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An Introduction to Intuitive movement

Now whether you’ve always loved movement / exercise, or you have set yourself a new challenge or goal it’s easy to get caught up, go all in and end up overwhelmed or run down. So how do you move intuitively, have enough rest days but also feel like you are working towards that goal. Hopefully I'm here to help…

First things first - if you train, exercise or just generally move your body then you my friend are an athlete. As you are. As you approach intuitive movement you have to move away from weight loss as the goal - just as with intuitive eating we take that off the table. You can’t focus on movement that makes you feel good, helps you de-stress and satisfies you if you’re pushing your body to just ‘burn more calories’ or punishing it to change your weight.

It’s about shifting the focus.

So ask yourself - if the movement i’m doing had zero effect on the way my body looked would I still be doing it? What would I do instead?

I personally love hiking, this is in the Malvern Hills

What is intuitive movement?

Intuitive Movement focuses on listening to your body when it comes to movement, letting how you feel guide your choices alongside your goals. Rather than just external plans and factors.

It’s moving the focus from what you think you ‘should’ do into what is best for your mind and body based on internal cues.

Why exercise intuitively?

Ultimately it puts you in control of your movement, while knowing you are doing what is best for your body. It’s an empowering feeling to know that.

  • It removes the shame and guilt of avoiding a workout - instead you know you’re listening to your body

  • Satisfaction is the goal - no more running on the treadmill when you’d rather be doing a zumba class

  • It allows you to explore more ways of moving, whether it’s having a varied list of ways you like to move that you can choose from or you’re still trying to find what works for you - all are welcome

  • According to the blue zones company (blue zones are regions in the world where people live longer on average) people in these areas don’t really workout in the ways we’d think - they garden, they walk during the day etc.

I trust myself to make choices that are best for my body.

Maybe caneoing is more your thing?

The pros and cons of a plan

I am a runner and so follow a plan to up my miles weekly etc (see my half marathon blog post here) because it fits my goal. But I follow that plan loosely, and indeed chose a plan with room for movement. But not every type of movement needs a plan, or you may not find a plan works for you.

Plans allow structured sessions that allow you to see progress towards your goal, and allow a minimum work level sometimes - e.g. despite feeling great on a monday it may say my run is 10 minutes at a slow easy pace. So sometimes it can help reign the effort in.

However, it’s easy to become super focused on the plan and not take into account other factors such as stress levels, fatigue, illness, injury… or just other events that arise. Not to always use the running trope but I follow a lot of running pages on Instagram and they’re forever bragging about it’s run season where we cancel social plans to wake up early for a long run - and I get it. That’s a priority currently, but if it’s week in week out then it will wear you down. I also follow many runners who did this, and decided to take a step back because it wasn’t conducive to their life.

As with all things intuitive it’s above moving away from the all or nothing thinking into the grey area. It doesn’t have to be strict plan or no plan. It can be a loose outline of what you want to do, or a class booked with the caveat of i’ll check in beforehand how I feel etc..

Let’s talk about rest days - rest and recovery

Think of your body like an engine - you wouldn’t drive with no fuel in the tank and the light blinking (or at least I hope not). Yet sometimes we wake up not feeling great, having not slept and push through to have a workout. And it leaves you feeling worse… yep you needed a rest day.

Rest days reduce your injury risk, allow your muscles to rest, can improve your sleep and even your performance. So I’d always recommend factoring in some rest days into that

Some signs you may need a rest day

  • You're tired - and not just a little bit, you're now run down. It’s hard to describe but you know when you reach this. A side note that this can also happen when you’re under fuelling yourself so maybe taking a rest day to refuel is a good idea.

  • The soreness hasn’t faded - DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) tend to last 1-3 days post exercise, with some people taking a little longer than others. But if the soreness isn’t fading, and it’s affecting your ability to move in everyday life then it may be you need a rest day - and to refuel a little more. Up the carbs to replenish your glycogen stores.

  • You feel a cold coming on / illness - That first sniff, or tickle in the throat and you know. Colds are often inevitable depending on the season but if your immune system is overwhelmed it may be that you’ve been pushing yourself a little too hard. Taking a rest day will help your immune system recover. More days are lost to illness than any other factor other than injury in athletes.

  • You want to. Sometimes we just know - there’s that gut instinct that you just need a day off. And there’s no logical reason. You slept well, are fuelled and feel great. But just aren’t feeling it.

Check in with your body

  • How am I feeling today? Scan from the soles of the feet up to the top of the head - how are you feeling physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically.

  • What movement do I need at this moment, or do I need to rest?

The hierarchy of movement

This isn’t what it sounds like - I'm not going to declare one movement better than the other don’t worry. This is about your hierarchy (or whatever term works best) of movement. Sometimes when we may want a rest day or a low intensity day it would be more beneficial to take a side step than a step back.

For example you had a HIIT class planned but woke up feeling low energy, but want to move for your mental health. And you know a lack of movement will make you anxious. So what do you do? You side step - you join a yoga class or head out on a long walk that aren’t as demanding energetically but give you the benefits you need.

Some steps to incorporate intuitive movement into your day:

  • Movement snacks - you may have heard of it on Instagram but movement snacks are basically little movement breaks throughout your day e.g. little desk yoga at lunch or when you get home doing a 10 minute dance along on youtube. Whatever you like to do - if you’ve been sitting for ages doing a couple of squats and resuming with your day.

  • Avoid comparison - unfollow influencers / people that make you feel less than when it comes to movement. And if you find you’re struggling in a class / group then maybe seek something else out. Find people to move with that inspire you or remind you how great you’re doing.

  • Focus on your journey - what do you want to get out of movement? If it’s the health benefits then a range of options are open to you, if it’s a more sport specific goal then maybe adjust the timeline to get there to make it a gentler transition?

  • Get social - nothing makes you forget about calorie burn etc. than moving with people in a way you enjoy. There’s loads of adult netball, football etc. teams all open to you.

  • Listen to yourself in other areas of your life - indulge your choices and decisions. This will help reinforce that gut instinct that yes you know what is best for you!

  • Connect with your body in whatever movement type you like to do - whether it’s mind to muscle connection, breathing through a movement or doing something like yoga that actively calls you to be present. Learn to tune in with your body.

  • Find some comfy clothing - if you’re working out in clothes you think you ‘should’ wear - or wearing clothes too small as a form of punishment when working out it may be time to acquire something new. I have a Sweaty Betty affiliate link if you want to browse (and their ⅞ lengths are great for short people)

It might take a while to get into the habit but it is worth it

Some reminders:

It’s okay to leave a session if it isn’t feeling great - even if you’re 2 minutes in.

Not every movement session has to be at 100%. 100m sprinters don’t go flat out at every training session.

It’s also okay to decide to take a rest day and later on decide you want to move.

Ultimately with intuitive movement the key thing is none of the above are validating because they’re from me - it’s because they’re from you!

Common concerns:

  • ‘This will just give me an excuse to never exercise’ - we think we’d always push off exercising but we’re creatures of habit so when we have a movement style we love - and that makes us ultimately feel satisfied we don’t tend to put it off as much. It’s when movement is punishment that we put it off.

  • I’ve tried every form of exercise and hate them all’ - sometimes there’s power in knowing what you don’t like as much as what you do. Maybe movement snacks and everyday movements are more for you - think gardening, long walks, one of those switch fitness games etc. covert movement is everywhere.

  • But I'll never reach my goal of running ____ / lifting ____ etc.’ - ultimately this comes down to your why and what it means to you. If having no social plans, being run down and injury and illness prone is worth it then that’s a decision you have to make. But taking a little step back, adjusting the plan and ensuring enough rest and recovery that you enjoy what you’re doing, perform well and are listening to your body may actually mean you get there faster.

I hope this has proven useful - any questions just send me a DM on Instagram @nourishedpractice

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