How To Inject Childlike Joy Into Your Workouts, and Why One Celeb Trainer Recommends Doing So

Photo: Loreen Sarkis; Graphic: W+G Creative
Sponsored by Nature Made
Hustle culture has us working harder and longer—and it’s taking a toll on our health. But research shows that even short breaks during the day can spell big health benefits. So go ahead and give yourself a break (literally); Wellness Recess will provide you with the inspo you need to add more balance— and fun—to your day.

No matter your fitness level or the role working out plays in your life, everyone can stand to benefit from adding a level of fun into their workouts. Science agrees: Doing something that you enjoy or otherwise value is helpful for building a habit, meaning that you're more likely to stick to your exercise routine when you think it's fun. For that reason, celebrity trainer and health coach Jeanette Jenkins believes in the power of joyful exercise.

"I just like for people to sometimes not think about [having to] achieve a certain measurement or any other specific goal other than just pure joy. Sometimes we underestimate the value that joy brings to our life,” says Jenkins, who recently led Well+Good’s Wellness Recess Remix Workout, sponsored by Nature Made—a workout she designed to mimic games from childhood recess breaks during school. “Sometimes people just have to think, Who cares how many calories it's going to burn? Or if it's for strength training, or if it's for cardio, or for flexibility. Just go have some fun," she says. After all, just exercising for the sake of it stands to benefit your mind and body.

To facilitate joyful exercise, Jenkins often has her clients emulate sports moves like volleyball digs (which serve as squats), foot shuffles for cardio, and volleyball spikes (which function as plyometric jumps). In general, she suggests that everyone tailors their recess-inspired workouts to their personal interests from childhood. “Many people get into fitness because they originally started playing sports as kids,” says Jenkins. “They loved playing soccer, or different team sports, or even individual sports, but it was that fun element” that’s now associated with the positive memories.

“Many people get into fitness because they originally started playing sports as kids…it was that fun element.” —Jeanette Jenkins, celebrity trainer

What's great about this approach is that even if you're playing just for fun, you'll still reap the health benefits of exercising. “You still get an elevated heart rate. We still get to decrease your risk of heart disease. We still get the strength and the conditioning moves,” Jenkins says.

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But, in order to reap the full well-being benefits you stand to glean from working out joyfully, you first need to identify what activities actually make you happy, because, as Jenkins points out, that will differ from person to person. For example, I love to dance, so a dance-based workout is likely to keep me happy, moving, and boosting my well-being—whether I notice that I'm actually exercising or not. On the other hand, someone else’s worst nightmare might be dancing, so a dance-cardio workout is likely not aligned with their idea of joyful exercise. “Try to define what joy is for you, and then make sure you add those elements into your workout for no apparent reason other than because you enjoy them,” says Jenkins.

If you aren’t entirely sure which exercises would bring you joy, Jenkins encourages you to “be open to allowing yourself to try some new things and allow yourself to be a beginner.” By exercising in this way, “you're not doing it for the purpose of ‘I want to strengthen and tone my body’—you're doing it for the purpose to have fun and play the game,” Jenkins says. This mindset shift can help you stick to a routine because you’re no longer dreading a workout as you may have previously, but are rather looking forward to having fun.

To extend the power of joy to the full extent of exercises, Jenkins tends to end her workouts by encouraging clients to smile. “When you leave [the workout] and you feel good, you're much more invigorated [and apt] to inject that joy and positive energy into the other areas of your life.”

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