Principle #4 of Joyful Movement: Challenge the Gym Police | Advice from a Personal Trainer in Huron County, Ontario

by | Feb 14, 2023

Are you tired of following rules that don’t serve you when it comes to exercising? Does your inner critic come out telling you are not “doing enough”? Are you ready to learn the secret to overcoming self-critical thoughts and the rigid rules at the gym that are actually not helping your motivation for movement? As a personal trainer in Huron County, Ontario, I will share Joyful Movement Principle # 4 -Challenge the Gym Police — as part of my Radiant Vitality series on the 10 Principles of Joyful Movement.

Prefer audio?  Have a listen to this episode of The Joyful Movement Show podcast to hear about the Gym Police.

Principle #4 of Joyful Movement: Challenge the Gym Police | Advice from a Personal Trainer in Huron County, Ontario

Who Are the Gym Police?

Let’s first talk about what I mean when referring to the “gym police.”

The term “gym police” refers to the inner voice or thoughts that enforce strict fitness rules, like “to get results with fitness, you’ve gotta work out five days a week for an hour” or “you’ve gotta make sure that you split your weights up so that you’re doing upper body one day and legs the next.”

The Gym Police will also tell you that a nice 15-minute walk during your lunch break doesn’t count, nor does any movement that doesn’t make you sweat.

These thoughts often lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and even dread around exercise. The “gym police” are awesome at highlighting everything that you’re doing wrong and they make you feel terrible about yourself, which keeps you from doing anything. I mean, if you can’t get it right, then why bother- am I right? (insert eye-roll).

Challenging the “gym police” means becoming aware of these negative thoughts and learning to question and reframe them. It involves letting go of the rigid fitness rules and judgment. By doing so, you can develop a much healthier relationship with exercise and your body! Not only that, but you may even discover the joy of movement.

Overcoming Self-Critical Thoughts at the Gym

Gym Police thoughts are just thoughts that aren’t even really true.

These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions, and we tell ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves. There are about 10 or 15 different types of cognitive distortions, but the “gym police”  usually show up in the form of two distinct types: comparing and “should-ing”.


Have you ever compared yourself to others at some point along the way, maybe feeling jealous of the accomplishments of a friend, wishing you had someone else’s body envious of how easily everything seems to come to a certain person? That’s the gym police playing bad cop by using comparison against you. The “gym police” say:

  • “You’ll never be able to do what Lisa can do, so why bother.”
  • “Well, Marsha’s just a natural athlete, she doesn’t even have to work at it. 
  • “Jane has always been fit, you’ll never be like her.”

The “gym police” will also remind you of everything you should be doing, when you already feel like you’ll never be as good as everyone else.


“Should” statements appear in our brain as a list of rules, about how every person should behave. The “gym police” say:

  • You should get a gym membership.
  • You should lift weights.
  • You should stay away from carbs.
  • You should learn to run.
  • You should lose weight.

Basically, they’re saying “this is what it takes to have a healthy lifestyle, and ideal body and everyone, including you should be doing it this way, no matter what!”

Comparison and should-ing are how the gym police tell us  “whoever I am and whatever I’m doing is not good enough. I need to do more, do better, do this thing I hate- so maybe I’ll feel better about myself”.

But here’s the thing: inherently, whatever it is we think we should be doing is likely not something we want to do.

Principle #4 of Joyful Movement: Challenge the Gym Police | Advice from a Personal Trainer in Huron County, Ontario

How the Gym Police Affects Motivation

Whenever you’re telling yourself to do something that you don’t wanna do- guess what happens to motivation?

There isn’t any- at least not for long.

You can tap into willpower or rely on someone to hold you accountable, but eventually, you’re going give up, because even though you’re doing what you should, you’re not having fun and you’re not getting results you want. As a personal trainer in Huron County, Ontario, people will always ask me to hold them accountable or to motivate them, so they’ll show up and do the work. Basically, they’re asking for me to be their “gym police”. 

They hope that I will become the critic shouting at them when they can’t stand up to the voices in their own head anymore. When their should-ing and comparison defeat them, and their willpower runs out. They want me to force them to keep doing the dreaded exercise in hopes that I will be able to get them to stick to it.

Newsflash: That never works. 

They still end up quitting, and we both end up feeling bad. As a personal trainer, my goal is to get you to quiet the “gym police” housed in your mind and find out what moves you so that you can feel motivated all on your own. When we compare ourselves to others and should on ourselves, it’s a sure sign that we feel bad about where we’re at. We feel unworthy and not good enough. We feel like everyone else is better than us. That we are a failure and will never figure this thing out. As a result of those feelings, we don’t stick to anything- we avoid. We numb. We stay stuck.

Principle #4 of Joyful Movement: Challenge the Gym Police | Advice from a Personal Trainer in Huron County, Ontario

Silence the Gym Police Once and for All

The only way to silence the “gym police” to get unstuck and start enjoying movement is to change your thoughts.

How we think about exercise and food is much more important than the activity or food itself. It can be so liberating to realize that your self-criticism and doubts about exercising have virtually nothing to do with the actual activity or body part.

Our thoughts, create our feelings and as emotional beings, we choose our action (or inaction) based on how we feel and therefore lead us to the results we’re experiencing.

Inspired by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I work with my clients on self-coaching techniques that can create thought patterns that help challenge the “gym police” and break down the barriers keeping them stuck.

If we are constantly comparing, and shoud-ing ourselves, how do you think that feels? We might feel ashamed when we don’t measure up. Depending on the coping mechanism we use in an effort to avoid that feeling, we might numb it with food, alcohol, or even withdrawal completely. Maybe we avoid exercise because we don’t feel “good enough.” Or throw ourselves into work and try and overcompensate in other areas. Either way, we go nowhere and just feel worse and worse about ourselves. The only way out, the only way to silence the  “gym police” is to change your thoughts.

4 Tips for Challenging the Gym Police

  1. Don’t get caught in the trap. When you notice yourself comparing and should-ing, recognize that you’re having a thought about yourself. The  “gym police” don’t come to inspire you. They come to make you feel bad about yourself. See those thoughts for what they are- a way to keep you stuck.
  2. Recognize that you don’t have to believe all your thoughts. Our thoughts, even the ones that we’ve subscribed to for a really long time, don’t have to be true. Thoughts are actually neutral. It’s just that you’ve assigned value to certain ones. For example, I hate cheese. I believe that cheese is disgusting, but is that necessarily true? You’re probably saying no way! Well, it’s true for me, but only because of my perspective and opinion, I recognize that it’s possible that cheese is delicious for some people. So question your thoughts, and ask yourself, is this true? Is there another possibility here that I’m not aware of?
  3. Recognize that all the rules are just arbitrary. There is no one size fits all approach to fitness. The best exercise is the one that you love and that you do. Buying into the rules and feeling that you can never follow them keeps you stuck. Choose to write your own rules, ones that you feel you can actually follow. I like to say, create a game you can win.
  4. Run your own race. Comparison, jealousy, competition, all that does is breed shame and feelings of insecurity. I can pretty much guarantee that someone else wishes they were like you in some way. Nobody is perfect or great at everything, but I know that you are awesome in your own right and that you have talents that the world needs. Comparing yourself to others deprives the world of the gifts you have to offer. Own your greatness and acknowledge your shortcomings without apology.

Principle #4 of Joyful Movement: Challenge the Gym Police | Advice from a Personal Trainer in Huron County, Ontario

Creating a healthy relationship with your body, food, and exercise starts with understanding the 10 principles of Joyful Movement.

The fourth principle is to Challenge the Gym Police. This means overcoming self-critical thoughts and silencing the voice in your head that tells you can’t or shouldn’t do something.

By following these tips, you’ll be on your way to creating a healthier relationship with yourself and your physical activity.

For more non-diet inspiration from a personal trainer in Huron County, Ontario, you can follow me on Instagram or Facebook, or grab my free guide- The Motivation Secret!