WTF is this joyful movement stuff anyway?
This is the question you might be asking yourself right now. You may have seen this term floating around on the internet, especially if you follow other Health At Every Size professionals. When I first heard of it I pictured Julie Andrews twirling in a meadow. Was this the only kind of exercise I was destined to do now? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a dancer. I love me a good twirl. But when I hear others describe joyful movement, I hear a lot of talk about things like taking long walks in nature. And restorative yoga. I’m all in with the yoga part, but I’ll be honest, the walking in nature doesn’t resonate with me right now. Chicago is cold AF. Truth be told, I’m only interested in walking outside as long as it takes my dog to go to the bathroom.
Whenever people find out that I’m a personal trainer they like to tell me all about their movement of choice. It’s almost as if they’re trying to get me to affirm that they’re doing a good job at working out or something. Once my uncle told me that he walks on the treadmill and does 100 crunches every day. My thoughts?
"Ummmm cardio? No, don't put me down for that."
In all seriousness, this sounds like a terrible time to me. I assumed that he must hate it too. But when I asked him why on earth he would do such a thing, his answer was everything:
"Well, because I enjoy it."
That's the key, friends. Enjoyment.
We all have our own idea of what we think is a good time when it comes to movement.
I always laugh a little when my personal training clients ask me if we can do a “fun” workout. I’m not sure that most people would like my idea of fun. For example, I legit LOVE burpees. I think they’re joyful AF. If you’re interested, some other things that top my list right now: swinging kettlebells, lifting heavy $hit, dancing, yoga, and taking naps during yoga. Some things I just can’t make myself like no matter how hard I try: pilates, barre classes, jogging, being on any piece of cardio equipment for more than 5 minutes, sports that involve catching and throwing balls, and anything that involves me being outside when it’s cold.
Wanna know the good news? You don’t have to agree with me on what qualifies as joyful movement. YOU get to decide!
The less good news? Sometimes this can be really hard to figure out. For example, it might be harder to find enjoyment in movement if:
- You’ve had a disordered relationship with exercise in the past and struggle to get past using it as punishment or compensation for food choices.
- You’ve previously had a negative experience with movement–like a traumatizing childhood gym class memory or a shaming personal trainer.
- You don’t feel like you’re “good” at anything.
- You are dealing with chronic pain, an injury, illness, or disability.
- You are living in a marginalized body and don’t see yourself represented in fitness marketing or feel welcome in traditional fitness spaces.
- You’re feeling overwhelmed with “gymtimidation” and don’t know what to do or where to start.
The best news of all? I gotcha covered for all of this!
Here are 4 questions to ask yourself to figure out if you’re actually doing “joyful movement”:
1. Would I still choose to do this movement if I knew it would never result in weight loss or an aesthetic change?
This is a big one, so dig deep. What’s driving you to do the thing you’re doing? Yes, sometimes a side effect of working out is an aesthetic change. But would you still do the type of exercise you’re doing if there was no chance of that? If no, it’s probably not joyful movement. Though it’s up to you if you want to continue to do it anyway. There are actually many other reasons to work out besides weight loss AND enjoyment.
2. Do I like the way it makes me feel during and/or immediately after?
I’m not talking about using exercise compulsively as a way to calm your anxiety about having to do it every day. But does it give you a genuine sense of well-being and self-care? Like the feeling of reducing pain and stiffness by stretching? Or feeling like a bada$$ who can tackle a tough conversation with your boss because you just pressed a barbell over your head?
3. Does it align with my values?
I have Jessi Haggerty to thank for this one. What do you value in general? Learning? Accomplishment? Playfulness? Connection? Chances are, movement that somehow aligns with your personal values is also going to bring you joy.
4. Have my preferences changed over the years?
There are lots of things that play into what we like and dislike, and sometimes life circumstances can cause that to change. For example, a few years ago when I was dealing with some health issues and struggling with my body image, going to dance class (something that I’d always loved) was really hard for me for awhile. It’s totally normal and ok for your preferences to change, so check in with yourself every so often.
Plus 4 ways to discover new types of movement you might enjoy:
1. Go back to your roots.
What did you like as a child? As kids, we all knew how to play. We did what we thought was fun. (If you were anything like me, you probably threw a tantrum when you were forced to do something un-fun.) Chances are, you’re still wired the same and probably enjoy similar things.
2. Follow your strengths.
It’s easier to enjoy movement when you feel successful. Good sense of rhythm? You’d probably love tap dancing! Bad knees? Running might not be the best choice. Start with something that comes more naturally to you to build your confidence. You can always try other things that are out of your comfort zone later if growth and challenge are your jam.
3. Look in unexpected places.
If you’ve had negative experiences with exercise in the past, you might not want to go back to the kinds of places where that $hit went down. Is there an activity outdoors you could try? An online program that you can do in your living room? A yoga class for beginners that happens at your kid’s dance studio? Not all movement has to happen in a traditional gym setting.
4. Reach out to a professional who gets it.
Maybe that professional is me? 😉 In all seriousness, there are plenty of trainers and instructors out there who know all about joyful movement and are dying to help you find it for yourself. Check out Body Positive Fitness Alliance or Superfit Hero’s Body Positive Fitness Finder to find someone who can work with you in your area. Nobody nearby? A lot of us offer online coaching too!
Joyful movement is NOT just a bunch of woo.
Working with a body positive fitness professional has a ton of benefits, even if you’re not into the whole “love your body” thing. And joyful movement doesn’t have to include skipping or frolicking unless you want it to. In fact, no matter who you are, it really is the key to finding a form of exercise that’s gonna enhance your life for the better.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: working out is not a moral imperative. It doesn’t make you better or worse than someone else. There are lots of reasons and seasons of life that might require you to take a break from exercise. But if you’re gonna do it, you might as well enjoy yourself right? If you wanna find out what this might look like for you, let’s chat! Hit me up here and we’ll figure it out together!
Do you need help figuring out what joyful movement is for you and your body?
Learn more about body positivity here.