love pilates for the same reason you mention.....I used to have lower back "issues" too. About a year after I started I realized that I hadn't been to a chiropractor in months! Plus the focus it fosters has made it much easier for me to listen to my body's messages - improving all my workouts. I would love to see more articles about pilates & the benefits. I posted on the message boards looking to connect to others who might be pilates fans, but only had a couple of replies.
    Dona - 5/17/2011   8:03:39 AM
  • 59
    I had a hard time with exercises because of health limitations, but I found my niche, the local swimming pool, I swim for 90 minutes 6x weekly..I love it...I sometimes have to push myself out the door, but once I'm there I'm glad I went!
    I have a swimming buddy now, and that keeps me getting up, and getting out for exercise also!
    I feel so much better, have more energy, and my body is starting to tone up woo hoo! For me it is pain free exercise! - 5/17/2011   7:58:07 AM
  • BARNETT311
    58
    It has taken me many months to learn that listening to my body and not following fads is what really work. Great inspiration. - 5/17/2011   7:22:46 AM

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