What Happens When You Stop Exercising (Intensely)

the day I participated in my first ever race

I have been a longtime member of the Tone it Up fitness community.  The Tone it Up girls, Karena and Katrina, put together workouts, a weekly schedule, and structure it to help women achieve fit and strong, bikini-ready bodies.  I actually found their workouts during their 2015 Bikini Series.  I really enjoy them but a persistent health concern required me to take a step back.  So, I had been following their daily workouts for a while but, in January 2017, I decided to take a break from exercise altogether.

At the time, Tone it Up had an exciting 6 week workout challenge happening.  I was also doing a Yoga Revolution challenge from Yoga with Adriene.  Tone it Up involves heart-pumping workouts, weights, cardio, and more.  While I did decide to take a clean break from Tone it Up, I did keep up with the yoga challenge.  My intention was to finish the month-long yoga challenge and then stop that, too.  Along the way I fell in love with yoga and I felt that the light movements helped put my mind and body at ease.  I touch on that a bit more later.

Basically, there were a couple of things that I did notice throughout the time I was not doing intense workouts:

The change in routine sucks

The first week of not exercising intensely was tough.  I was used to waking up each morning, strapping on my sneakers, and turning on a workout video.  My workout would usually last about an hour, then I’d top it off with around half an hour of yoga.  My muscles would be warm and yoga would help cool me down and stretch out my muscles.

As someone who enjoyed lifting weights and feeling that cardio high, it was something I did not want to give up.  Admittedly, I used to go about my day with a total body soreness that would not leave.  I would feel proud of each of my workout accomplishments but the persistent pain in my upper back was something I started to learn to live with. That pain completely went away two weeks after I stopped my intense exercise routine.  I still kept up with yoga which, at this time, became my sole workout.  My body began to crave yoga as a time to move and other simple activities like walking were pleasant.

You want to find that “high” somewhere else

I made sure not to let myself get obsessive and stack on several yoga videos just to make a “good workout”.  I would follow one video a day and have that be it.  The Yoga with Adriene videos that I followed (and still follow) are varied lengths but each one is fulfilling on its own.  It came to a point where I wasn’t looking to stay limber or fit from yoga but actually tuned in for some self-loving spirituality.  Though, that isn’t what this post is about.  So, let’s just say that it had a beneficial impact on my mind, body, and spirit—particularly at a time when I felt sad about giving up my previous workout regimen.

Muscles don’t just disappear

Over the course of a year with Tone it Up, I built up some pretty cute biceps that I am happy to show off in a sleeveless top.  I was genuinely scared that I would start feeling like a noodle (and looking like one, too) but my muscles have not abandoned me.  Perhaps, they are not growing like they would when I was challenging them with dumbbells but they get used in everyday activities.  I use them in downward dogs and planks in yoga, carrying grocery bags, and opening those really tight lids on jars.  In all seriousness, you can maintain a certain level of strength off of body-weight exercises and household chores.  It isn’t going to help you win a body building contest but it is good enough for me.

nutritious food doesn't need to be boring
kale salad with miso tahini dressing, lentils, roasted brussels sprouts + red onions, and chopped almonds.

Nutrition is crucial to wellness

At one time, I had the mentality that I was only working out so that I could afford to eat the sweets and desserts that I loved.  I would do some extra cardio just so I knew I burned enough calories to make that slice of cake after dinner well-deserved.  I was in a messed up place as far as my education on proper nutrition.

Thankfully, since switching to a mostly plant-based diet in fall of last year, I value everything that goes into my body.  I make healthy meals and snacks for myself, not because I’m trying to diet but, because I feel good when I fuel myself with nutritious food.  Meals filled with wholesome ingredients have kept me thriving.

I do not feel like a part of my routine is missing when I’m not participating in the kinds of workouts that I used to because my natural energy is usually pretty darn great thanks to my lifestyle choices.  I do appreciate the addition of higher intensity workouts and weight-lifting but it isn’t crucial to my well-being.  It has taken a long time for me to come to that conclusion.  I felt uncomfortable without exercise but it can be done.  I’ve survived!

So, if ever you feel like beating yourself up over missing a workout or even desire a break—you will be fine!  If you value your health, you will make decisions that align with your goals for overall wellness.  There’s different ways to approach that but I’m here to say exercise isn’t the only way.


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