Lately there’s been this idea that if you exercise to burn off food, you’re “punishing” yourself.

Equating self-punishment with working out to burn extra calories seems to have originated from plus-size body positive influencers.

It’s reached a point where certainly, some individuals (even those who aren’t overweight) have come to equate running that extra mile, or taking an extra group fitness class, or tacking another five miles onto their mountain bike ride – with “punishing” themselves if it’s done to burn off extra food portions.

Exercising More to Burn Extra Calories Is NOT Punishing Yourself

My take, as a former personal trainer and a lifelong fitness enthusiast, is that it’s punishment ONLY if you let other people convince you that it is.

So then, what IS it when you spend another half hour in the gym because you ate too much at a friend’s BBQ the day before?

It’s tactics. That’s all it is. A tactical approach to weight management.

Don’t let others guilt you into believing that being tactical about weight management is punishment.

Can the Strategic Approach to Working off Calories Be Flawed?

Yes. One day many years ago I overhead a buff young man in the gym’s free-weight area telling another about all the food and beer he’d consumed at a party the night before.

He said that today was going to be “sit-up city.”

The problem here is that sit-ups rank at the bottom for calorie-burning activity.

If he wanted to burn off some of the prior night’s over-indulgence, he should have added a 30-minute session of high intensity interval training on his favorite cardio machine.

Half an hour of HIIT will burn a LOT more calories/fat than will a thousand sit-ups, due to HIIT’s legendary after-burn effect. So if you’re going to tack on some gym time, be smart about it.

Schedule Workouts BEFORE You Pig Out

If you know you’re going to be eating large amounts of food at some event – then schedule a highly intense workout in the hours before the event.

After a strenuous workout, your body is in a state of severe energy deficit.

Incoming calories will be more efficiently used as fuel for muscle RECOVERY in the hours following the workout.

If you want to add an hour of fixed pace hiking to your normal eight hill dashes, then be my guest. This is tactics, not punishment.

Or, if your idea of adding more exercise to counteract anticipated overeating is an extra group fitness class, then go for it, as this environment is fun and motivating for many people.

If you can’t find the opportunity to work out before you overeat, then feel NO guilt or shame in adding something to your next workout — be it a spin class after a step class, or 20 minutes of sled pushing after “chest and shoulders day.”

Simply stick to your usual workout schedule, but feel free to tack on whatever you’re up to doing.

Another example is a few sets each of battle ropes, burpees, kettlebell swings, jump rope and 10 minutes of walking lunges while holding dumbbells — WITHOUT letting strangers on Instagram convince you that you’re punishing yourself.

Additional Ideas for Counteracting Extra Calories

• Focus your strength training on “big” moves that work multiple joints at once, such as the deadlift, back squat, bent-over barbell row, T-bar row, leg press, standing overhead press and bench press.

• Hybrid movements. One example is doing squats while holding dumbbells in each hand at your shoulders, then pressing them overhead when you rise. Another example is adding an overhead press of a 25 pound plate to your walking lunges.

• Taking an extra class: Zumba, boot camp, cardio kickboxing.

JUST DO IT without feeling that you’re punishing yourself. Remember, it’s tactics!

In a society where people spend entirely too much time in a chair, it’s really silly to think that extra exercise is a form of punishment – even if it’s done to “undo” overeating.

lorra garrick

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building and fitness.