How to Listen To Your Body

Struggling to find a balance with fitness? Here’s how to learn to listen to your body and enjoy exercise in a healthy way.

listen to your body
Photo Credit Kuroda Studios

Have you ever had one of those days where you were tired? You started a workout, but then felt heavy, exhausted, and needed to rest?

I have those days. I get excited to sweat, but just don’t seem to have any gas in the tank. My mind feels tired, my legs are like lead, and my body is asking for rest. So I listen, call the workout, and stop.

I wasn’t always like this. Growing up in a strict school of ballet I was taught the “no pain no gain” philosophy. Self-sacrifice, self-discipline, and “pushing through pain” was celebrated. You were a good dancer if you gave your all, no matter what, all of the time. No days off.

My life moved on from dance, but it took me a long time to change this mindset. There was never a specific moment that changed things for me, that turned me from self-sacrificing to self-loving. I just started to evolve over time. I learned many hard lessons. I began to see how pushing through the pain wasn’t actually helping, but rather hurting my fitness goals long term. I changed the way I viewed exercise and training. It wasn’t something to “be good at” or “win”. It didn’t have to hurt or leave me drained. It could actually make me feel strong, confident, energized, and balanced. It could enhance the quality of my life – if I chose to listen and train smart. So I learned to listen to my body. I developed my fitness plan that met my needs, preferences, and energy levels. I found a way of exercising that made me feel happy, healthy, and whole, all because I took the time to listen and figure out what that felt like.

Being a wellness coach, I work to help others find balance. And I can honestly say that today I practice what I preach. Now I train with a self-compassionate mind, a training regimen I would prescribe to a loved one. It’s always a work in progress and my body changes all the time. Every day is an invitation to choose to check in, listen, and find a healthy challenge. One that makes me feel amazing.

I believe exercise is one of the most powerful ingredients in having energy and living a healthy life. The hard part is figuring out when enough is enough and when it’s just too much. The good news? Your body is SMART. You just need to train your brain to recognize the signs for when to put the pedal to the metal and when to pump the brakes—and actually do it.

Here are my thoughts on how to learn to listen to your body and enjoy exercise in a healthy way.

How to Listen To Your Body

Check YoSelf before You Wreck YoSelf. We move so fast these days and follow our busy schedules from start to finish. It’s rare that we take the time to slow down to notice how we are feeling or if our plans are in-line with what we need. Every day is an opportunity to pay attention. Before exercising, take a few moments to do a mindful check-in to get in touch with your body and mind.  How does your body feel? How is your energy? How is your mood? Notice where you might be storing stress, tension, or emotion. With all this in mind, what kind of exercise is right for you that day? Do you need a hard cardio workout to burn off stress? A strength workout to feel grounded? Some functional movement to address muscular imbalances? A few exercises to boost your energy? A yoga workout to stretch out tight hamstrings? By noticing how your body and mind feels in the moment, you can move forward in choosing a workout that meets your needs.

Give it 20 Minutes. If you are feeling tired and are not quite sure if you should or should not workout, give it 20 minutes. Start slow, ease into it, and check in with how you feel. Sometimes a workout can completely transform your energy and turn you from sleepy to energizer bunny. And sometimes it doesn’t work that way. It’s always worth getting moving for 10-20 minutes to see how it goes. If you feel good and end up exercising for more time, then great. If not, at least you got some movement and found out how your body felt. It’s always worth it to try a few minutes and check in with your physical self.

Be Mindful of the Fitness that surrounds you. Those “motivational” quotes that tell you “Unless you puke, faint, or pass out keep going”? Yea thats just plain stupid. That’s not motivating, that’s body shaming. Those types of mantras will end up hurting you mentally, physically, or both. Get away from that sh*t. Also be a conscious consumer of what fitness classes, instructors, and groups you choose to be around. If a class or an instructor ever makes you feel pressured to push or compromise your health for “conquering” a workout, it’s probably not a healthy source of fitness support. There are plenty of fitness classes and coaches that can help you challenge yourself in a positive way, so if you haven’t found them yet, keep looking. You should feel encouraged to listen to your body and supported in doing what you need to do to be strong.

If it hurts, stop. This seems really straightforward but I can’t tell you how many people I know who push through the pain. If you feel sharp pain or discomfort during any type of workout, don’t keep going. Doing so can result in serious injury that will sideline you for a long time—talk about frustrating! Pain signs are not hard to recognize, they HURT. Be smart and listen to your body if it’s telling you to slow down or stop.

If you feel tired, do less. I love hard workouts, but I definitely don’t do maximal, high-intensity workouts every single day of the week. In fact, I usually let my energy levels and body awareness dictate how hard I work. While I love to go fast and do a million burpees, some days I head into the gym for a workout and my body feels low on energy. I take that as a sign that I need to go easier that day. I’ll slow down, ignore my pace, do a little bit of feel good movement, or focus on recovery foam rolling. Using this strategy allows you to take care of yourself, stay active, and make fitness a habit, but without overdoing it.

What would you tell a friend to do? Would you tell a client or friend to train the way you do? If the answer is no, you might want to re-think how you workout. Exercise is supposed to help you not hurt you. Would you tell a friend with achilles tendonitis to go run a hard 6 miles? Or someone who pulled their lower back to toughen up and do their workout anyways? Probably not. But would you encourage a friend who’s feeling down to join run club? Or tell your stressed out colleague to go to yoga? Or suggest some fresh air and a walk outside when your friend is feeling tired? I would too. Sometimes we take better care of others than we do of ourselves. When you are not sure how hard to push or whether or not you should do a workout, think about what you would tell someone you care about to do. Then listen to your own advice.

The younger version of me would have felt guilty for stopping a workout early. Old dance mantras and “fitspiration” quotes would run around circles in my head. I would have continued to workout. I would have pushed past the fatigue. I would have seen “conquering” a tired day as a win.

But today I know better. I know to listen.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for challenging yourself to be your best. But there’s a line between healthy challenge and just not smart. Your body is the only place you have to live and it deserves to be respected. Learning to listen to your body may be one of the best things you ever choose to do. There’s no quote or class out there that can teach you how to find the right balance between push and recover. It’s on you. But the beautiful thing is every day is an opportunity to check in with yourself and choose to do what YOU need to do to feel your best. This process of listening, honoring, and giving to yourself will allow you to find your strongest self, inside and out.  

Do you listen to your body when it comes to planning, modifying, or sometimes skipping workouts? Does this habit work for you? Let me know in the comments below.

I wish for you the wisdom to listen, the strength to find your own challenge, and the courage to do what YOU need to do to be well.

Here’s to you my friend, listening to yourself and living a feel good life.


Want to build a balanced body? Check out my book, Balanced Body Breakthrough and get your mind, body, and spirit in great shape so you can love your life.

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4 Replies to “How to Listen To Your Body”

  1. Caroline,
    This was such an inspiring article for me to read because I am a trainee at Boston Ballet and I broke my foot this summer. So I have been out for a while and your website has helped me feel like I can make it through! Thank you so much.

  2. As a fitness instructor and participant, I also find it hard to heed my own advice. I also know plenty of instructors that coach all or nothing for their participants:( I try to coach differently and always try to remember to ask my participants as you suggested to check in with their body and see how they are feeing in that moment. Great article

  3. Wow Caroline. You always seem to come up with a relevant point – as I’m thinking about it. If I’m honest, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.
    I push myself in every single way, every day. I always have. I’m almost famous for it. So you’ll understand that this is a very hard lesson for me to learn, but I have a feeling it will be the best thing I ever did.
    As I rapidly approach ‘burn out’, I have no choice really. Your words (excellently put together I might add) echo precisely what I am thinking and what other people are saying to me.
    I , like you was brought up on ballet, but I didn’t need anyone to tell me to work harder and harder… I just did it.
    At the age of 57 I’m still doing it. In my exercise, my work, my sleep (or lack thereof). Blimey, do I need this kick up the proverbial!
    My health is starting to suffer now. Sometimes my heart, lungs, whatever it is are stopping me from doing exercise altogether. I am finally being forced to slow right down. I think this is the first time I’ve actually asked myself the question before attempting anything “Are you really up to this – ARE YOU?” And the thing is, if I take a rest day (this would have been an unconscionable action at one time – I simply would have pushed myself through it). I can’t do that any more – I have coughing fits and cannot breathe -full stop.
    Now, after a rest day, and after I’ve asked myself the essential question I do my exercise and I actually feel better for it! It’s as if it’s the first time ever that I’m doing it for me, and not someone else, or for that constant voice in my head that says “Do this or you’ll regret it!” Shame I had to have a failing health wake-up call to take action.
    This is why I’m so glad that you have come to that place before I did. It can be done. You are incredibly wise and I am incredibly grateful for you Caroline. Truly. Truly grateful. You have given so much of yourself. Just think, if I hadn’t broken my ankle and finally sought inspiration for an exercise programme, I would never have found you.
    You are part of my life every day. So, apart from my complete rest days, there is always something of yours that I can do. Actually, scrub that. There is something of yours I can do, even on rest days – Your meditation is wonderful and I actually slept after it. Keep going girl. You. Are. Amazing.

  4. I needed to hear this. I’ve always been a push through the pain kind of workout person, and that has hurt more than helped over the years… but my inner coach has always been pretty merciless. Only recently have I begun to see the wisdom of not seeing the act of listening to my body as a weakness. Continuing to push even though I needed rest to recover from an injury just made that recovery take longer… but the younger me was a very stubborn person. We can do so much more if we give ourselves the right things at the right times… and that extends to recovery, rest, and less intense workouts. Pushing through pain isn’t just unwise, it’s counterproductive. I just wish there were more motivational posters and sayings that reminded me of that wisdom so I could more easily correct that stubborn internal voice that tends to give poor advice. Great article! 👍

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