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Rise of Somatic Workouts: Time to say goodbye to HIIT?

2024 exercise trend - try a somatic workout

Since the turn of 2024 there has been a mammoth 2000% rise in Google searches for Somatic workouts, making it a definite fitness trend to watch out for this Spring and Summer. But what is it all about and why the sudden rise in popularity?

Well, post-pandemic there has been a huge push for us all to take better care of our mental health. This has gradually seen a move away from punishing high intensity high impact workouts, towards more gentle methods, cultivating that all-important mind:body connection.

As a Personal Trainer and Pilates Instructor I have seen a huge shift in focus over the past year from fitness, to wellness. Clients are no longer looking for workouts that merely makethem fitter, faster or thinner; they want a training program which takes a holistic approach to their overall health. And of course so much of our overall health is affected by our emotions and our ability to manage stress. In short, many exercisers have stopped looking for a quick fix and are starting to take a more intelligent, long-term view of their health.

This is where somatic exercise really comes into it’s own. Through undertaking physical but emotion-led exercises and movements, we are able to develop an internal awareness of our body. The focus is on releasing emotional tension and stress whilst building physical strength.

What does a somatic workout look like?

Expect any Somatic workout to prioritize mindfulness over getting you sweaty! If you’re a devotee of HIIT, Spinning or lifting heavy weights, you might find it quite difficult at first to get yourself into the zone during a somatic workout. It takes discipline and practice and at first you might feel like you’re not doing ‘enough’. I’ve even had clients asking ‘Does this definitely count as a session?” That’s because it leaves them feeling good… and sadly lots of us are hardwired to believe exercise should involves us feeling like we have absolutely nothing left at the end of the workout.

Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., is credited as the founder of the field of somatics, per the Somatic Systems Institute, which he defines as the study of soma - or the human body from a first-person perspective. Soma therefore requires and encourages self-awareness.

In truth each instructor will teach Somatics differently. It’s a little bit Pilates, a little bit Yoga, a little bit Tai Chi, a little bit meditation and a little bit freestyle. It’s flowing, it’s freeing and the series of slow, intentional movements will allow you to reflect and relax.

Somatic exercise doesn’t push our boundaries, it encourages us to respect them. It’s nurturing and nourishing. The concept of No Pain, No Gain… it doesn’t apply here.

Where’s the evidence it works?

There is mounting evidence to show that practising Somatic exercise leads to not only improved mental wellbeing, but physical benefits such as improved balance, coordination and posture.

A major study published in 2020 stated that somatic exercise can be helpful as a tool for people suffering with chronic pain. Interestingly the exercises might not measurably reduce the pain, but they can measurably reduce the persons perception of their pain; and importantly help them build resilience and ability to manage that pain.

Do I need to join a class?

Here’s the good news! No; you absolutely don’t need to join a class if you can’t find one locally or just prefer to exercise alone. You can save your pennies and use some of the fantastic free content out there on YouTube.

I always advise people to try a few different channels to find out the instructor or style which works best for them. The great thing about somaticexercises though is that they’re so gentle it would be highly unusual for you to hurt yourself. Even if you have pre-existing injuries, you’ll likely find workouts which you can do without exacerbating them. The key is listening to your own body and working in a way which is kind to it.

So should we all ditch the HIIT and the weights?

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all just eat whatever we fancied, move only when the urge really took us, and maintained a healthy weight purely by somatic workouts. Sadly, for most people, we won’t be able to enjoy all the facets of a healthy body and mind by somatics alone.

While I believe everyone in our stressed, high-octane modern society should be trying out exercise which encourages us to prioritize our mind, we of course need to pair that with exercise which prioritises our physiological health.

Weight-bearing and strength exercises are vital for healthy bones as we age, and cardiovascular exercise is vital for our heart and lung health.

A training program which includes weights, cardio and somatics is the dream. For my time-poor clients I always remind them that exercise snacks are the way forward. Most of us if we’re honest can fit in 20 minutes a day right?

Try introducing a couple of 20 minute somatic snack workouts across the week. My best bet is your mind and body will thank you for it.


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