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Rational fitness makes exercise inclusive and accessible

After surviving decades of diet culture dominating the start of the year, this January is shaping up a little differently. Finally, the new year is becoming more about listening to our bodies than crash dieting and brutal HIIT camps. From knowing how much sleep we need to boosting our nutrition, intuition is high on the 2023 agenda.

And that also means a more holistic approach to fitness is on the cards, which is where rational fitness comes in.

“Rational fitness is a movement which encourages people to focus on workouts that feel good, rather than being preoccupied with the metrics,” explains David Wiener, a training and nutrition specialist at Freeletics. “It’s more about exercising for enjoyment and for all of the benefits it can bring, rather than using exercise as a punishment or chore.”

Here are the top five things you need to know. 

What is rational fitness?

“Rational fitness is all about getting people to enjoy the activities they are engaging in,” explains personal trainer Paige Verity Davis. “For example, if you don’t like to run, don’t run – simply find an alternative method that will light your fire. It’s all about finding your passion, something that will excite you and keep you motivated. From a mental health perspective this is an ideal solution, as it removes the pressure of doing something you don’t enjoy, and then getting bored and giving up.”

If you’re just not into spending hours on a treadmill or step machine, you might want to try a strength session or a dance class might be more up your street. “All movement counts with rational fitness, so any way you’re moving is beneficial,” advises Wiener. “It could be a walk with friends, a beginners fitness class, exploring your local area – you name it, it all counts.”

And therein lies the beauty of rational fitness – there are no rules. It’s simply you and what feels good for your body. No fitness trackers, counting steps or calories – it’s fitness, but without the tech. 

Can anyone do it?

It’s the gift that keeps on giving: literally anyone can give rational fitness a go. Many of us can feel boxed out of the wellness and exercise space by virtue of aesthetics, income or physicality. The very essence of rational fitness is that it’s inclusive and open to everyone.

Intuitive movement fitness coach and author Tally Rye is passionate about how rational fitness works. “Rational or intuitive movement reconnects you with your body. You are moving on your own terms; it’s not about finding the newest, coolest workout. It’s about having a good relationship with movement as part of a holistic approach to fitness which is respectful and mindful,” she tells Stylist

And, unlike most fitness fads, it doesn’t have to be complicated. “Our bodies are smart, and generally, they know what we need to thrive as individuals,” says Rye. “Once we start to challenge our inner bias around exercise and listen to what our bodies actually need and want, we’ve taken a huge step towards a healthier, more intuitive and consistent regime that is way more beneficial to us than forcing ourselves to do something we don’t enjoy.”

Rye says something as simple as walking your dog every day can be a great start. “Take a moment to think about what you really want to gain from your exercise. Once you’re clear on this, you can slowly start to bring movement and consistency in. It’s not about fads and phases – longevity is key here.”

Should I give it a go?

“This approach is perfect for the everyday person,” reassures Davis. “I have seen that rational fitness is the mindset a lot of people are naturally starting to engage with now, especially after lockdown where we had to suddenly put rational fitness into practice with gyms closed.

“Even as life gets back to being hectic, rational fitness really is suitable for everyone, because it doesn’t mean hours on the treadmill – it can be as simple as playing fetch with your dog or pushing your children on the swings in the playground.”

What are the benefits?

The experts all endorse rational fitness an excellent way to begin building movement into our lives and bodies.

“I believe that rational fitness is a fantastic mindset to engage in when exercising,” enthuses Davis. “A lot of people get fixated and focused on the calories they burn, competing with the person next to them or what their smartwatch says, which can take the fun out of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and can lead to an unhealthy mindset around exercise.”

“The benefits of a healthy relationship with exercise are truly endless,” Wiener raves. “Finding movement which you enjoy, and which makes you feel good, is the key to sustainability and creating a long-term relationship with fitness, as well as healthy habits. The benefits of movement include a more stable mood, increased ability to deal with stress, better sleep, less injury and enhanced fitness levels, as well as improving bone health, bone density and extending life span.”

How can we incorporate it into a workout regime?

It’s pretty easy to get into. “Rather than thinking about intuitive movement as something radical and different, it’s a way of building another option into the wellness space,” explains Rye. “Ultimately, we want people to engage more with fitness, and traditionally, lots of people are put off by thinking that working out has to be punishing and tough. This approach is about being curious and forward-thinking; everyone is entitled to work out how they want to. This is just building another option into that space.”

Simply changing the language we’re using around fitness can help shift our mindset away from the traditional feelings of failure and shame that many of us experience if we fall short of overly onerous workout goals. “Rather than giving up and thinking ‘What’s the point?’, rational fitness thinking allows us to break the cycle of shame and train in a happy, fluid way,” says Rye.

“Switching the narrative and simply using the term ‘rational fitness’ could help you to adopt the mindset that your workout our minds should serve you rather than you serving your workouts. Build your own movement plan around things you enjoy and praise your body for what it can do rather than what it can’t yet,” agrees Wiener.

Now there’s a mindset we can all get on board with. 

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