Habits of Fit People: Listen to Your Body

By , SparkPeople Blogger
You want to be a fit person, right? That's why I'm sharing my own habits for keeping fit and staying healthy in the ongoing Habits of Fit People series.

Here's one that works for me: Listening to my body. It may seem counterintuitive to the "no pain, no gain" philosophy so that so many subscribe to, but listening to how you feel really makes a difference in your workouts. How?

Your body is one smart cookie. If you're really listening, it'll tell you important things like when you're tired, hungry, stressed or sick, and hopefully, you'll trust your body and honor its signals most of the time. But it can also give you signs when you're sore, injured, or exhausted—all of which could be clues that you need to cut back on your current workout routine. The opposite is also true; I find that I can tell when I have energy to burn, which often happens if I'm slacking in the gym or having a really stressful workday. On those days, I want and NEED a good, tough workout to combat stress and use up my pent up energy.

Here are some of the ways I listen to my body when it comes to fitness. Most of these are a combination of listening and knowing how to remedy the situation that arises.
  • Take time for recovery if you're injured. I can't tell you how many times someone asks me what they can do to exercise despite being told by their doctor or physical therapist that they need to rest. Rest is important for recovery—a fact that some of us have learned the hard way. Before I became a Pilates fanatic, I had some lower back issues. I'd throw out my back and be unable to walk or stand upright for days at a time. My health care provider watched over me and gave me specific guidelines for exercise: I could only walk on a treadmill for cardio, going no faster than 4.0 mph; and I had to reduce the amount of weight I lifted at the gym if I noticed that it compromised my form or alignment even the slightest bit. This went on for months and although it was really frustrating to not work as hard as I knew I was capable, I knew that too much impact or too much strain would make my injury worse—and my recovery period even longer.
  • Make time for sleep. Whenever someone asks me what is most important, getting up early to exercise or sleeping, you may be surprised to hear that my answer is always sleeping. This is only the case, however, if you feel exhausted OR you are not getting adequate sleep (think 7-9 hours per night) on a usual basis. The occasional night with poor sleep won't kill you (although your workout may suffer), but forgoing sleep for the long haul in order to exercise will cause problems. I wake up early to work out a few times per week and I'm pretty good at sticking with that. But occasionally, I'm just too darn tired to make myself get out of bed. On those occasional days, I listen to my body and honor my desire to sleep, which means my workouts are actually better in the following days. Similarly, the first sign that I'm coming down with an illness is usually extreme tiredness. On those days, I take a sick day from work and hit the sack, sleeping as long as possible and skipping the gym. Usually, after a good day of rest like that, I can prevent that illness from getting the best of me—but when I ignore that exhaustion I know so well (opting to stay away and exercise as usual), it always comes back to bite me!
  • If it hurts, stop. This is important exercise advice for anyone. If you feel sharp pain or discomfort during any type of workout, don't push through the pain. Doing so can result in serious injury that will sideline you for a long time—talk about frustrating! Listen to your body: It's telling you to slow down or stop.
  • If you feel tired, do less. I love working on new workout streaks, where I exercise as many days in a row as possible. But I definitely don't do maximal, high-intensity workouts on every single one of those days. In fact, I usually let my energy levels and body awareness dictate how hard I work. While I love to run fast and for long distances, some days I head out, planning to do 6 hard miles, only for my legs to feel like lead and my heart rate to race at a slow clip. I take that as a sign that I need to go easier that day, even if it means not fulfilling that particular goal. I'll slow down, ignore my pace, and run a shorter distance, usually even throw in a few recovery intervals of walking. This is one of the ways that you can stay active and make fitness a habit, but without overdoing it.
You might say, "My body never wants to exercise! I'm tired! Sore! Old! If I listen to my body, I'll never work out!" You may feel that way now, especially if you're new to exercise or just getting back onto the exercise wagon. Most likely, we feel this way because we've ignored our bodies for so long that we've lost the desire to exercise. As kids we called it playing, and it was fun. But as adults, it's a "work"out. But if you truly listen to your body, it does want to move and be strong and fit. Once you get in the habit, it'll tell you that more often—but also give you cues when it needs a little downtime from the gym.

Put simply, listening to your body will help you stick with a workout routine, prevent injury—and make it more enjoyable, all of which will help you make exercise a lifelong habit.

Do you listen to your body when it comes to planning (or sometimes skipping) workouts? Does this habit work for you?

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Great article. I recently injured my lower back from a fall I took while on a ladder. It has been 7days since I have been to the gym to do the type of workouts I normally do. My exercise this week has been limited to walking, stretching and some upper body. I cannot wait until I can get back into my routine. Report
This is a great message! I am pretty good about listening to my body and learned this years ago. Now I am having to learn about my changed body messages. I have an autoimmune disease and my physical abilities have altered and I am learning what my new thresholds are. I am learning which aches I can push through to a stronger me and when I need to lay low and recuperate. I am now slowly feeling stronger and more in control of what my new body tolerates & does not. I am actually beginning to belly dance again. Report
Thanks, I needed to read that! I'm listening to my body and taking today off. Report
Thank You for this info,I sure did need it today.I been feeling so sore and tired and tried to walk but legs just would not let me .so went and rested instead.I was feeling quilty about it,but now I know I did the right thing for me. Report
I've just begun to follow this advice, and I have finally given myself permission to skip a session or go more slowly on days that I just don't have the energy. Thanks for the good advice! Report
I just listened to my body yesterday. I had a 35 minute workout goal (I'm slowly increasing, I had started with 20, then 25, then 30, and was hoping to push through to 35 last night) but I didn't. I got about 10 minutes in and my legs felt like lead, and I just didn't have energy. I finished 20 minutes and stopped. I moved onto a toning video for my Bootcamp Group and called it a night. I still burned the amount of calories I was supposed to, but I didn't wake up today dragging, I felt great. I'm slowly learning to listen to my body, but also when I can and should push myself. Report
If I listened to my body I would NEVER workout. I am so stiff and sore, especially when I wake up. Normally, the pains go away after 10 min.'s on the treadmill, but if one pain in my knee or hip stick around, I still have gotten in the cardio. My Yoga class hurt like heck, but it put my back into place eventually. And exercising can turn around my being tired. Report
Wow! That is excellent advice especially the part about reminding us that we use the term
"work" out instead of playing. I like to think of it that way instead. I have been athletic all my life until about 3 years ago and put on so much weight. I was very discouraged but I have started small and know I will get there eventually but after reading your article, the journey will be much more pleasant! Time to play! Thank you! Report
Wow, if I didn't know better, I would think you've been watching me this week! I took that sick day Monday and stayed in bed. Planning to go to bootcamp (it's like church to me, I never miss) but I even skipped bootcamp. Yesterday, I decided to jog on the treadmill because I figured it would either kill me or make me feel better. I decided to stop at 2 miles because I had real pain in my stomach. The jogging did give me energy and my stomach is feeling much better now. I am sure my body was fighting a stomach bug.

Thanks for sharing, it is all great advice, and nice to know I'm not the only one that feels that way!

Great advice. Thanks for the encouragement!

I've been practicing listening to my body a lot lately, and like you said, some days I'll have big goals, but my body just IS NOT up for it. It's important to recognize those cues because it's likely then the next day I'll be ready for more rather than just dog-tired and worn out. Report
Wow Just last night I called and rescheduled because my body was really talking to me to rest. I have been very faithful with my personal training and felt I would do more harm than good if I went this early morning. Thanks for instructing us with balance. The best to everyone! Report
What a timely reminder for me - I was listening this morning when I shortened my work out. I still got up and made it to the gym but when my legs were leaden and I was tired after 20 minutes - instead of relishing it as I usually do - I made that call. Great to have the reminder that that is a good thing - setting a goal and establishing a routine is one thing but we don't have to be 100% perfect every single day to still get the right result and look after ourselves. Thanks so much Nicole!
Nat Report
Wow this is great information for me at this time. As I was reading this felt like the most loving thing I can do to my body is listen.
Thank you!!! Report
Thanks for this. I know there are times when I can find plenty of things I need to do that keep me from the gym, but I feel so good when I go and afterward. I just have to get there. Report
Thanks for a great blog! I have a hard time telling if my body is telling me a hard truth or is just being bratty. Report
i LOVE THIS article! this is what makes a huge difference for me and makes my exercise sustainable and fun :) Report
I am not good at listening to my body. I feel if I don't exercise I gain everything I worked hard to loose. That if I don't push through the pain I am cheating myself, especially when it comes to running.

I am trying to get better about this though and is apart of my total makeover a new healthy me. My mindsets on my physical and mental state as well as thoughts on food and exercise are in need of this makeover. It is a slow process but I believe I will get there. Report
My biggest handicap is my brain. There is a diff between listning to your body and listening to your brain. My brain can be quite negative. It will tell me I am to depressed to work out, you don't really feel like it, this work out is to hard so just quit, who do you think you are, It's not going to work out., let do something easier, because this isn't feeling fun at the moment. My brain can go on and on. I try to shut it up by just ignoring it, turning up my headphones, zoning out, etc. Report
This is such a great post!

I've found that listening to my body also motivates me to get moving - there are days that I've designated as a "rest day," where my body is just humming with energy and the idea of just sitting around bums me out. So even on those rest days, I listen to my body and go for a nice long walk, or do a quick SparkPeople video, or something. Nothing too intense, but something to make my body - and its new found energy source - happy! Report
I really needed to read this today! I did a 10K charity walk on Sunday and took Monday off, especially since my lower-body joints were still sore. I had planned on getting up early this morning to workout - something I never do - but... I couldn't get out of bed. Literally. Couldn't do it. I normally work out at night, you see, and I thought I should push myself this morning but my body evidently knows better! I'll workout tonight and will still feel good about my decision. Report
Loved this message, as I tend to beat myself up mentally if I am not doing all I "think" I should be doing. Just strained a hamstring behind my knee so I am following this advice. Keeping my long range goal and fitness in mind not short term goals. Thanks for the blog! Report
Thank for this--I've been being told to push through & that a routine of getting up earlier to workout & have it done for the day is best. I know I need my sleep [I'm a bear without my 7-8 hours] so have been feeling guilty that I can't do it. Especially when I work until 10pm & need to be back at work for 8 the following day. Wondered why I was feeling exhausted but my Bodymedia bugg is also telling me that my sleep is off. Report
Yes, listening to our bodies is very important. Even when we're exercising in groups we should not over strain overselves. If our body is telling us that it can't keep up at a fast pace then we should listen to it and continue exercising at a slower pace. I discovered that if I take each month a week off exercising, when I return the following week I lose more weight. If we listen carefully, every muscle and organ within our body talks to us. Have all a very Blessed workout or restful day! Report
Coach Nicole,
I love pilates for the same reason you mention.....I used to have lower back "issues" too. About a year after I started I realized that I hadn't been to a chiropractor in months! Plus the focus it fosters has made it much easier for me to listen to my body's messages - improving all my workouts. I would love to see more articles about pilates & the benefits. I posted on the message boards looking to connect to others who might be pilates fans, but only had a couple of replies.
Dona Report
I had a hard time with exercises because of health limitations, but I found my niche, the local swimming pool, I swim for 90 minutes 6x weekly..I love it...I sometimes have to push myself out the door, but once I'm there I'm glad I went!
I have a swimming buddy now, and that keeps me getting up, and getting out for exercise also!
I feel so much better, have more energy, and my body is starting to tone up woo hoo! For me it is pain free exercise! Report
It has taken me many months to learn that listening to my body and not following fads is what really work. Great inspiration. Report
I followed some of this advice today - before I read it!
I worked out with my trainer today, and near the end just felt exhaustion setting in. My brain wanted to do the remaining five minutes, but my body said enough is enough!
I think sometimes we're eager to make big strides forward in our workouts, but we forget that our bodies need time to adapt and repair. Report
Oh, or should I say Ow, so true.
TerrBear Report
Good info! Thanks! Report
You are rigtht. I do listen to my body but usually it is after it is hurting a bunch. I think I will try to listen to it sooner. So far when I tell the doc what I think is wrong I am usually right. So everyone, listen to your body. Report
Great blog! I wish this was around when I strained my lower back in February and decided to keep exercising! Report
Yes, I do this every day. I usually get up before work to exercise, but there are days (like today, with seven straight days of rain predicted this week) when I would rather sleep in and do my workout at lunchtime. Now that it is spring, I prefer to exercise outside, but some days I endure the gym so that I can honor what my body needs. Report
Very good article. Also find it hard sometimes to listen to my body instead of my mind which can tell me I want food when I don't need it! Report

EJAMES075 Report
Very informative blog, indeed. Report
This is timely. I'm having a really hard time right now listening to my body -- or at least figuring out what it's trying to say. See, I just had a baby a few months ago and I'm breastfeeding and I'm working out and I'm doing this all on my own. Stress and recapturing my sanity make the workouts a NECESSITY, while the breastfeeding is making me hungry all the time. I lost all the pregnancy weight within the first two months, but have actually gained weight since then and it's really frustrating as I'm working my butt off using the TurboFire program. I know I'm eating more, but I'm not eating any worse than I was (lots of veggies and fruit and lean protein and whole grains, with the occasional splurge) or over 2000 calories a day (which was the recommendation for a nursing mother at my weight) and I certainly don't want to cut back on calories while I'm nursing. I'm definitely NOT getting enough sleep and haven't been since December so could that be the biggest issue? If so, I guess I'm doomed until my son's sleeping through the night. :) TurboFire -- like all the Beach Body programs, I guess -- is a six day a week thang, and I've definitely been feeling less energized instead of more so, so I'm also wondering if the six-day schedule coupled with the sleep deprivation could be creating a perfect storm that's doing more harm than good. At any rate, thanks, Coach Nicole, for always providing good solid information amidst the frenzy of advice out there in the interweb! Report
Make time for sleep.... yeah right??? Report
I seriously struggle with these concepts, mostly because I spend the majority of my workouts self-talking myself through them, past discomfort and pains (minor mostly) and I have become stronger for it - so how do I know when my body really needs to stop, or when it's just 'whining'? Report
I am learning to listen to my body. Last year I pushed myself too much exercising and ended up on crutches. My bodies pain was telling me to stop and I ignored it. Lesson learned!

Great advice! Report
Thanks so much for sharing this wise advice. I have had to learn to listen to my body and ease up or even just rest when my knees are acting up. Its good hearing from you this is the right thing to do. Report
I work out in the mornings whenever possible. On the morning I don't work out, I find myself feeling a weird tingling energy level that pushes me until I do something, even if it is a walk on my lunch hour! I have gone from "Who, me? Exercise? RRRRRRight ....!" to "Oh yeah -- Let's go!". I love it ... Finding a routine in exercising has been challenging for me because I want to DO everything but don't have the time or knowledge yet ... I'm working on trying more and more new things! One thing I need to be better at is scheduling recovery days. Those are usually an unplanned event but I sure do enjoy them! Report
Thanks for the overview coach Nicole. I love your spark dvds and use them every day. It's a relief to realize that really fit people can know how to monitor their exercise plans to suit . I am new to regular exercise and have been an 'all or nothing' type person. Thanks to spark I'm learning to create realistic goals and habits.Duh. Another lightbulb moment brought to me by the spark. Report
I believe in everything your've said, and while training for half marathons have been trying to remind myself that what I'm working towards is a healthy, balanced life style not the best time, so make it a habit not a job and don't get injured! Many others fro
my clinic are out with injuries and I believe it's because they were listening to the coaches instructions instead of what they're bodies were telling them. Only you can decide what's best for you, Report
I have learned that this is very true! Your body does tell you and you have to learn to tune into it! Report
I schedule in at least one recovery day each week. I find that day allows me to get fitter and gives my body time to rejuvenate. Your article was spot-on! Report
This is a timely reminder. I finally got the message to stay off the sore ankle. Chair exercises are pretty good. I found some sites on YouTube. Report
Read this today. Wow what great timing! After a long cold winter the weather has finally warmed up enough to go out and enjoy it again. So my kids and I have been riding our bikes,taking long walks, rollerbladding, running and cleaning up the yard. We have been having so much fun! But today I got up this morning and felt stiff and sore from my neck down to my calfs. I think tomorrow I will be having a good rest. Thanks for the reminder :-) Report
Right Click, Print ... walk to oldest daughter and hand her the printed copy of this blog to let her see it in print I am not crazy when I say "I am listening to my body and taking it easy" (and she thought I was making this up...crazy 20 year old girl - LOL)

To help me train for the sprint triathlon, I have been going to the 5:00am swim and 5:45am spin class at the gym where my daughter works. But for one week, due to several factors like stress, sleepless nights and just getting older, I opted not to workout those mornings at the gym. She did not understand when I said, in order not to injure myself, I need to listen to my body and it is saying 'not today'. Report
Good article. I so do agree. When I am tired in the morning I just go back to bed,skip my run and go for a nice long walk later in the day when I am rested. We so do need to listen to our bodies. Report