Here’s Why Your Punishing Workout is Miserable

A lot of us repeat the mantra “No pain, no gain” over and over in our heads as we sweat, grunt, and strain through our workouts. Whether you’re a resistance trainee, a CrossFitter, a runner, or an HIIT nut, you may feel that exercise is only truly effective when you are pushing yourself to the limits of your endurance.

A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan found that this was a common belief among low-active women. Unfortunately, this belief played a large role in the women’s low activity levels.

You see, another part of this study examined what makes women feel happy and good about themselves. There were two basic ingredients that play a role in those feelings of happiness and success:

Connecting with others, and helping them to be successful and happy.

Relaxing and being able to enjoy leisure time free of pressures. In some cases, using that leisure time to accomplish goals (personal and professional) also increased feelings of happiness and success.

That last ingredient could be the reason why many people struggle to feel happy and successful when it comes to their workouts.

A workout that is grueling and pushes you hard is not free of pressures. Given that most of the hard-working people today have so little leisure time, it’s understandable why many people struggle to fit in a workout when it comes to this sort of stress and pressure. If there’s the feeling that the workout is only valid if it’s full-on intense, they’re left with two choices: feel the pressure and stress to work out hard during their leisure time, or feel unhappy because they’re choosing relaxation over exercise. Definitely a lose-lose either way.

Incongruences between happiness and success and PA, and suggestions for creating congruency through new messages

One of the researchers said, “The direct conflict between what these low-active women believe they should be doing when they exercise, and their desire to decompress and renew themselves during leisure time, demotivates them. Their beliefs about what exercise should consist of and their past negative experiences about what it feels like actually prevents them from successfully adopting and sustaining physically active lives.”

So could it be that your perceptions about exercise are stopping you from enjoying the workout? You’re pushing yourself so hard that you’re making the workout more work than it needs to be? According to this study, the answer is very likely yes.

“There are important implications from this study on how we can help women better prioritize exercise in their day-to-day life,” says Michelle Segar, director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center. “We need to re-educate women they can move in ways that will renew instead of exhaust them, and more effectively get the message across that any movement is better than nothing. To increase motivation to be physically active, we need to help women to want to exercise instead of feeling like they should do it.”

1. Michelle Segar, Jennifer M. Taber, Heather Patrick, Chan L. Thai, April Oh. “Rethinking physical activity communication: using focus groups to understand women’s goals, values, and beliefs to improve public health.” BMC Public Health, 2017; 17 (1). Here’s Why Your Punishing Workout is Miserable


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