Ep #50: What to Do if You Hate Exercise

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | What to Do if You Hate Exercise
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You already know that exercise is good for you. You don’t need me to point out that exercise is important for keeping your body and mind healthy. But what if you hate exercise? Or, at least, what do you do if you just don’t like exercise? Well, I’ve got some ideas for you in this episode.

If the idea of exercise makes you cringe, do you force yourself through it and just get it over with, feeling annoyed and discouraged the whole time, or do you avoid it entirely forever and deal with the physical and mental consequences? The good news is, there is another way, and I’m showing you today how you can start seeing exercise in an entirely different way.

Tune in this week to discover why you might not like exercise and what you can do about it. I’m sharing how to make sure your bad experiences with sports or exercise don’t stop you from trying something new, some of the different options available to you that you might never have considered, and how to find the kind of exercise that really works for you.

Are you ready to eat, move, and think in a way that gets you strong both physically and mentally? You deserve to have both no matter how busy you are, and I can help. I’m opening up my one-on-one coaching program for new clients, and I would love to work with you. Click here to learn more about working with me.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!

What You Will Discover:

  • Some of the most common reasons people give for not liking exercise.
  • The beliefs that might be preventing you from enjoying exercise.
  • Why you don’t need to love exercise to be able to think about it in a more productive way.
  • The difference between the burn of lifting heavy versus the pain many people associate with exercise in general.
  • How I like to think of exercise as comfortably uncomfortable.
  • Why all exercise counts and exercise doesn’t have to look a certain way in order for it to count.
  • The unrealistic expectations people have for exercise alone helping them lose weight.
  • My advice for finding the kind of exercise that actually works for you.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #50. What do you do if you just don’t love exercise? Tune in, I’ve got some ideas for you.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here is that we are going to talk about what to do if you just don’t like exercise. This came up as a question from one of you, and I thought it was a really great one. I want to dive in and explore this. And here’s why, you know already that exercise is good for you. Right? You don’t need me to point out that exercise is important for your body.

I know, I’ve mentioned it a number of times on the podcast, and hopefully you’ve heard it enough for me to know that exercise is important. It’s good for every body system, it keeps your body healthy, and most importantly, it keeps your mind healthy. It’s straight up good for your mood.

But what if you hate exercise? I know hate is a strong word here, but some of you have used that word. So, what do you do if the idea of exercise makes you cringe? Does it mean that you simply avoid it altogether? Do you swear it off entirely? Or do you force yourself through it, irritated and annoyed and discouraged the whole time? Or is there another way all together? Yes, of course there is.

You don’t have to love exercise and you don’t have to hate it either. Okay, so let me help you with this. And here’s what we’re going to talk about today, we’re going to talk about why you might not like exercise. We’re going to do just a bit of a deep dive here. I’m going to share with you some of the most common reasons I’ve come across coaching you about why you might not love exercise. And you’ll see why it makes sense that you wouldn’t like exercise if you have some of these beliefs.

Next, we’re going to talk about what to do about it. Because sure, you can sit in your hatred and swear off every type of exercise under the sun. But I don’t know that that’s doing you any favors. So instead, I want to help you see exercise in a different way. I’m not saying you have to love it, alright? You don’t even have to like it. But after you listen, my hope is that maybe you could see yourself at the very least tolerating exercise. I’ve got a suggestion for you at the very end, so stick with me on this. So, let’s go.

First, let’s talk about some of the reasons you might not like exercise. I recognize that there are many, but what I did was sift through my notes from coaching many men and women around this, and I found some common themes that came up. So, we’re going to pick these apart one by one.

Okay, so first, you might not like exercise because you have an idea that it’s going to hurt. And this comes from a long-held belief of ‘no pain, no gain’; and that saying needs to go away. To be crystal clear, exercise does not have to hurt. In fact, it shouldn’t hurt. Your level of pain will largely depend on what exercise you choose, and the level of intensity you bring to it.

As an example, for many of you, you tell me you don’t like strength training because you think it hurts. Okay, so to be perfectly clear, yes. I know I just said it shouldn’t hurt, now two breaths later I’m telling you that it might. But what I’m saying here is that you might experience a burn when you go heavy, okay? When you lift heavy weight, it’s going to burn.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it tickles. No. Lifting weights, it can burn. But to me that burn is different from pain. It’s a good kind of burn. Here’s the thing, I’ve said it a thousand times before, you don’t walk into the gym on day one, slap a 45-pound plate on either side of the barbell, and squat four sets of 10, right from the get go. No. That right there, will be pain. That’s unwise, and that will set you up for injury.

Instead, you adopt a graded approach. You start slow. Maybe you start by doing bodyweight squats and work your way up. And my point here is that it does not have to hurt. If you take a slow and steady graded approach, you should not hurt. You’ll feel a burn, a good burn, at that. But in my opinion, that’s different.

And the same idea applies here to cardiovascular activity. If you’ve been mostly sedentary for years, and then convince yourself that you have to start running 30 minutes, four days a week, that’s too much, too fast and you’ll likely hurt yourself. If the thought of running 30 minutes in one sitting is not possible for you, you start slow; a five-minute jog. Okay? Five minutes, and you start at whatever pace feels comfortable to you.

I’m not talking a five-minute all-out sprint, here. And if you’re shaking your head, wondering what five minutes is going to do, it will do a lot. That five minutes will get you to seven minutes, and then it will get you to 10 minutes, and then to 15, and so on. Often, when you think exercise is going to be painful it’s because you’re taking on too much, too fast. And when you do that, you can bet it’s going to hurt.

So, the take home here, is that exercise does not have to be painful, okay? You are not inflicting torture upon yourself by exercising. Often you equate exercise with pain because you take on too much, too fast and with too much intensity, and then you get hurt. Do not think you have to experience pain in order for your exercise to count. You’re not going 0-180 here, no.

Exercise should not equal pain. If that were the case, I’m not sure anyone would choose to do it. When you exercise properly and take a slow, steady, graded approach, exercise should not hurt. And while we’re talking about pain, let me introduce you to the concept of comfortably uncomfortable.

So, this is how I view exercise, and my hope is that this concept resonates with you and maybe even reframes the notion of exercise if you are at all on the fence. Many forms of exercise are comfortably uncomfortable. I often talk about running, swimming, and weightlifting as examples, because to me and my life, those forms of activity are slightly uncomfortable, but I choose to do them anyway.

But to me, that is different from straight up pain. When you’re choosing to take on exercise you like, you accept that you’re going to get a little uncomfortable. As an example, when I’m loading up the squat bar, I know that when I go to squat, it’s going to burn. And I choose it willingly. It burns for a few seconds at a time, and then I get to rest.

The same is true for cardio activities like running or swimming. Your heart rate goes up, you breathe hard, your muscles might get sore and tired. But remember, you’re choosing it. You’re choosing to get comfortably uncomfortable in the moment. But afterwards, the strength that you gain from that discomfort is incredibly awesome.

And the more you do that, the more you can push that level of discomfort just a little bit. You get a little stronger, or you run a little farther, or lift a little more weight. And that’s where the growth’s at, on the other side of comfortably uncomfortable.

There’s a difference between knowingly choosing that versus experiencing pain from exercise. Okay? I’m going to add one other thing here, specifically about strength training. If you’re afraid of the pain from strength training, and that’s what’s keeping you away from it, work with a trainer in person to learn how to perform the foundational moves.

I’ve found that many people don’t like strength training because they don’t know how to do it, or they’ve tried it on their own and don’t have proper form, and then strength training doesn’t feel good. So, if you don’t know the proper stance for a squat or a deadlift, or if you don’t know how to position your hands for a chest press, it would be easy to get hurt.

If lifting feels awkward and you’re lifting incorrectly, then one, it’s not going to be much fun. Two, it’s not going to get you the physique results you want. And three, is likely going to result in you having pain and getting hurt. So, if you hate strength training because you don’t know how to do it, learn from someone who can watch you and give you proper form cues. When you’ve got proper form, you will not only feel more confident walking into the weight area, but strength training gets a whole lot more fun.

All right, next. Another reason I found that some of you don’t like exercise, is because you’ve had a previous negative experience with it. Meaning, as an example, your friend told you she loves her HIIT class because it is the best thing ever and super fun, and she loves how fast it is and how sweaty she gets. And you should try it because it’s awesome.

Then you go and you try that HIIT class with your friend, and it just was not your cup of tea. Or maybe you tried, with every fiber of your being, to like sports like soccer, basketball, baseball, whatever, but it just didn’t do it for you. And that was me; I say it all the time. But the reason I became a runner was because I don’t do sports with balls or sticks. My coordination is not the best.

I generally have a very hard time making contact between the stick and the ball, or getting whatever ball it is to go wherever it needs to go. And most ball and stick sports usually end for me with loads of four-letter words. If this is the case for you, I hear you and I see you. But don’t let a bad experience with one form of exercise, discount everything altogether. That’s the beautiful thing about exercise, there are so many different things you can do.

Do not let one negative experience with HIIT or with a certain sport, mean that all exercise is off the table. If you don’t enjoy running, don’t run. If you can’t fathom the idea of sitting through your friend’s hot yoga class, don’t do it. You don’t have to force yourself into liking yoga. It means you haven’t found the type of exercise that works for you. So, do not let a previous negative experience exercising, take it off for you all together. This is not one and done.

Next, another reason you might not like exercise is because of the ideas you have about what exercise has to be in order for it to count. So, let me be clear here, it all counts. It all counts. Plus, no one is keeping score, no one is measuring this. Do not trap yourself into thinking that it has to be a nicely boxed 30-minute run, where you finish coated in sweat and bright red, in order to count. Similarly, don’t get stuck into the idea that it has to be hard in order to count. You do not have to walk away from your workout completely busted in order for the exercise to count. Okay?

There are no rules here. There is no one right way to exercise. It doesn’t have to be hard or sweaty, or last a certain number of minutes or be a certain type of exercise in order to count. Don’t get trapped by your self-imposed rules about what exercise should be.

When you have the belief that it has to be a certain way or else, it’s a really great way to talk yourself out of exercise before you even get started. This is especially true for my cardio queens, who sometimes balk at the idea of giving up, or even shortening a cardio session, for the sake of strength training.

I’ve most definitely addressed this on the podcast before, but a strength training session definitely counts. And you will not lose out on anything by trading a cardio session for some dumbbells. I am encouraging you to get creative here. Challenge your ideas of what exercise is. It does not have to be a run. You don’t have to lift weights, if you really don’t want to.

Just move your body. Find what you enjoy and do it. I’ve said this before in relation to overwhelm, but I think it applies here, let it be easy. It’s just exercise. Don’t make it that deep. Take the rules, most of which are self-imposed, and throw them out. Okay?

All right, another reason I commonly hear that keeps you from exercising, is your past. Specifically, on going back to high school and/or college or pre-kid years. Maybe you were a high school or college athlete. Maybe there was a time in your life when you were super athletic or super active, and there was a certain level of performance that you were used to. Maybe you were super active before you had kids. And then, you had kids and your level of physical activity significantly decreased or went away altogether.

It’s one of the most common things I run into. You will tell me that you were active up until the time you had kids. And then, you built your family and, in that process, you didn’t find the time to take care of your body, so you stopped exercising. And then, you tried getting back into it, but it felt like a tremendous uphill battle because that level of fitness seems unattainable.

Or even more simply, maybe there was a time in your life when you just felt better in your body and it felt good to move it. But now, through a combination of weight gain, inactivity, poor diet, poor sleep, stress, it just doesn’t feel as good to move your body because it’s harder to do. It just feels hard, compared to some other time in your life when it wasn’t that hard.

And I want to tell you, in fact, I want to shout from the rooftops, just get started. Do not let your unrealistic expectations of where you should be keep you from trying in the first place. Okay? It’s okay, if you were a former track star or gymnast or a former Ironman before kids, and now you’re in a different body. That’s okay, we are all in a different body than we were a decade ago.

Not moving it is not helping you, and it’s not getting you any closer to feeling better. Do not use your past against you. Do not use your former high school or college or younger, pre-kid athletic prowess as a weapon against yourself. I see this all the time, and I simply want to encourage you to get started.

If you loved it before, that tells me that it is still possible for you to love exercise again. And that can only happen when you start doing it. But it means releasing yourself from the expectation that you have to live up to the same level of fitness that you had years ago. All right?

Last, and this is one of the most important reasons I’ve come across as to why you might not like exercise. You may not like exercise if you use it as a means to an end. So, here’s what I mean by this, and this is important to unpack here. When you view exercise as a means to an end for weight loss, or looking a certain way, you are putting unrealistic expectations onto what exercise can and should do for you.

How I commonly see this come out is this: You will tell me that you want to lose weight, so you go to exercise first, thinking that if you can just start exercising, then maybe you won’t have to change the way you eat. As in, maybe if you can just get enough cardio or strength training, then maybe you can squeeze by without having to change the way you eat. But then you try it, and you see that it doesn’t work.

Because here’s a really important thing to remember. And this may be stating the obvious, but I want to point it out here. When you start exercising, you will likely be more hungry. It’s that whole energy balance homeostasis thing.

When your body puts out more energy in the form of exercise, your body will then respond by sending hunger cues to your brain, which will lead you to eat more.

So, for most people, the combination of exercise, plus the increased calorie intake from your hunger related to that exercise, will result in a net effect of zero weight loss. It’s easy to forget this and just start exercising and think that the weight will come right off. But think about what it feels like after you’ve exercised and showered and gotten on with your day, you’re usually hungry.

The other thing I will see that creates a negative relationship toward exercise, is bargaining. Meaning, you bargain your way around food because of your workout.

And that bargaining comes across as something like, “I can have this fourth piece of pizza, I worked out today. I’ll run an extra mile tomorrow to make up for this cupcake. Once I can get up to running six miles then this weight is going to come right off. I’m at a weight loss plateau, if I increase my cardio, I’m sure I can lose those last few pounds. I have to keep working out if I want to fit into that dress in two weeks.” Do you know what I’m talking about?

If you’ve used exercise as a means to an end for weight loss, only to see that increasing your cardio or mileage or minutes on the Stairmaster did not work, you know what I mean. Maybe you have your own bargains that you’ve made around food and exercise and your weight. And if you’ve been there, you know it doesn’t feel good. When you use exercise strictly for the purpose of weight loss, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment when it doesn’t deliver.

But I get it, and I can see why you might take this approach. For some of you, you’d rather start running even if you hate it, or swimming or exercising, even though you don’t like it, before you start changing your diet. For some of you, it seems easier to add on a habit like exercise than it is to work on your eating. But that’s just it, you can’t out-exercise your diet. And time and again, people will try to prove the opposite. But it just doesn’t work.

When you have an unrealistic expectation that the weight will start to melt off when you exercise, but it doesn’t, that can lead you to feel pretty negative towards exercise. When exercise doesn’t deliver on your expectations, it can lead you to resent it all together. You might feel like exercise is doing you wrong. But that’s not what exercise is for. When you use exercise for the sole purpose of losing weight, you are setting yourself up to have a negative relationship with it.

Alright, so to review so far. I just went over a number of different reasons that you may not like exercise. You may not like exercise because you think it’s painful, which often comes from doing too much, too fast. Or maybe, you had a bad experience from a certain form of exercise. Or maybe, you have a belief that exercise has to be a certain way, a certain type ,or intensity or sweat level or amount of time, in order to count.

You may have unrealistic expectations of where you should be athletically, based on your past, when you were younger and maybe kid free. And last, you may not like exercise, if you’ve used it solely for the purposes of weight loss, and it hasn’t delivered. And again, I am sure there are other reasons you may not like exercise, but these are the big ones that I’ve come across, after years of coaching around this.

Now that we’ve talked through some of the reasons you might not like exercise, let’s talk about what to do about it. So, I want to keep this very simple for you. And I say that, because exercise, again, is not that deep. This is not complicated math or physics that we’re talking about here. We’re talking about moving your body, it should not be difficult.

At the risk of oversimplifying, this is what I would suggest, if you absolutely hate exercise. Find something you like and do it regularly. That’s it. Don’t make it any more complicated than that. Okay? Let me explain. First and foremost, what do you like? This is key. I know that HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, I know it’s all the rage, but if you despise the idea of it, then it’s not for you.

Or if running has never interested you, don’t convince yourself that you have to start running. It does not have to be conventional. What if you like Zumba? What if you like water aerobics? Whatever it is, find it. If you tell me that you hate exercise, it tells me that you just haven’t found the type of exercise that you like yet. But there are so many different ways to move your body. And I have to believe that there is some form of exercise that you will enjoy. If you are willing to experiment, you will find it.

And once you find a type of exercise you enjoy, the next step in the process is to do it regularly. And yes, I’m going back to habit, because that’s what this boils down to. Exercise is a lot easier to do if you do it regularly. Meaning you’re on a routine or a schedule or a plan of some sort. It’s really hard to love exercise, if you do it once a week, get really sore or tired, only to not exercise for another week, and then start the process all over again. Do you see what I mean here? When exercise becomes habit, it becomes a whole lot easier to do. And that happens when you do it regularly. And then you also take the soreness out of the equation.

And this is also about muscle memory. When you pick up a new form of exercise, or if you come back to exercise after a long hiatus, there’s a learning curve, right? That first run after not running for a while, it’s going to feel clunky. Or the first time you lift weights after not lifting for years, you’re going to be sore. That yoga class? Day one is probably going to leave you feeling a little something.

But then, you keep showing up. And day two, and day three, feel a little better. But if you go once, only to not go again for another week, you’re not giving your body the chance to adapt and acclimate. So, pick something and then commit to do it regularly, so that it becomes routine. It becomes habit. And you can start to build some muscle memory. Keep showing up.

And if you miss a day, that’s okay. Get back to it the next day. You’re not starting over, right? You’re picking up where you left off, that’s it. Don’t make it that deep. Find what you like and do it, regularly.

Along with that, I will add to start slow. I have said this many times, but humans, we’re not wired for big sweeping change. So, rather than committing to five days a week, or 45 minutes on your Peloton when you haven’t written it in over a year, how about starting with two 15- to 20-minute rides per week? That’s it. Every bit, it all counts.

You can even break it up; 15 minutes of yoga in the morning, a 15-minute bike ride in the evening. This does not have to be done all at once. The key here is to make exercise doable for you and meet yourself where you’re at, right here and now.

And here’s why: When you take a slow and steady approach, a few things happen. One, you get some wins from the get-go. It feels good to set a goal and accomplish it, rather than set a goal that’s unrealistic and not even come close. Two rides, that’s doable. Five rides, that could be a stretch. So, set yourself up for success and set goals that are attainable.

And two, you will potentially alleviate soreness, overuse, and injury when you take the slow and steady approach. Your body needs time to adapt to the stress of exercise. Give yourself time to get into a rhythm and allow your body to adjust. Okay? Start slow and build up your tolerance and endurance.

And last, determine how you can make exercise fun. I’ve said this many times, and will probably keep saying it for as long as this podcast exists. But when it comes to habit, in order for it to work, the habit should, one, have an impact, and two, be something you can actually get yourself to do.

That second one, something you could get yourself to do, that’s key. When we’re talking about exercise, how can you make it something you can get yourself to do regularly? And I find that it works best when you make it fun. This means you need to know yourself.

If it is more fun to be around other people when you exercise, maybe you do better with a class so you can combine fitness with socializing. Maybe you love to be outdoors, versus inside at a gym. Or maybe you find a good book or podcast that you listen to while you work out.

For me, my entire world opened up when I learned about the Libby app and the Audible app. And now, I listen to books and podcasts while I work out. I look forward to it, because that’s when I get my learning in and there’s nothing else for me to focus on besides moving my body and whatever book I’m listening to. And for me, that’s fun.

Maybe for you it’s all about the music. And maybe, working out is more fun when you’ve got good music to back it up. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I choose all of my Peloton rides based on the playlist, because the music is everything to me. Whatever it is for you, find a way to make it fun, and it won’t feel so much like work. Okay?

All right, last but certainly not least, I want to offer you this suggestion. If you hate the idea of any exercise at all, how about walking? Yes, just straight up walking. That’s it. Walking counts, okay? Walking is a terrific form of exercise. And yes, it is exercise. We are sedentary culture. Most of us do not move our bodies enough. So, how about just simply moving your body by walking?

You will get the cardiovascular and pulmonary benefit. And you’ll get the decreased risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. You’ll improve your immune function. You will improve your bone and joint health, and work your muscles while you build endurance. And this is all without the impact of repetitive pounding that running has on your body.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. You can do it most anywhere. You can do it with friends, you can do it alone, you can bring your dog; just walking. If you do no other form of exercise, try walking. You can start very simply, with a five-minute walk around your neighborhood and build from there.

If you haven’t moved your body in years and you want to start, but no other form of exercise sounds tolerable to you, start with walking. It counts. I want to offer you that as the simplest suggestion to get started. Start by walking.

So, there it is. We just reviewed a number of different reasons you may not love exercise. And then, we reviewed what to do about it. Let me be clear, I’m not trying to turn you into a runner or a bodybuilder or triathlete or Zumba star. Okay? My goal in this episode is not to convince you to do something you don’t want to do.

However, if you don’t like exercise, I’m asking you to consider why that is. If you believe that exercise is painful, or if you’ve had a negative experience with some type of exercise, like HIIT or running, or if you think it has to be 30 minutes of running to count, or that you have to measure up to the same level of fitness you had in high school, or that exercise is a means to an end for losing weight, it makes sense that you wouldn’t love it, right?

If your beliefs about exercise have kept you from trying it or sticking with it, I’m encouraging you to reconsider and ask if there’s a way to move your body that feels good to you. Exercise should not be complicated. Exercise does not have to be hard or painful. It does not have to be a measuring stick to which you compare yourself to your former high school athlete days. It is not a means to an end for weight loss. Exercise does not have to serve any other purpose than to be a way for you to move your body. That’s it.

And yes, while exercise is really great for your body, it is so much better for your mind. It’s so good for your mood. When you find a type of exercise that you enjoy, without the pretense of losing weight or getting into an outfit or justifying your dessert tonight, something changes. When you develop a positive relationship with exercise, without conditions or expectations placed upon it, you will find yourself looking forward to exercise purely for the sake of exercise, nothing else. And that is absolutely freeing.

Once again, this is just another example of how your thinking reflects in your moving. It starts with your thoughts, always. If you want to talk more about this, let’s go. This is another concept that we cover in coaching. When you work with me, we address your relationship with exercise.

When you’re willing to question your limiting beliefs around exercise that are holding you back, your world opens up. You will see exercise in a different way. There is no more bargaining for food with exercise. There is no more punishing yourself with more exercise. Instead, we find what you love to do. We keep it simple, so that you move your body purely because it feels good. And then, you finish your workouts empowered.

So, check out my website, go to www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact. Send me a message, and let’s talk about how to create a better relationship with exercise. All right?

Thank you, again, for hanging out with me. And I’ll catch you again next week.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook, so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that is what we do here, on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com

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