Since when does a hard workout mean you’re punishing yourself for how you’ve been eating?

You should never feel guilty for exercising like a warrior and dripping with sweat.

Hard exercise for fitness? Or to punish yourself?

Some influencers on Instagram discourage scheduled or intense workouts because they believe these automatically equate to “punishment.”

A Hard, Intense Workout Can Soothe the Soul

Women can be tough! They have a right to be strong! The self-love movement should NOT deny what a woman is capable of.

When a workout is called “punishing,” this refers to intensity level, not the reason for the intensity level.

Pullups are a great exercise for women!

As a fitness writer I’ve used the following words to describe very intense workouts:

• Punishing
• Grueling
• Strenuous
• Hardcore
• Kickass
• Like a warrior
• Killing it
• Attack
• Pummeling

If you want to exercise in a way that you’d describe as punishing, then GO FOR IT, WARRIOR! This does not mean you lack self-love.


Training your body to become resilient, fit and capable of lifting heavy weights, running fast, jumping and leaping means you love your body enough to make it this way!

Most women (and men) who have a kickass fitness regimen are not doing so to punish themselves for eating pizza or a whole bag of miniature Snickers.

Serious exercise/fitness enthusiasts adhere to a program. That program doesn’t change just because they gulped down two pounds of macaroni and cheese the day before.

For instance, if I wolf down a whole loaf of my mother’s legendary homemade bread at one sitting, this doesn’t change my scheduled gym routine the following day.

I am not punishing myself by picking up a barbell or getting out of breath.

Regardless of what I’ve eaten, I’m STILL going to do a 5 x 5 RM of the deadlift — which leaves me feeling hammered at the end.

I do this out of self-love, not out of punishment! Doesn’t matter if I ate a whole loaf of bread or ate only green salads.

What about women who DO spend tons of time on cardio equipment to “work off” extra calories?


Many self-love influencers consider this to be a sign of obsession, poor body image or some other mental health issue.

But exercise, when done safely, is significantly better for the body than is loafing for three hours in front of a TV watching the dysfunction of various families or some semi-scripted reality program.

Though exercise can become an obsession — including for individuals who aren’t trying to lose weight or work off calories — there is nothing wrong with spending extra time on equipment to oppose extra calories.

An occasional 90 minutes on the elliptical trainer to offset food intake is not the same as three hours every day on this machine.

There are those who will tack 45 minutes onto what would normally be a 30 minute jog — to work off the ice cream. This doesn’t mean obsession or lousy body image.

People may also take back-to-back group fitness classes to offset extra food. This is not punishment.

People who do this may not even feel as though it’s punishment. I’ve done this in the past – extra time on a cardio machine.

And believe me, I never felt like I was punishing myself or not loving myself. Instead, I felt tactical and strategic.

You are not punishing yourself by “working off” extra calories. As long as you do things within reason.

I knew of a woman years ago who spent an hour every morning on the revolving staircase.

Then she spent an hour on the treadmill. Then 30 minutes on the elliptical machine, followed by 30 minutes of jogging around the indoor track … followed by strength training.

She’d arrive at the gym at 5 am and was still there at 10 am. It doesn’t require a PhD in psychology to see that this behavior was very indicative of an unhealthy obsession with exercise.

This is not the same as a volleyball or tennis player training five hours a day to win championships.

And this woman’s obsession isn’t the same — nowhere near it — as doing kickass workouts to be as strong and as fit as possible, or spending extra time every so often doing aerobics to work off a food binge — such as tacking an additional hour onto a scenic hike.

As long as one is exercising safely, taking proper rests and recovery, staying hydrated and well-nourished, not overdoing anything (such as spending two hours every other day bench pressing) and recognizing signs of workout burnout or joint injury — then there’s no reason to label them as being obsessed, self-punishing or needing more self-love.

One thing, though, needs to be impressed upon: An extra hour on a treadmill, or an extra fitness class, will not work off an entire food binge. In fact, you’ll be working off only a few hundred calories. 

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, fitness and improved health. 
Top image: Shutterstock/YanLev