How to use intuitive exercise for fitness goals

The fitness world seems to be divided between those who believe in structured, no-excuses workouts, and the more self-compassionate intuitive movement. The former are goal getting, PB-smashing exercisers who have to push themselves through discomfort to get there. The latter seems to take it easier – prioritising their body in the moment over long term goals.

But what if you didn’t have to choose between hitting new records and being intuitive with our training? What if you could sign up for a race or challenge and complete it without running yourself into the ground?

Tally Rye, a personal trainer and intuitive exercise coach, says you can. “I would never advise that anyone intuitively run a marathon. You have to build that fitness up over time,” she says. And that’s the hard part: understanding that you can’t meet your goals without the right training, but that said training doesn’t have to be miserable or take over the rest of your life. 

“There are times in life where you might really want to focus on exercise and moving your body. You can do that while still moving with the ebbs and flows of your life and how you feel in the moment,” she says.

As the author of Train Happy and The Train Happy Journal, Rye is one of the founders of the intuitive movement guidelines. It’s a framework for moving in a way that your body wants and needs, with nine principles to help you with your relationship to exercise. “The last of those principles is gentle guidance,” she explains. “For people who have gone through those initial steps and have unpacked their relationship with exercise, this final step is the cherry on the cake. It’s the ability to have fitness goals and know that you can absolutely work towards them, but also give yourself permission to listen to your body.” 

A woman smiling on a running track
You can still feel good about your training if you have goals

Set a number, not a schedule

Knowing you have to do a certain amount of training a week to be fit enough to take part in your competition or to hit your goals can feel quite rigid.

For Rye, the key is to be wedded to the workouts, not the days. For example, rather than saying you have to run certain distances on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, allow yourself the freedom to be flexible with your plans. That way, if you wake up on Monday and don’t feel like you can face it, you can swap it out for the next day. “There are ways of allowing for flexibility in your schedule, and I think that comes down to allowing yourself permission to rest within a routine,” she says.

Give up perfectionism

That doesn’t mean leaving all your workouts to the end of the week and then just giving up on them. You do have to accept that there might just be weeks that don’t go to plan. That you didn’t feel good in any of your training sessions or you really couldn’t get through that last mile, and that’s OK. 

“For those of us who have come from a really rigid mindset around exercise, we tend to want to do something perfectly or not do it all. It’s really hard to be in the middle and go with the flow, but that’s often the healthiest thing to do. And I say that as a recovering perfectionist – the idea of not sticking to something 1,000% feels scary,” Rye says.

Control what you can control

Most programmes aren’t focused on just one type of movement – at least, a good plan shouldn’t be. They will probably contain some cardiovascular training, some resistance and some recovery. Rye goes back to the example of training for a marathon, saying: “You might need to run a certain distance that week, but you’ll also probably do some strength and conditioning too.”

This can be where you bring the element of choice into your otherwise quite specific plan. “Can you switch up your resistance training for something outside of the gym? Maybe you can do reformer pilates or kettlebell classes and tailor that element of your programming in a way that works for you, that you find enjoyable,” she says.

For those who aren’t running a marathon, why not set yourself goals that allow you to make daily choices – planning a high-intensity session could mean doing some HIIT, but it could also mean a run or some trampolining or a group fitness class. You’ll have the freedom to decide depending on your mood, energy and motivation on that day. 

Images: Pexels/Tally Rye