I often work with women whose main disruption to having a healthy relationship with movement is their belief that movement does not “count” if they don’t feel utterly depleted and pummeled at the end of every workout. While we don’t hear many people saying “no pain, no gain” outwardly anymore, that philosophy has unfortunately been internalized by so many folks. Few of my clients would say they support the concept of “no pain, no gain” but they have internalized the belief that movement should feel punishing. Punishing exercise is deeply unsustainable as it encourages over-training and thus, often leads to injury.
The progressive overload principle (or progression and overload principles) of fitness is the basis for the “no pain, no gain” concept. This principle is evidence-based and thus, “true.” Our bodies adapt to the stimuli they encounter. If we want our bodies to change, stimuli have to change. But it’s important to understand that this simple and even – in its purest form -- gentle, concept was twisted into an extreme method for manipulating and modifying the body into submission to Diet Culture’s beauty norms.
A more body-positive slogan that has arisen from the same principle as “no pain, no gain” is “change happens outside your comfort zone.” Though they arise from the same place, “change happens outside your comfort zone” is a useful phrase that can be adapted for our use in weight-neutral movement practices.
In weight-neutral fitness, our focus is never on changing the body’s weight or actively attempting to make the body smaller or larger (because there is no evidence that supports there is any way to do this both effectively and sustainably over a long period of time but there IS evidence that doing so causes stigma, disorder and oppression)… but removing that one possible focus for change still leaves the possibility for multiple adaptations.
And, yes, all of these adaptations happen when we progress our training to a place that’s beyond our comfort zone. But neither punishing exercise nor pain are necessary to step outside of your comfort zone.
Consistently stepping even the tiniest bit outside of our comfort zone will lead to adaptations. I have started to develop a framework for my work with clients who want to train toward adaptations safely, sustainably and from a weight-neutral perspective. I call it “The AIM” (Adaptation-Inspired Movement). Within this framework, we make distinctions between various training thresholds and work to keep clients in the vast sweet spot between their comfort zone and the “no pain, no gain”-land of punishing exercise. In this space, clients are encouraged to create safe and sustainable approaches to movement that work best for them. Best of all, they are encouraged to do this in a way that ultimately, feels good – even if it does feel challenging or, from time to time, slightly uncomfortable.
It is vitally important to note here that many folks are not training in order to encourage adaptations in their body. There are numerous reasons for this but the one that is most important to me, as a weight neutral health coach and personal trainer, is that many clients with difficult relationships to movement who are attempting to redefine “health” outside of diet culture and obsession with weight or physical appearance need time away from the “results-driven” type of movement they have either been doing or have been influenced by for many years. Many weight-neutral training clients just need time to rediscover movement from a joyful perspective rooted in body kindness and body trust. And, the time that is needed for this exploration is different for everyone. So, while I am excited to be developing The AIM for those clients for whom it is useful, it is certainly not – and should not be -- the target of every client’s training.
Safe, sustainable, joyful movement is a birthright. The reality that diet culture steals safe, sustainable, joyful movement from so many of us – and from so many of my clients -- is a point of both deep anger and grief for me. My primary goal with each of my training clients is for them to explore and rediscover movement in a way that restores their birthright and allows them to reclaim their body. For some, this reclamation will include eventually wanting the body to develop beneficial adaptations and for these clients, I offer the AIM.
Weight-neutral personal training is a healthier choice than sticking with a punishing exercise regimen. If you are looking for a way to rediscover joyful movement and redefine "health" outside of diet culture, book a discovery call with me today and let's explore the possibilities together!
About JodiAnn Stevenson
JodiAnn Stevenson lives in the U.S., in the Northwest Corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, on The Big Lake. Her writing has appeared in numerous venues since 1996. She is the author of three published chapbooks of poetry: The Procedure (March Street Press, 2006); Houses Don’t Float (Habernicht Press, 2010); and Diving Headlong Into A Cliff of Our Own Delusion (Saucebox, 2011). Her mixed-genre work Marina Abramovic Is My Mother is available in the form of a short-run podcast. She has also produced eight chapbooks of poetry for The Broken Nose Collective which she co-founded in 2013. JodiAnn was founder and co-managing editor of the feminist micro-press, Binge Press and its sister journal, 27 rue de fleures, from 2004 until 2017.
A (more or less) complete list of publications and appearances: