exercise psychology

Posted 10 months ago

Self care 101: How do you take care of yourself?

Self-care is a term that has become increasingly popular in the fitness community, and you’ll hear everyone throwing it around or showing the world their self-care routines. This isn’t a bad thing at all: whether we’re in an offseason or on prep, we all know for ourselves that self-care is relevant, but that doesn’t always lead us to practicing it deliberately.

Often, this is because we hear influencers and gurus talking about the importance of self-care, followed by advice that only a small percentage of people can follow; because let’s be real, if you’re busy, working hard, have a social network around you, and run a rammed weekly schedule, you probably don’t have time to soak in an Epsom salts bath for 3h a week like other IFBB pros do, or even the way that self-employed fitness coaches perhaps do!

This often leads to the internalisation of specific ideas of what self-care looks like, and thus feeling like unless it looks like “X” then it doesn’t count as self-care, or it’s not even worth trying. Does that feel familiar?

Unfortunately, putting yourself at the bottom of the priorities pile because you feel like you don’t have 10h to dedicate to spa days and ongoing sports massages can become a hinderance to day-to-day functioning, even leading to burnout. With regards to your physique goals, burnout can present itself as a lack of motivation to train, do your cardio, prep your meals, or even pay attention to your sleep hygiene. If you’ve been reading any of the articles on our website, you’ll know how important these factors are, irrespective of whether you’re on prep or in an offseason!

We’ve all been there and unfortunately, the glorification of the “grind harder” mentality can lead to poorer results – all because we think we’re doing ourselves a favour by not prioritising basic needs and self-care!

I’ll be the first to put my hands up and say that I know I’ve neglected my own needs: personally, it tends to happen more on prep, when I run my life like a military operation, and I genuinely feel like I’m too busy for “self-care”. Getting to bed on time feels like an achievement! The problem is that I felt like I didn’t have time for self-care, because I had a limited idea of what that was: for me, it meant having a bath, exfoliating my skin, and doing a face mask. Of course, I wouldn’t have had time for that, but what I’ve realised after finishing prep is that actually, self-care can look like anything I want or need it to look like.

Therefore, as 2022 started, I realised I had to start taking the advice I was giving to my clients: you cannot pour from an empty cup – and as such, we need to ensure we’re putting our own oxygen mask on first! This forced me to re-think how I defined self-care and consider how busy individuals can make time for it too.

What I’ve realised is that you can create small moments to explicitly take care of yourself across the day or even across the week, without it feeling like a big commitment. Not only can this improve your mental wellbeing, but it will also ensure that you stay focused on your goals, continue to enjoy the process of getting shredded and/or brutally strong, and don’t end up grudging it because you’ve left yourself to hang loose. A great physique is cool, but it loses its power if it’s paired with a miserable, neglected mind.

Thus, I’ve committed to always make self-care (in any shape or form) a priority for me, and I remind myself of this daily by using the acronym KISS: keep it simple smart.

So, how can we KISS when it comes to self-care as busy physique athletes?


Like with any new habit or routine, one of the easiest ways to ensure we make space for taking care of ourselves is to tag this process on to something we’re already doing, as opposed to trying to pick up a new behaviour. For example, after doing your cardio or hitting the gym, when you step into the shower you could give yourself an extra 5minutes once a week to just chill in there (and maybe sing a song too!). If this doesn’t seem feasible, even splashing out on a more expensive shampoo can feel like self-care! What I’m saying is that the best way to start taking better care of yourself is to add it on to something you’re already doing, so it doesn’t feel like a chore. Think about what kind of self-care behaviour or activity you might want to implement (something that takes less than 5min) and consider what existing routine you could piggy-back it on to.

  1. Go with what feels easy and comfortable

Self-care isn’t all about face masks or moisturisers – it can literally be not listening to a podcast or music when you’re out getting your steps, and focusing on paying attention to your surroundings! It can also be treating yourself to a fancy Americano from your favourite coffee shop on prep, or buying a spiky ball you can lie on whilst watching the telly and unwinding in the evening. Rather than overwhelming yourself by buying a 5-step kit of something, start with the easy things and build up from there.

  1. Take note!

Often, we go about our days without even pausing to breathe when we’re sitting on the toilet!! So, taking notice of the things we’re doing can be a great way to feel more assertive in your self-care. You may never bat an eyelid at the process of stepping on the stairmaster, or walking into the gym, but if you pause and bring in an element of mindfulness into something you’re already doing, it can feel very empowering.

I know this is a very brief introduction to what self-care might look like for you, but you have the freedom to be as creative as you want. If you feel that you’re constantly struggling to manage your stress levels, feel rushed off your feet, or like you just don’t have time for anything to be enjoyable, seek out the 1min daily respite SOMEWHERE so that you don’t burn out. Not only will this help you feel mentally stronger, but it will also have an inevitably positive effect on your physique transformation journey.

Clara Swedlund MSc MBPsS