How hard do I exercise with PCOS?

Julie Dillon

Tags: exercise, over exercise, PCOS, strength training, yoga
How hard do I exercise with PCOS?

This article was written by my previous Nutrition Grad Student, Kimmie Singh. She is a fat woman of color who experiences PCOS. You can find out more information about her work now as a dietitian here.

We hear mixed messages about movement and PCOS leaving more questions than answers:

  • What’s the best way to move for PCOS?
  • How do I get started?
  • How do I listen to my body when I hear messages like no pain no gain?

I wanted to get answers from an expert. Luckily, my town of Greensboro has a personal trainer that has a non-diet approach to movement. I spoke with Asli Schoone, a HAES-informed personal trainer specializing in people’s and youth exercise. She’s been a trainer since 2001 and has lots of wisdom to share.

I went to Asli’s studio to chat about intuitive movement for people with PCOS. Here’s our conversation:

1. How did you develop an intuitive approach to movement?

I had a change in perspective when exercise began to be source of shame. When I started strength training it was empowering. Eventually I got to a place of disappointment in my body. I thought, “I’m putting in work at the gym, I’m eating the ‘right’ foods, but I don’t look like the girls in the magazines.” I began to hate movement and my body. I realized the more I beat myself up about it, the less empowered I felt. That was when I started eating and moving intuitively and stopped using movement as a punishment.

2. How is your approach different from other personal trainers?

Most personal trainers use movement as a means to an end, suggesting that you have to complete a certain amount of movement to change your body. I don’t adhere to this. I evaluate my clients’ progress by asking if they can improve in movement they enjoy in terms of strength, number of repetitions, and endurance. I look for increased enjoyment in movement and increased ability to move comfortably. The goal is to make clients feel good in their mind, body, and spirit.

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3. You refer to exercise as movement. Tell me more about that. 

The term “exercise” can bring up ideas of self-punishment and pain. It may even bring up to memories of gym class. It’s usually associated with a formal activity, such as lifting weights or spending time at the gym. “Movement” includes lots of possibilities to engage your body. This may include walking your dog, dancing with your kids, gardening, or cleaning your house. Movement doesn’t have to be defeating and miserable.

4. A lot of people are hesitant about lifting weights. What advice do you have for them?

People are often told they aren’t strong enough from the time they were little girls. For example, sometimes I see my husband chivalrously trying to help my daughter lift the grocery bags, but I encourage her to lift the bags instead. I know she is capable of it, and I know she is strong enough.

5. Many people with PCOS have chronic inflammation and struggle with chronic pain. How can they incorporate movement that promotes health and body acceptance?

Start with small movements that feel manageable and good for your body. If you feel pain or discomfort, there is no need to push through that. Choose movements that support where you are. Moving your body in ways that feel good will help to stop seeing your body as the enemy. It will help you appreciate what your body can do.

6. Fact or fiction: If you aren’t sore, you aren’t “working out” hard enough. 

Fiction! I hate this myth for a couple reasons. Stretching and warming up can reduce soreness, so soreness is clearly not an indicator of how hard you are working out. Secondly, who determines if you are working out hard enough? The only person to make that decision is you. 

7. What advice do you have for someone that is trying to add movement to their lifestyle for the first time in years?

Start slow. During your first week you may only be able to move for ten minutes at a time. Listen to your body’s cues. Rest or stop when you need to. There is no competition when you are listening to your body. Give yourself permission to stop when your body needs to stop.

8. How can people increase their movement without going to the gym? 

The possibilities are endless. If you want to try strength training, you can use dumbbells or resistance bands. A personal trainer may be able to make special modifications. There are plenty of resources online to guide you through new types of movement. Remember that movement can be whatever you want it to be. It may come in the form or playing with your kids or dancing in the living room.

9. How can people modify movements for larger bodies?

Every movement can be modified. For example, you may need to sit down while doing some strength training exercises. You can even modify push-ups by doing them while standing with your hands against the wall.

10. How can people form a movement routine that is best for their bodies and lifestyle?

Start by asking yourself, “what would I like to do?” Your movement should be based on what feels good for you. Ask yourself for feedback on what does and doesn’t feel good.

11. How can people differentiate between normal soreness and pain from an injury?

Muscle soreness starts 12-24 hours after exercise and will feel tender to the touch. Muscle soreness should ease up after the second day. Pain from an injury will feel sharp and will continue to hurt when you move that body part.

12. What advice do you have for people that are unhappy with their endurance? How can they increase their endurance?

I encourage you to remember that increased endurance doesn’t make you a better person. We tend to attach self-worth to endurance. If you want to improve endurance, consistently engaging in activities will help. If you are struggling with comparing your endurance to others, you may find more happiness moving in settings that are less competitive.

13. There are so many popular exercise programs. Should I buy into the hype? 

I see it as reinventing the wheel. Companies make money by keeping us interested by making us feel like we need to move in an optimal way. One program is not necessarily more effective than another. Movement that works for your body is what’s effective. Many fad programs come with a higher risk of injury, especially for people that haven’t exercised before. Similar to fad diets, they suggest that a certain type of movement is best for everyone, but that’s not how it works.

14. What is the best exercise for PCOS?

Moderate exercise is best, such as relaxed walking and yoga. I also recommend resistance training with cardio. If you really enjoy high-intensity movement, I suggest limiting it to once per week.

15. What are your favorite ways to move?

I love weight lifting. I also love to dance, play with my kids, yoga, and move near water. My life is fast-paced, so I like movement that is calming and resetting.

16. What is your movement mantra? 

Honoring your body is promoting your health.

Want to explore more non diet options to help manage your PCOS, promote health AND healing?

 Click here for details on Julie’s PCOS and Food Peace course.


Want to learn more about Asli and her work? Contact her at:
(336) 447-0217
Get Set Girls Facebook Group
Anchor Strength Training Facebook Page


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