Remember when working out seemed as much a part of your schedule as eating breakfast, clocking in for work or brushing your teeth? A day just didn’t seem complete without some sort of fitness activity.
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Then, the sweat-dripping sessions somehow stopped. Perhaps a new job, extra family responsibilities or a suddenly jam-packed calendar stole your workout time.
Whatever the reason, you went from very active to very inactive … and now you’re feeling bleh.
The good news? Getting back in a workout groove is definitely doable, says athletic trainer Jason Cruickshank, ATC, CSCS. All it takes is a little planning, some patience and a dash of desire.
So, let’s get to it.
Ease into a new exercise program
Anyone who’s returning to working out should plan to take it slowly at the beginning, says Cruickshank. Don’t expect to start where you left off. (This is especially true if you were a higher-performing athlete.)
Trying to lift too much weight right away, for instance, can put undue stress on muscles and tendons that haven’t been used in a while. Ditto for immediately heading out on long runs or even forcing your body into a tough stretch.
“Think of the time and work it took to get to your previous fitness level,” says Cruickshank. “You’re not being fair to yourself if you think you’ll jump back in at the same spot.”
If you push too hard too fast, you risk getting sidelined with an injury — which isn’t a good start to a new exercise regimen. So, start at a lower intensity to determine your fitness level. Then, look to rebuild your endurance and retrain your muscles.
How to mentally prepare for exercise
If you’ve worked out before, you know this truth: Putting your muscles to the test can leave you a little sore. A good sore, but sore.
Restarting a fitness routine may amplify that feeling a bit. Once-simple workouts may seem a bit more challenging than you remember at first. But that’s just part of the process. “Don’t get frustrated,” advises Cruickshank. “Be patient. The more you do it, the easier it will get.”
Another thing to watch out for? Wounded pride. As you dial back workouts during a fitness restart, try not to dwell on what you used to do. Instead, focus on making incremental improvements as you work back into your routine.
“Looking forward is more productive more than looking back,” notes Cruickshank.
Workout restart tips
Whatever your choice of workout may be — whether it’s lifting, running, cycling, swimming or some other activity — some basic advice applies when you’re restarting a routine.
For starters, get the all-clear from a physician, says Cruickshank.
“We always recommend checking with either your primary care physician or a physician who’s monitoring you, to make sure that your cardiovascular levels and blood panels are OK,” he adds. “Once you’re certified as healthy, you are safe to start into some training.”
Six other top tips include:
- Take it slow. Yes, this has already been mentioned — but it honestly can’t be emphasized enough. Overdoing a fitness activity when you begin a routine can lead to injury and set you back. Start simple and up your workouts as you get stronger.
- Focus on form. Proper form is key to getting the most out of any exercise. Restarting a routine is a great time to concentrate on doing an exercise correctly to build muscle memory.
- Mix it up. An ideal workout routine blends cardio and strength training. Adding variety to your new routine can help keep your workouts fresh while targeting multiple areas of your body.
- Stretch a lot. Stretching increases flexibility and range of motion, which can help your muscles work more effectively and lessen your chance of injury. (Learn about static and dynamic stretching from a sports medicine physician.)
- Don’t forget to rest. Give your muscles time to recover with a post-workout recovery plan that will get you ready to crush your next workout. It’ll also help you avoid overuse injuries such as tendinitis.
- Get some gear. If it’s been a really long break since you worked out, you may need some equipment. (New shoes for runners, as an example.) Plus, everyone feels better in a new outfit, right?
How to stay consistent with working out
Now that you’ve restarted a workout routine, let’s talk about how to keep it going. “The most effective and long-lasting fitness programs are ones you enjoy that fit within your lifestyle,” says Cruickshank.
Build exercise into your life by:
- Making it social. Everyone loves hanging out with friends, right? Exercising with a buddy adds an extra bit of enjoyment to your workout. Plus, it can motivate you to do your workout on days when you might otherwise think of ditching it.
- Dedicating time to it. Schedule workouts on your planning calendar, just like you do for anything else important. Maintaining consistency with your workout times will make you more likely to keep the routine.
- Doing what you like. Establish a workout routine that brings you joy. If you’re having fun, after all, you’re more likely to continue what you’re doing. (On the flip side, don’t waste time on exercises that make you miserable. Find something else.)
- Using fitness trackers. There’s something oddly addicting about setting goals and tracking your progress. Various apps can help keep you on a healthy path.
And as long as we’re on the topic of fitness targets, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some within its suggested mix of aerobic and strength training for optimal health.
The CDC recommends weekly goals of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic workouts (such as running). Pair that with strength-training activities such as lifting, using resistance bands or even yard work.