9 Things To Focus On When You're Exercising That Aren't Calories Burned

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I’m not into fitness culture — but I am into fitness. By “fitness culture” I mean the websites and products and YouTube personalities who are solely focused on changing people’s bodies through weight loss and calorie-counting. It’s a new generation of the same old garbage, making women (and other genders) feel bad about how we look and then trying to sell us something to make it “better.”

But that doesn’t mean I don’t work out. Around four years ago, I went from being a person who smoked three to 10 cigarettes a day and would only run if I was being chased, to being a non-smoker who owned more than one set of workout clothes. I made the change in my mid-twenties because I realized my metabolism wasn’t working the way it used to and that was making me sluggish and bummed out. So I started with taking walks, then runs, then high-intensity interval training, then yoga and weight training.

But one thing I never did? Count calories. I was never interested in counting calories burned because 1) I love to eat and, 2) I have the kind of anxious, obsessive personality that I suspect would get too obsessed with that metric. Also? As a lifelong feminist, I’ve always hated diet culture and focusing solely on calories burned and calories consumed is a major part of that world. I even went so far as to not enter my height and weight into fitness trackers, because I didn’t want to get distracted by that “calories burned” section.

So if you’re not paying attention to calories burned, what should you focus on when you’re working out? Here are nine things to focus on when you’re working out that aren’t calories burned.

1Your Strength

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One of the great things about weight training is that you can directly see how much stronger you’re getting. A good weight training routine includes incrementally increasing the amount you lift, which makes you stronger every time. And isn’t strength much more interesting and useful than calories burned?

2How Much Longer You Can Go

If you’re doing any kind of endurance exercise — like running, for example — pay attention to how you’re able to go further in less time or go further in both time and distance as you work out. It’s an amazing sense of accomplishment when you realize you’re now able to run three miles when you started out doing only one.

3That It’s Getting Easier

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No matter what your workout is, it’s going to get easier as you do it more consistently. Revel in your newfound strength and stamina!

4Your Heart Rate

Many fitness trackers will tell you your heart rate. And maybe you’ve wondered what that’s about. Your heart rate is important particularly for — you guessed it — heart health. Keeping an eye your heart rate can also give you a good idea of how intense your workout is and can help you stay on track with your goals.

5How Your Muscles Feel Afterward

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Anyone who’s done a really great workout knows both the feeling of exhausted muscles immediately afterward and the good ache that comes a couple of days later. Revel in that good pain! It means you’re getting stronger.

6Your Increased Flexibility

Some workouts — like yoga —not only make you stronger, but also make you more flexible. And while increased flexibility is fun for showing off and for trying out new positions in sex, it may also be linked to a longer life. One 2009 study from Brazilian researchers found that older adults who performed better in a flexibility test had less stiffness in their arterial walls, which is an indicator of stroke and heart attack risk. So don’t skip those down dogs!

7Your Better Balance

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When we talk about balance, we’re talking about two things: physical and emotional. Striving toward physical balance helps you do pretty much everything. After all, we spend more than half our lives upright and balance is the only reason we don’t just fall over.

But improving physical balance can also help with our internal, emotional balance. The link between mind and body is well established, so focus on keeping your balance, in both senses.

8A New Skill

No matter your workout, you’re going to be learning new skills. Some are more obvious — like a headstand in yoga — while others — like proper form in weight training — are less so. But learning a new skill, obvious or not, is always gratifying.

9How Good You Feel

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Whether it’s feeling good because you love working out or feeling good because you’re proud that you made it today, focus on how good you feel. You’re doing it! You’re working out! You’re improving your health!

And isn’t that so much better than thinking about how many calories you’ve burned?