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woman doing press up - fitness is not a punishment

Stop using fitness as a punishment

Exercise should not be a burden. Nor should it be something motivated by guilt or shame. There’s a huge assumption nowadays that workouts need to be driven by a desire to transform oneself. Everywhere you look you see before/after photos, amazing appetite suppressing confectionary, magical cures that will make you “better”. 

It’s portrayed as if once you lose weight, tone up, get fit, you’ll then be happier. But you have to earn this privilege. Chasing this dream is super restrictive, and actually fitness becomes something that controls your life rather than adding value to it. 


Fitness is not a punishment.

If you’ve ever thought ‘I ate too much this weekend, I need to work out twice as much’ you are in very good company. The concept of food as a reward for good behaviour and exercise as a punishment is commonplace. 

Even if you think back to school – the losing team has to do 10 push ups, 2 laps of the field, and give a pound of flesh. Fitness was and is used to motivate good behaviour and winning. It’s an extrinsic form of motivation. Extrinsic meaning something external, in this circumstance an outside influence instead of personal desire or drive. 

This sort of mind frame puts the emphasis simply on results as a measure of success. In the long-term, extrinsic motivators don’t last. Yes of course working out frequently and well will help build muscle, tone your body, keep excess fat at bay, but this shouldn’t necessarily be the main focus. An internal motivator most often leads to long-term fitness success. 

Cast your mind back, I’m sure you or your friends and family have announced “it’s time to get in shape!”, exercised for many a month, and then fallen back into old habits. 

I certainly have. For some people, it 100% works. Although generally speaking, this puts fitness as more of a means to an end, when actually exercise and wellbeing can be so much more than that. If we begin to think of it as a way to add value to our lifestyle, it’s easier to develop a drive to develop and improve week on week.


Development, more than anything, is success.

This is because it helps to grow your own sense of worth. Being shamed into exercising may seem like a great source of motivation, but it’s the complete antithesis of self-worth.

We also do not need to feel guilty for eating. Exercise and food often go hand in hand so I’m lumping them together here. We aren’t condoning wild weekend binges, but FUN FACT we do actually have to eat in order to survive. 

When we treat fitness as a punishment for overindulging, we are effectively shaming our own behaviour.

If you are exercising to the best of your ability – be that as often as fits in your schedule, as high an intensity as your body allows – then you are already successful. Your improvement is a measure of your success. Running further or longer, lifting heavier weights, holding a plank for 10 more seconds – these are all hugely impressive personal achievements. 


How can we beat this cycle?

Reward yourself differently! Buy new gym gear, get a sports massage. If you want something to quantify your progress, get a smart watch that tracks your hard work. 

This will actually help to create positive change in your life. By associating exercise with something tangible but not necessarily edible, you start celebrating your fitness victories in a way that doesn’t make you feel guilty. 

No matter size or ability, fitness is not a punishment. We do not have to earn our supper with burpees, burn off that cupcake with cardio, or put ourselves through a gruelling workout as penitence. What we do deserve is to live well and seek our full potential. If we choose to focus on the positive things that moving more offers, we’ll be hooked.

Work out because you want to, not because you have to, and enjoy all that your body can do. 

Need some extra help? Head over to the Auro Facebook group. We’ve got a whole community there sharing tips and advice on their own fitness experiences, so you don’t have to feel like you’re alone in your health journey.