As a certified personal trainer since 1996 (and fitness instructor on and off since then), I’ve put a lot of energy into motivating folks to move their bodies in the name of health and wellness. Exercise comes with a host of physical and mental health benefits, and engaging in even a single episode of physical activity can significantly improve our moods.
That said, there are times when the benefits of movement are outweighed by the expectations we set for ourselves. Have you ever gotten mad at yourself for not being able to perform up to your usual standards? Have you felt the need to hit the gym harder one day in order to compensate for something you ate? Do unrelenting standards interfere with your ability to find joy and peace through movement?
You might want to stop what you’re doing mid-workout and leave the gym if:
1) You’re exercising to compensate for what you ate. This is a slippery slope to the land of disordered eating. Yes, there are times we might eat more than we intended, but trying to “make up” for this via physical activity can lead to compulsive exercise and worse.
2) You’re getting caught up in the “shoulds.” Maybe you’re recovering from illness or just plain tired that day, but you’re forcing yourself to exercise because you “should.” Maybe, instead of choosing activities you enjoy, you’re moving your body according to others’ recommendations or guidelines. Maybe your intensity and duration are guided by unwavering “musts” vs. intuition. These are all signs it’s time to reevaluate what you’re doing.
3) You’re comparing yourself to others. There will always be faster, stronger, fitter people around you. Comparing only leads to judgments and self-attack.
4) You’re attacking yourself. If you find that you’re attacking yourself for not meeting your goals or expectations, back off for a second and celebrate what you can do. Not every workout is a personal record.
5) You’re criticizing your body. If you catch sight of your image in a mirror during a gym class or look down at your body and find yourself criticizing your physique, stop and check yourself. Your body is incredible for its ability to move. Period. If you’re exerting effort toward increased health and fitness, it’s appropriate to commend your body, not attack it. If you find yourself commonly criticizing your body while engaging in physical activity, step away until you can exercise with more gratitude and self-compassion.