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Trying The “Do What You Want” Workout Method

Sometimes your mind needs a break from training and goal-setting—even if your body is technically keeping up just fine.

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Doing What We Want—It’s A Thing

A few months ago, I resigned myself to the fact that I was clearing my race schedule. No scheduled races, no scheduled triathlons—only a few guest appearances by way of a speaking tour, where I might or might not actually race. In other words, I took the year to be absolutely and completely goal-free.

What?! I get it—without a goal, we can feel like a completely captain-less ship. Don’t get me wrong: Goal-setting is a huge part of life and success. You cannot really go after and achieve success in an area of life without setting goals and making progress toward completing those goals.

After almost eight years of zealously chasing running and triathlon goals, I experienced a unique burnout. I was not burned out on moving my body; I was burned out on the schedule, the “have to” runs and the “I need to do this workout or else I will never….” Running and triathlon had begun to feel like another job.

After some careful consideration, I realized that the workouts had nothing to do with the burnout. Truly, the apathy and crabbiness I felt from working out was the schedule and the guilt that I had somehow managed to attach to each workout (and each perceived failure to complete the workout perfectly, as planned, or with goals accomplished).

I wondered, What would this year look like if I did exactly what I wanted to do for each and every single workout?

At first the thought was horrifying to me. Then I realized that I didn’t trust myself enough to proceed in life and exercise and training without a plan. I didn’t think I could exercise and train without a “scary goal” that made me get out of bed and run.

I thought, I’ll be eating doughnuts for lunch and pizza for dinner. I had real fear that I would “let myself go” and quit moving my body. Food aside, I figured I would stop moving.

Why did I have so little belief in my ability to continue to do well at fitness and nutrition without a hard-set goal? I don’t know. It made me a little crazy to think that I had so little confidence in myself.

So that became my new goal: Do exactly whatever workout I wanted to do, every single day. Just make sure that you are working out five days a week—and less only if recovery is necessary.

This methodology was terrifying at first. But I stuck with it. I did my workouts each day. I made one big promise to myself: That I would just move my body. I thought about what my body felt like doing each day. Sometimes it was a short run, sometimes longer. Sometimes I did yoga, and mostly I did weight-lifting and CrossFit. I was happy. I was quieter of spirit. I did not resent the workouts, the plan. Slowly, I realized that where my body did not need a break, my spirit and my mind did. The more time I took to be happy, breathe and enjoy my workout days, the more I realized that goal-setting started to naturally happen. The goal-setting was joyful and fun, less driven by fear. I trusted myself to take care of myself—that was the greatest success of all.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a weekly contributor to Women’s Running. She is a four-time IRONMAN triathlete, recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is also the host of the hit podcast The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. Meredith has two books coming out in 2019. Read more at


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