Women exercising in class

What is intuitive movement? The 9 principles of intuitive exercise you should know

Posted by for Strength

Intuitive exercise principles are set to be huge in 2021, but what is the intuitive movement?

Tally Rye has made it her mission to spread the message of sustainable, inclusive and, most importantly, enjoyable exercise far and wide. She’s done a pretty good job so far, writing a book, Train Happy, on the concept and sharing her health first fitness attitude to over 100,000 followers on social media. 

Her MO is that we should be tapping into our brains and our bodies rather than society’s rules: “The goal of intuitive movement is to rebuild trust with your body that has been eroded by diet culture,” says the trainer and member of the Strong Women Collective.

It all began for her after finding out about intuitive eating, learning how to fuel ourselves by getting rid of diet culture. “I was really interested in how those principles apply to how we relate to exercise, so that’s what I did in my book,” Tally explains.

Because the two are intrinsically linked. Both food and exercise are so often touted as things that we should feel guilty about, when actually eating and training should be things that bring joy to our lives.

If ditching diet culture and learning to trust your body sounds like something you want to try (who wouldn’t?), Tally has shared the nine principles that you can apply to your workouts, exercise routine and lifestyle. 

Reject the diet mentality

“This is the most foundational principle in both intuitive eating and intuitive exercise,” says Tally, who explains that it’s about making a conscious decision to step away from the idea that exercise is just a tool to change the way we look and decide that exercise “is going to be a tool of self-care and make us feel good”. This isn’t without difficulty, of course. But following non-diet trainers and brands on social (like Tally and Strong Women) and reading about how insidious diet culture is so you learn to recognise it is a good place to start.

Honour your appetite for exercise

In the same way that we should recognise when and how much we need to eat, this is about discovering when and how much we should move. “Think about what intensity, what duration, what type of movement you would like to do,” Tally says. 

This will take a while to come to, especially if you’re used to following a plan that see’s you doing HIIT when you have no energy or yoga when you’re bouncing off the walls because that’s what’s written down. But start to pay attention to the sensation of your body, says Tally, and you can get there. 

Tally Rye
Strong Women Collective: Tally Rye

Stop when satisfied

When you’ve decided what type of exercise to do, the key thing is knowing when to stop. In the same way that overeating feels awful, so does overtraining to a point of exhaustation or even injury. You don’t need to do one more rep just because the person shouting at the front of the class tells you that you do, for example.  

Make peace with exercise

“What we’re trying to say here is that all exercise is morally equivalent,” says Tally. “Like people wrongly label foods ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’, in fitness we have ‘good’ types of exercises that we equate with having an effect on our aesthetics and those that don’t ‘count’ as a workout because they don’t make us sweaty,” says Tally. Instead, she suggests neutralising all movement: “There’s no perfect way to exercise. The best way to exercise is the way that you like to exercise and ultimately trying to get people to find things they like doing that are sustainable for the long term.”

Challenge the fitness police

The fitness police are those who make you feel like you need to do more, go further, push harder in order to be accepted by society. But, we can challenge them, says Tally: “You need to trust that you know your body best and you know when you can push yourself and when you need to take a moment to breathe. I think this is about empowering people to make their own choices.”

However, it’s important to recognise that often the fitness police are in your own head. It’s important to call yourself out on the pressure you’re putting on yourself or other people too.

Repeat after us: exercise is not punishment. “Exercise is about finding joy, achievement, purpose, community, confidence, physical stamina, emotional stamina and resilience,” says Tally. “When we shift the intention of exercise to one of those things, we discover how good we can feel.”

Managing your emotions

Exercise shouldn’t always be your go to when you want to feel good, says Tally. “Exercise can be a tool to help you cope with life, but it shouldn’t be the only tool,” she adds. So while exercise is great for our mental health and happiness, relying on exercise to make you feel a certain way isn’t a healthy habit.

Accept your body

“Fitness is not just for slim people or people who are trying to be slim. People can engage with fitness in the body they have right now,” says Tally. So, rather than comparing ourselves to unrealistic standards, believing that you have to have a six pack before you begin exercising (which is surely impossible anyway, right?) instead show acceptance for your body by respecting it enough to do something amazing for it, appreciate it for what it can do right now and find compassion for yourself. Without this step, you won’t be able to work out how, when and why you’re moving at all.

Gentle guidance

Intuitive movement doesn’t mean throwing every single plan out of the window, Tally says. For example, you could get to a point where you’ve worked through your relationship with movement and then decide to train for marathon, which Tally says is not very safe to do intuitively. “You can start thinking about bringing back in structure that works for you. So that might be completing your big runs for the week and then giving yourself a session that’s just for you, like a dance class, so you’re not just getting bogged down in the running and you’re finding a way to keep movement fun.”

It’s important to note that this principle is saved for last. “If you feel that your relationship with exercise hasn’t been intuitive and it’s been very much all or nothing then you might have to take away the ‘all’ for now, especially for those who’ve been in a very structured routine and they’re trying to find the trust with themselves,” Tally says. 

It may sound like a lot of work, but the point of intuitive movement is that you are able to go slow and forgive your mistakes. We doubt you’ll regret trying to implement this freedom into your routine. 

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).