We’re taught to document our fitness progress, be it through weight loss, taking measurements or snapping pictures, but could analysing the changes actually be hindering us? Personal trainer and author Tally Rye thinks so.
I first came across personal trainer Tally Rye a year ago when I took one of her spin classes at spin studio Digme . I came out feeling elated, positive and ready to take on the world. She broke up sprints with words of encouragement and made a point of reminding us we’d chosen to be there, and this time was for us to enjoy, not to punish ourselves. I immediately looked her up on Instagram and saw that she was part of the 'intuitive movement' concept (which I then looked up as well - if it made you feel this good, I wanted more).
Like intuitive eating , intuitive movement is essentially listening to what your body wants. Rather than feeling like you have to go the gym, or need to do a certain exercise, it’s about doing what feels right for your body - going to yoga if you want a bit of headspace, not feeling like you have to do a HIIT class because it's part of some ideal body goal.
“Intuitive movement refers to your body’s innate ability to communicate how, when, how much and how often to move," explains registered nutritionist and intuitive eating counsellor Laura Thomas. "It moves us away from looking at exercising and working out as a means to control our body and towards a way of grounding into and being our body.”
I believe in actually tracking what matters: the physical, tangible progress AND the overall happiness, confidence and wellbeing of each individual
Tally, 29, one third the Girl Gains fitness influencers, grew up believing that exercise was something you did to lose weight or to offset what you ate. It wasn't self-care, it was a necessity, a chore to be endured not enjoyed. She would track her food obsessively and the need to exercise purely to work it off became all-consuming. Being on social media to promote her work didn't help. "Social media had created a fitness body ideal I felt I didn't live up to," she explains in her new book, Train Happy: An Intuitive Exercise Plan for Every Body.
With a photo shoot coming up for her Girl Gains website she dieted for 12 weeks. "When the shoot rolled around my body hadn't really changed and I couldn't help but compare myself to the other girls and feel inferior."
Things clicked when she discovered the book Intuitive Eating £9.03 by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and began to let go of the need to shoehorn herself into somebody else's idea of the perfect body and trust her own instincts. "Their 10 principles have been an integral part of my journey to self-acceptance," she writes. "Subsequently, discovering intuitive movement has also opened up a whole new way of approaching fitness."
Fitness is now an important part of her life and the way she looks after her physical and mental health, but it's no longer punitive. "I look forward to my workouts as a form of self-care... I love food and it no longer has power over me - I don't know what I weigh and I don't care."
A key part of the intuitive movement is losing the focus of how you look on the outside - and you what we love about Tally's book is that she makes exercise truly inclusive. You'll see her exercises demonstrated by all body types. It is the most refreshingly upbeat and can-do fitness guides we have seen. You won't find any 'before and after' progress pictures, so beloved of celebs with workout videos to promote. Indeed according to Tally, pictures like this combined with traditional weighing and measuring serve to reinforce the body beautiful culture that she found so damaging.
Here, she explains why it's time to ditch the scales, put away the iPhone and tear up the tape measure and track your progress the 'weight neutral' way.
Intuitive exercise: why it's time to stop weighing, measuring and taking progress pictures
"Traditionally, diet culture has told us to track progress by stepping on the scales, testing body fat percentages, taking measurements and progress pictures. But this constantly reinforces the idea that exercise is not valid unless you are losing weight and transforming your appearance.
"This is how a lot of the fitness industry operates - in a weight-centric paradigm that considers ‘results’ to be weight loss and fat loss. But we know it’s about so much more than that! You CAN have improvements in fitness, strength, balance and flexibility without the number on the scales changing. What I find most frustrating is that often progress in strength, endurance and stamina are overlooked, because the number of inches or the weight loss seems to bear greater value.
"A person may have gone from being able to do zero press-ups to being able to complete five full bodyweight press-ups, and yet if their weight stays the same, to them it might still feel like a failure! In my eyes, that improvement in strength is the real achievement to be proud of and celebrated. I believe in actually tracking what matters: the physical, tangible progress AND the overall happiness, confidence and wellbeing of each individual."
My 3 'weight-neutral' ways of tracking progress
1. Log your workouts, not your weight
"I choose to log all my PT clients’ workouts in a book, where we write down the exercise completed, the weight used and how many reps. It’s pretty simple, but week-on-week we aim to progress the programmed exercises by increasing weight or rep count. This means we can track progress in strength and each new PB (of any exercise) is celebrated with a high five and a star in the book! The logbooks belong to my clients, so they can update them when they’re not with me too, and look back to see how far they’ve come."
2. Take fitness assessments that focus on your PB
This can include a series of exercises that get tested every four to eight weeks depending on the programming. For example, a generic test may include number of press-ups 'to failure', timed full plank to failure, timed wall-sit until failure and how long it takes to row 500 metres. In the workout guide included in my book, I include a personal best test at weeks five and ten, where you perform the same chosen exercise and aim to improve or match your PB. My hope is that by the end, you'll realise how far you have come and celebrate your improvement, no matter how big or small."
3. Keep a mood diary
"As you start your training, note how you feel in your body, in your mind and in spirit. Perhaps that may be noting how you feel before and after an individual workout. Or maybe it’s journaling about how increases in fitness and strength over time have positively impacted your confidence and self-esteem. It’s just as important to be aware of improvements in happiness and wellbeing, as that is what this is truly all about."
Alternative 'weight-inclusive' fitness goals
Strength: This could be increasing bodyweight strength, for example, completing full press-ups, holding a plank or completing a full pull-up etc. It could also be increasing the amount of weight lifted and/or the number of repetitions for any resistance-based exercise.
Endurance: Within your chosen discipline such as running, rowing, swimming, cycling or hiking etc. see how far you can cover in distance. You could also take into account how long you can maintain a certain pace for over a set distance.
Speed: How quickly can you do something within your chosen discipline – sprint 200 metres? Or row 400 metres? You can also combine speed with strength to focus on power as a fitness goal, and you could think of this in the context of plyometrics, for example, measuring how high or far can you jump?
Balance: You can focus on improving balance in practices such as yoga, with a focus on how long you can hold challenging poses for.
Flexibility: Working on lengthening muscles and improving mobility will increase your flexibility. You may notice improvements in everyday functional movements, or with exercises such as overhead squats, deadlifts or the ability to reach new levels in disciplines such as yoga or Pilates.
Mobility. Increased range of motion is most noticeable in areas such as the ankles, hips, back and shoulders. You can aim for things like increased depth of squats and ease of movement in shoulder press exercises, for example.
Coordination: This is often sport-specific. Think about improving agility and reflexes to become better at your chosen sport, for example, tennis or netball.
Joy: This one doesn’t have a specific target to reach or an event to prepare for, but is an ongoing thing you can feel.
But, plot twist! - you don’t have to have a specific goal if you don’t want one.
I’m well aware that some people thrive off of working towards specific goals and tracking progress and others just enjoy moving their body because it makes them feel good. At different points in our lives, we might have specific goals for personal reasons, such as raising money for a charity or cause close to your heart by training for and running a marathon. But by practising intuitive movement, we can work with our bodies and decide what’s best for ourselves as each new year comes and goes.
Follow Tally on Instagram. This is an edited extract from Train Happy: An Intuitive Exercise Plan for Every Body RRP £14.99 published by Pavilion Books.