1. First of all, don’t go HAM right out of the gate.
Even if you feel pretty goddamn motivated, the go-hard-or-go-home mentality isn’t great for sustaining momentum, says Erica Giovinazzo, MS, RD, head coach and manager of Brick CrossFit.
“The biggest mistake people make when they start to work out or eat healthy around the new year is to crash and burn,” she says. “They start off in the first two weeks all in. They go to the gym every day. They’re in every class. They eat perfectly.” And in a few weeks, they’re totally over it and ready to bail. So plan to work up to the fitness routine you want to maintain — instead of starting out at 110% right away.
2. In fact, start out by doing about half of what you were doing before you stopped.
When you get back to exercising, do just a bit more than half of what you were doing before your break, suggests Jessi Kneeland, personal trainer and founder of ReModel Fitness.
So if you were running 20 miles per week, dial it back to 12. Or if you were doing four hour-long classes a week, try one or two classes and maybe throw in an additional 30-minute workout of your choice. Add a bit more to your routine each week so that after about a month, you’re back to where you were before you stopped working out. This way it’s doable enough that you’ll feel great and motivated — not frustrated and defeated.
3. Do not beat yourself up for your exercise hiatus.
Getting down on yourself for temporarily quitting exercise probably won’t make you feel super motivated to get back to it. Life happens. Think of it as a way recommit to working out — maybe this time with more consistency or more realistic goals, suggests Kneeland.
4. Remember that being out of shape actually means quicker results!
It’s the silver lining to this whole getting-back-in-shape-after-ages-and-ages thing — the more out of shape you are, the quicker you’ll feel and see results. As Kneeland explains, when you’re already quite fit, you work super hard for every tiny gain. But when you haven’t worked out in a while, simply making a consistent effort will get you results.
Think of it like this: If you already run a 7-minute mile, you’ll have to work incredibly hard to get just a bit faster. But if you haven’t exercised in a long time and you’re running a 15-minute mile, you’ll only have to spend a few weeks training to increase your pace.
5. And btw being out of shape every now and again is a totally normal thing.
People tend to think of being in shape as a “linear thing,” says Kneeland, where once you get in shape you stay that way forever. But in reality, people experience varying degrees of fitness over the course of their lives. So being less conditioned than you’d like to be at a given time is as much a part of life as being in shape is. What’s awesome, says Kneeland, is that the body is super adaptable at any age, meaning that you never lose your ability to gain fitness, no matter how out of shape you get or old you are.
6. OK, true, those first couple weeks back might be kinda rough.
At first, it’s probably going to be difficult to get through workouts you had little problem with when you were exercising regularly, and that’s where most people get frustrated, says Kneeland. Because it’s hard to stay motivated when every push-up feels like hell. But remember, your workouts won’t always feel that bad. After you have a couple weeks under your belt, it’ll all feel way more do-able. Having realistic expectations for your first couple weeks back will make them easier to get through.
7. So, focus on all the good short-term benefits of that first workout back.
Getting from where you are right now to, say, the best shape of your life is kiiiinda overwhelming to think about. That’s why John S. Raglin, Ph.D, professor of kinesiology at Indiana University, recommends visualizing what you’ll get out of your very first post-hiatus workout (rather than what you’ll get out of months of consistent exercise).
Thinking about making a small but meaningful impact will help keep you motivated, even if it’s just “I will feel amazing and proud of myself after I get this done,” or “I will feel like like such a badass for finally getting back to the gym.” Imagine how it’ll feel to get that workout done and then bask in the feeling.
8. Go ahead and plan for setbacks so you can try to avoid them.
If you’re contemplating trying to get back to exercising, chances are you’ve done so before. Raglin recommends thinking about what threw you off your game last time so you can stay on track this time around. If the holidays derailed you, consider finding some quick workouts you can do between all the revelry. If vacations or travel made it tough to stick to exercising, bookmark workouts you can do while traveling.
9. Be realistic about how long it’ll take to feel and see results.
Don’t worry; you don’t have to wait extra long for #gainz. If you’re working out consistently, it only takes about two weeks to start feeling the benefits — like being less winded after climbing stairs or even getting through your workout a little more easily than when you started.
As far as the other results, remember the 2-4-8 rule, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Rob Sulaver, founder of Bandana Training. That’s two weeks to feel fitter, four weeks till you see changes to your body, and eight weeks till other people notice those changes.
10. Maybe try something new and different this time around.
Rock climbing, CrossFit, swimming, bootcamps, ultimate frisbee, ballroom dance — try some random things until you find something that you truly enjoy. Maybe the reason you didn’t stick with your routine last time is that you were bored AF. And it’s better to be the person with two left feet in cardio dance class who is having the time of their life than the super fast, super miserable jogger, right?
11. Make sure your diet supports your fitness goals.
If you’re working out to lose weight or build muscle, make sure your diet supports those goals. But even if your goal is simply to get fitter and healthier and feel better, your diet could be what determines how much energy you have for a workout and how you recover after exercising. Giovinazzo recommends having carbs (like a piece of fruit) before you work out and more carbs along with some protein after you work out (say turkey with rice).
12. In the very beginning, consider even a single workout in a week great progress.
You don’t have to go from zero workouts per week to working out every single day to be progressing towards your goal. As soon as you get that first workout logged, you’re back to exercising! Giovinazzo recommends framing it like this: “If you go to the gym once in the first week of the new year, that is progress! That’s better than you did the week before.”
13. If you don’t know where to get started, try BuzzFeed’s month-long Get Fit Challenge.
It’s made up of workouts you can do anywhere (no equipment necessary) in less than a half hour. And it’ll ease you back into exercising regularly.
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