Skipped the gym a few too many days (make that weeks…no, months)? If you’re one of the millions of demoralized Americans trying to motivate themselves to get back into exercise, you know that any time away from the gym can make the treadmill look like the dreadmill.
Even if you really, really, really don’t like exercise, there a number of things you can do to make starting (and sticking to!) a fitness regimen easier. Time management, preference, experience, and enjoyment all play a role in creating a consistent, lifelong exercise regimen. If you’re getting back on board the fitness train, use these tips to avoid hopping off at the next station.
Assess before you sweat
Before beginning (again), it’s important to figure out why you fell off the wagon in the first place. Did poor time management make getting to the gym impossible? Did a brutal trainer make you run scared? Did a scheduling conflict get in the way of a sweat session one too many times? Do you just- you know- hate working out?
Regardless of the reason, it’s essential that you figure out why your previous attempts at getting (and staying) fit have failed. If you don’t, you’re likely to fall off the wagon again- and again, and again even if you do get back into exercise now. Most people don’t naturally love fitness- any small inconvenience can make skipping the gym easy, so it’s necessary to streamline and optimize the process, making fitness as much of a no-brainer as humanly possible.
To that note, a mixture of scheduling conflicts, poor time management, and a general distaste for exercise usually predict most fitness downfalls. To tip the odds in your favor, create a consistent exercise schedule that mandates your presence at the gym a certain number of days each week. To keep fatigue at a low and increase the likelihood that you’ll find a workout you actually enjoy (relatively speaking, at least), try performing a different routine or attending a different class each time.
Create a firm schedule
Whether you join a class, meet a buddy, or exercise solo, commit to a certain number of days and a certain amount of time each week. Three times a week for an hour is an easy, attainable goal for most exercisers starting from scratch or returning after a hiatus. Be clear and unmoving about the days and times that you work out: schedule is key as you get back into exercise.
Exercising Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5 PM, for example, is typically easier than committing to three workouts for 60 minutes, performed at random. The uncertainty of when and where can be overwhelming- better to plan, or else plan to fail. Don’t give yourself the out! Even if you really, really, really don’t feel like it, commit to entering the building and staying there in your specified timeframe. The hardest part is getting started- by the time sixty minutes is up, you won’t regret the time you’ve spent investing in your health.
Take a step (or two) back
Don’t start back right where you left off, or where you “think” you should be. It’s unrealistic to expect anything more of yourself than you’re currently capable of giving. Aside from dedicating a specific amount of time to exercise, don’t corner yourself into an unrealistic routine. Even if you were running 8 minute miles before your hiatus, hopping right back on the treadmill and going full sprint can cause injury, fatigue, and/or serious disappointment when you fail to meet the mark.
Take a step or two back- better to start slow, giving tendons, muscles, and ligaments time to adjust. Moreover, starting slow can ward off any potential disappointment you might feel upon starting a routine and realizing that you’re more out of shape than you might have accounted for. Start where you are, and then aim to progress over the course of weeks and months. Use a fitness log to track miles ran, steps taken, or weight lifted- seeing progress over a series of weeks can be inherently motivating.
Use exercise as an extra- not an excuse
Often, exercise stands in the way of weight loss. While this may seem counterintuitive (after all, exercise should help burn Calories, right?), many gym goers use Calories burned in the gym as an excuse to treat themselves outside of the gym.
Even seemingly small bites can quickly erase Calories burned during a workout. Don’t count on your machine or fitness tracker to give an accurate representation of Calories burned during a workout.
Many fitness trackers skew towards the high end of Caloric needs, often overshooting by as much as 200-500 Calories- enough for .5-1 lb gain per week. Most adults needs 10-12 Calories per 1 lb of goal weight to maintain a healthy weight- eating back Calories is a recipe for disaster. Regardless of what you fitness app tells you, try sticking with that 10-12 Cal/lb figure, unless otherwise specified by a doctor.
Rather than using exercise as an excuse to treat yourself, use it as motivation to eat better. No one’s banning an occasional treat, but grazing, gorging, and cheat days should be discouraged. In general, 85% of your total Caloric intake should be from healthy, whole foods, and you should always try to meet your goals for daily Caloric intake. Overshooting that goal spells doom. After all, who wants to spend time sweating, only to see a larger number on the scale? Remember the goal of your exercise routine- to help you reach a fitter, healthier place- for life.