Falling off the fitness bandwagon happens to the best of us. Because, well, life happens. You move, change jobs, go through a breakup, have a kid, have a second kid, get a dog, need to care for a family member… Anything and everything can make the most dedicated exerciser stop working out.
If this is you, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, get back into it as soon as you can. “The longer you take a break, the harder it is to come back,” says Sara Haley, a pre- and post-natal exercise specialist. “It’s like working out for first time again.”
Here are 11 expert ways to make your exercise comeback.
1. FORCE YOURSELF
Time for some real talk. At first, you may just have to make yourself exercise, Haley says. Consider writing down why you are exercising as well as the alternatives if you don’t. “If you don’t work out, you’re not just maybe going to gain weight and not fit into your clothes, you are going to start setting yourself up for disease and aging poorly and all sort of other things; it’s not just aesthetics and vanity,” Haley says. But if you exercise, you’ll live longer, be there for your loved ones, feel better and more. Seeing that in black and white can help you stick to it, and after a week, you’ll start to feel better and want to keep working out, Haley adds.
2. START SMALL
Remember that something is better than nothing. You don’t need to do an hour right off the bat. “Fifteen minutes is great,” Haley says. “Then add five minutes each day you work out, and before you know it, you’re doing 30–60 minutes.” Push it during those initial 15–20 minutes, and you will see results.
It’s also less overwhelming to start small. “If you try to do an hour, you may feel really out of shape and not have fun,” says Pete McCall, an ACE-certified personal trainer and host of the All About Fitness podcast. “But a great 20-minute workout is a realistic expectation, and afterward you’ll feel like, ‘I can do this!’” That sense of accomplishment will keep you coming back for more — and for longer when you have time.
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3. FIND THE TIME
“I have no time” may be the most-used excuse for not exercising. In some instances, you may just have to shift your schedule. Say you used to exercise after work but now have to get home to your baby and partner. See if you can fit in a workout in the morning or even during your lunch break, McCall suggests.
Also look where you are spending your time, Haley says. “In this day and age, you have plenty of time to be on Facebook and Instagram. How much more rewarding and self-fulfilling would it be to use that time to work out?” she says. You may want to reconsider your post-workout routine, too. “Shorten your getting-ready routine,” Haley says. “So maybe you don’t blow out your hair — but you are fitter and healthier for it.”
4. EASE IN
Don’t start where you left off weeks or months ago. “That is a recipe for injury,” McCall says. Instead, use less weight for strength training and go at a slower pace for cardio. “Exercise is stress on the body. And if you had a major life change, that’s also a major stressor,” McCall says. “Your body needs time to adapt to this new physical stress.”
5. CONSIDER YOUR SEASON OF LIFE
Another reason to not start off where you left off: That’s living in the past. Haley says to consider your current lifestyle and situation. “Maybe you did a 5K daily when you were 20 and had no responsibilities other than yourself,” she says. “But now you might have an aging parent, a new baby, a new puppy or a new job that you have to focus more time on. Just because you did something in the past doesn’t mean you have to do it now or that it’s a good thing for you now. Look at your lifestyle and goals right now.”
6. DO IT FOR YOUR KIDS
Parents can feel guilty or selfish for taking the time to work out — time that could be spent with their little ones. But trust Haley and McCall, who not only work with clients who have children but are parents, too. “Exercise helps your mood, increases energy levels and has so many benefits that if you don’t work out, you’re doing a disservice to your kids,” McCall says. “If your kid cries the last few minutes of your workout, it’s OK. They’re resilient. It isn’t going to damage them.”
Adds Haley, “If you are not healthy and taking care of yourself, it’s impossible to take best care of somebody else. You have to be fulfilled or you will end up in resentment and that will be far worse than guilt.”
If you really struggle to find alone time, consider joining a local stroller workout group or set up your home gym so your children can be nearby. McCall set up a swing in his garage when his oldest was a baby, and Haley often puts toys around her mat so her kids can play while she exercises.
7. HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
No matter how hard you try, sometimes your schedule gets thrown off and your plans to hit yoga or do a few laps at the gym fall apart. Time for a Plan B — and streaming sites, DVDs and YouTube are great ones. You can find reputable trainers with quick, efficient workouts, many of which don’t even require equipment. Have your go-tos bookmarked or downloaded, and you are ready to go when Plan A is messed up.
8. SIDESTEP SORENESS
It’s inevitable that you will feel sore as you start to work out again. Don’t let feeling too sore keep you from exercising. Again, ease back in. Also remember to warm up and cool down. If you feel sore the next day, try foam rolling, gentle yoga or taking a walk. Some movement will help you feel better.
9. MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE
The benefits of having a workout partner are well known. If you’re not sure how to find someone to keep you accountable so you stick to your new fitness plan, consider joining a challenge. Often these challenges have a Facebook page, a hashtag to use to find others on social media or forums where you can support others in your shoes and seek support from them. Plus, once you accomplish one challenge, you may want to keep doing more, which will help you make fitness a part of your lifestyle.
10. BE REALISTIC
Face it: Going from zero to 100 overnight isn’t going to happen. If you set a lofty goal and don’t hit it, you may get down on yourself and ask ‘Why even bother?’ Rather than telling yourself that you will work out every day the first week back, set a smaller, more realistic goal. Maybe that’s exercising twice during the week and once on the weekend. Then when you hit that goal, you’ll feel better and it’ll be easier to commit to exercise on the long term, McCall says.
11. TAKE IT DAY BY DAY
Often Haley will see people get three or four days into a new exercise plan, then something happens and they miss a day or two — and they think, ‘Screw it’ and give up. “Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go as planned,” she says. “If you forgot to brush your teeth one day, you wouldn’t decide to skip brushing them the next day. Get back into it as soon as you can.”
Do what you can each day, says McCall, adding, “Give yourself a pat on the back on the days you are able to work out, and if you can’t, shrug it off and work out the next day.”