Habits of Fit People: Listen to Your Body

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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CHERIE38 1/18/2021
Your body will believe what ever thoughts you tell it, choose your thoughts wisely Report
CHERYLHURT 2/27/2020
Great Report
RAPUNZEL53 2/10/2020
Great Report
Great information and reminder. Report
Walk/jog now--used to run--- always ware of where I walk---lotza traffic on the roads- Report
Thanks! Report
thank you Report
Thank you! Report
Thanks! Report
thanks Report
Absolutely great Report
Great article! Report
Great article! Thanks, Coach! Report
Sound advice! Thanks, Coach! Report
Interesting article. Report
I like the resting part, especially! I work out on M,W, and F, resting on T and Th. Report
I listen to my body all of the time. When I feel I just can't do anymore, I stop. Report
Thanks! Report
Fantastic advice! Oh, how I miss Coach Nicole!! Report
"Do you listen to your body when it comes to planning (or sometimes skipping) workouts? Does this habit work for you?"

Yes and Yes. If I really feel like I cannot get into a cardio, then I do something else. Doing this, skipping a workout plan, does not interfere with my weight-maintenance plan or my general fitness plan. It does present the feeling that I am in control of my programs. Report
Very useful post for me since I work at home mainly Report
Wise article Report
"No pain, no gain" -- Didn't you love the 80's?? :D Report
Thanks for the info!! Report
Great info Report
"If I listen to my body I never work out", I feel that way now and I've felt that way in all the years I've been exercising. It never became fun, just like healthy eating never will become fun. I know what my body needs and act accordingly, trying very hard to ignore what my body wants (i.e. lying on the couch eating chocolates). Report
This is completely true!
If I don't sleep when I feel a sickness coming on, I get SICK! Like, really sick! It happened a few years ago the first time where I went to exercise when feeling bad and the next day I couldn't even get through the school day.

Always listen to your body as it's telling you what it wants and doesn't want or what hurts and is a bad idea. Report
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! Report
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. Report
Really well written blog Report
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. Report
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 Report
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. Report
Maybe I need to listen more. Report
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. Report
Great Article; Yes I do listen to my body - took me a while to get there
This habit works for me! Report
Good points! Thanks for the affirmation of what we know is true. Report
I can truly attest to this article... Report
This was great advice and some of what you said is what I needed to hear. Thank you Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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! Report
I should have listened to my body last week. Now I'm sidelined due to shin splints! Report
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. Report
Great article! Definitely one to sock away for future reference! Report
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! Report
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! Report
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. Report
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! Report