Okay. So you've read Part 1: The Importance of Listening to Your Body and now you're like, "Cool, Taylor, that's super (not) helpful because I don't know how to do that! Dumb hippie." Chill, I got you. Let's take a look at what that means and how you can learn how to do it too!
Honestly, if you Google "listen to your body", you're going to get some incoherent nonsense and if you need a detailed plan of execution (like...me) then that's going to frustrate you more than help you. Unfortunately, that's part of the essence of listening to YOUR body--I can't tell you the exact formula of what will or won't work. However, there are some things you can do to make the process more concrete.
Step 1: Assess your Current regiment
Where are you currently at in terms of:
- Hours of sleep per night
- Quality of sleep
- Calories consumed
- Quality of food
- Water intake
- Minutes of intense exercise per week/day
- Minutes of moderate exercise per week/day
- Minutes of active recovery per week/day
- Minutes spent warming up/cooling down per workout
- Rest days per week
You asked for a concrete list; you got one! Now, before you look at this and say, NO THANKS, these are my recommendations based on what's worked for me. Some of these may not even apply to you! Let's see what tools can help you turn this list into real numbers that you can use and then see how they can help you learn how to listen to your body.
1-5: Fitness Trackers and Calorie Counters
Sleep: A super simple way to track your sleep more accurately is to invest in some sort of fitness tracker, whether that be a FitBit, an Apple Watch or whatever else. There are also PLENTY of free apps that can track your sleep! I already had a FitBit so I can't attest to their accuracy, but check your options before dropping too much money.
Food: A completely FREE way to track your calories and the quality of your calories is through MyFitnessPal or CalorieCounter. Now, for individuals recovering from or currently dealing with an eating disorder, don't engage in behavior that could be a trigger for you. It took me a long time to be able to count calories without it being an emotional trigger, so do what works for you. The real point is to take a look at WHAT and HOW MUCH you're eating (especially if you're working out consistently) to determine if it's enough. Most often, people aren't consuming enough calories and their bodies go into starvation mode, i.e., hanging onto every ounce of fat possible because you've tricked your brain into thinking there's a famine! Silly brain, there's no famine.
Water: You can also track how much water you're drinking; a lot of people say half your body weight in ounces. I'll be really gross and honest with you and say, a better gauge is to go by the color of your pee. Clear means too much water and that actually depletes your sodium levels (which are critical for proper hormone function) and not enough (think, anything darker than corn) causes dehydration which just sucks.
6-10: Good Ol' Excel Spreadsheet
You can certainly use a fitness tracker to record the number of minutes you worked out, but I would definitely suggest a journal, a spreadsheet, or something where you can manually input the type of workout and the duration and start to track how often you're engaging (or not engaging) in that activity. And of course, a spot to write down how you felt before, during and after that workout (but we'll get to that in a minute).
Intense Exercise: When I say "intense exercise", I mean running, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), heated vinyasa, baptiste or ashtanga yoga, heavy weight lifting sessions, or other cardio-intense, multi-muscle workouts. That is going to vary person to person, but a good rule of thumb is if you're completely drained after that particular type of workout, it's intense.
Moderate Exercise: Moderate exercise refers to things like single-muscle or light weight lifting sessions, body weight workouts with a focus on form not cardio, low-intensity yoga or pilates, or Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio such as walking or using the elliptical. Again, the rule of thumb to recognize this type of workout is that you should feel tired, but somewhat energized afterwards, definitely not drained.
Active Recovery: Now, I included yoga in BOTH the intense and moderate categories because there are many types of yoga you can do; not all of them will benefit you in recovery. Restorative, Hatha or gentle yoga classes are going to be the most healing and regenerative for your muscles and mind. You could also use walking as an active recovery, but here's the rule of thumb: you should break a light sweat with your active recovery and nothing more. Active recovery is meant to get blood pumping to your muscles to help them rebuild (since the act of exercise tears them apart). Foam rolling, massages and dynamic and static stretching are also wonderful active recovery tools.
Minutes warming up/cooling down: Many people forget how crucial proper warm ups and cool downs are. Many people deal with chronic or acute injuries because of that! Don't continue to be or become one of those people. Spend at least 10 minutes doing a dynamic warm up and 10 minutes foam rolling or stretching after your workout. Record your minutes as they are to see where you're currently falling.
Rest Days: If you're like me and you occasionally think, "Rest is for the weak!", think again dumb dumb. Let your rest day be a real rest day. Don't count the days that you snuck in a 5 mile hike or a quick bike ride. Seriously, lay in bed all day and sleep. You deserve it, but also, if you're working out regularly at any intensity, YOU NEED IT.
Step 2: Record, Reflect, Regroup
Record: Using the above guide, or a modified version to fit your needs, start recording your numbers! Do this for at least 2 weeks without changing your current habits. Just record them as they are, otherwise you're going to fall back on the habits you're pretending not to have. If you can do this for 3-4 weeks even, all the better! Now, the most important thing to write down: how you FEEL at the end of every day and the end of every workout. Physically and mentally. Don't overthink it, just say exactly how you feel, whether that be tired, full, hyper, hungry, drained or energized. Write it down.
Reflect: Okay, so it's been X number of weeks of recording all of your daily and weekly numbers AND writing down how you feel at the end of each day and after workouts, in whatever terms work for you. Time to reflect.
Sleep: Do you feel rested with the hours of sleep you're currently getting?
Food: Are you eating enough on the days you're working out intensely? Are you getting enough nutrients from the food you're currently eating?
Water: Are you drinking at least half your body weigh in water every day?
Intense Exercise: Are you getting the recommended 75 minutes of intense exercise per week or are you getting too much?
Moderate Exercise: Are you getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or are you getting too much?
Active Recovery: Are you giving yourself at least one active recovery day?
Warm-up/Cool down: Are you warming up and cooling down properly and long enough to prevent injury?
Rest: Are you giving yourself at least one total rest day per week?
End of Day Recaps: What patterns are you seeing?
Regroup: Now, move forward based on two things: your specific goals AND how you felt at the end of every day and end of every workout. This is where we combine the "listening to your body" part with a concrete plan that you can apply moving forward. Be honest with yourself; could you have pushed yourself to run that extra mile or should you actually have done something lower impact that day because you didn't sleep well the night before? These are the questions that only YOU can answer for YOURSELF because you're living in your body. It sounds soooo simple when you read it, but don't we all forget that? Isn't that why you're reading this, because you don't know what it means to be intuitively connected to your own needs? No shame in it, that's why I wrote this.
Step 3: Application
Listening to your body isn't about completely throwing away your goals. People say mysterious things like "Honor your body" and "Listen to you body" but all that really means is don't lock yourself into a rigid schedule because every single day is different. Make room for your body to need different things on different days because life is unpredictable and stress is coming at you from all sides. IN ORDER to reach your goals, your body needs to be able to perform at its peak! Listening to your body allows you to reach your goals with the least amount of distress, difficulty and overall unhappiness because you're moving forward while taking care of yourself. We typically charge ahead, then have to take 3 steps back because we got hurt or burned out. It doesn't have to be that way.
Scenario 1: You slept like crap Monday night because you had a terrible day at work, so you toss and turn all night. But you have a really intense 6 AM workout planned for Tuesday! Your 5:30 AM alarm goes off and you drag yourself out of bed and do the workout anyways. Maybe it's not great, but it's better than nothing and you want to stick to your plan because you want to 1) convince yourself you're truly committed and 2) actually attain your goal. The rest of the day kind of drags on; you're a little cranky and definitely need a nap around 3 PM but choose not to. Your coworkers ask if you want to take a walk but you opt out and just sneak a mini snickers from the kitchen instead. You eat a little "off your plan" that night because, hey, you pushed yourself to workout so you deserve it. That night you fall asleep, not exactly proud of yourself but at least you're not disappointed. Check that workout off your list and move on.
Scenario 2: You slept like crap Monday night because you had a terrible day at work, so you toss and turn all night. But you have a really intense 6 AM workout planned for Tuesday! When that 5:30 AM alarm goes off, you click it off and turn on your back up 7 AM alarm. You understand that sleep is the foundation of good health and a good day, why sacrifice that for something you can definitely do later? You wake up at 7 feeling slightly more refreshed than before, but definitely still tired. Instead of beating yourself up for missing your grueling workout, you look at your schedule and workout plan for the week: tomorrow you already paid for a class somewhere else, but Thursday was going to be an off day, so how about you switch it up? Problem solved! You take it easy today, being sure to eat mostly vegetables and whole foods, take a nice walk with your coworkers, and decide to treat yourself to a relaxing bath and an early bed time. You go to bed, now feeling rested and ready to take on your workout tomorrow and make sure to get to bed early tomorrow night so you can crush your Thursday workout.
Which of those sounds more appealing? Either way, you do that kickass workout you wanted to do so badly. I have 100% done Scenario 1 more times than I can count. The point of listening to your body is to understand that when it comes to your health, wellbeing, happiness and goal setting, YOU HAVE A CHOICE.
You can choose to listen to what everyone else tells you to do, to push through all the time and every time, or you can choose to listen to what your own body is telling you, based on how you're sleeping, eating, drinking, training, resting and recovering.
One of those ways is far more tailored to you, your needs and your lifestyle. One of those ways will not only help you reach your goals, but absolutely crush them.
I hope this post helped you feel more informed and gave you some insight into how to listen to your body. This isn't a definitive list and it's going to be different for everyone. That's the beauty of listening to YOUR body! Not mine! So at the end of the day, do what works for you. Take everything you read as a learning tool, apply what works and forget what doesn't because it's your life, your body and your goals. No one understands any of those as well and as deeply as you do!
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