How to Get Back on the Exercise Wagon

Get your exercise habit back even after a short break turns into a whole season on the bench.
The Second (or Third) Time Around

Deciding to get back into an exercise routine after a long hiatus can be emotionally as well as physically challenging. The idea of reliving the aches, pains and shortness of breath that you may have experienced when you first began working out is sometimes reason enough to just forget the whole thing. But whether your routine came to a halt because of medical problems, a hectic schedule or perhaps just a very enticing sofa, there are ways to get and stay motivated as you resume a healthy workout routine.

Give yourself a break
“The emotions with which people cope when returning to exercise are varied,” says Dr. Vicci Hill-Lombardi, associate professor in the department of athletic training at Seton Hall University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences in South Orange, New Jersey. She concludes that the emotions run the gamut from frustration to anger to fear to guilt. “Frustration at having to start from square one; anger that it is difficult to find time to exercise; guilt at allowing exercise and fitness to take a back seat to everything else; fear if the cessation of exercise is due to injury. Overcoming these emotions can be difficult,” says Hill-Lombardi. These obstacles, however, are not insurmountable. Making time during the day to exercise is hard for lots of people — “experienced athletes and beginners alike,” continues Hill-Lombardi. And if the veterans can drop the exercise ball and return to their healthy routines without beating themselves up, so can you.

Start slow
When you’ve decided that it’s time to get back into your workout routine, you may be tempted to simply dive back into the deep end of the pool. Bad idea. “When you stop exercising for a significant period of time, your body slows down — this means metabolism, cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance and flexibility,” says Sara Haley, a Los Angeles-based global master trainer and creative consultant for Reebok. “When [clients] go on vacation, have a baby or just take a break for a while and don't exercise, they come back weaker.” This means that it’s best to take a few steps back before jumping forward with your fitness routine. “Take whatever you were doing before your hiatus and start back at a moderate level,” continues Haley. “If you jump back in too quickly you risk overdoing it, injury and burning out.”

Do What You Love
Other methods of preventing burnout while keeping your motivation levels high include choosing an activity that you can actually look forward to doing every day. “You may hear that a spin class plus circuit training is fantastic for fitness, but if you dread both of those activities, it’s doubtful you’ll stick with them for long,” says Aaron Snyder, a certified trainer and nutritional consultant in San Diego. “The less willpower it takes to workout, the better.”

Snyder found his own way back to a healthy workout routine by finding an activity that exhilarated him. “After living a year abroad, I had completely gotten out of my usual rigorous workout schedule,” says Snyder. “So I began doing wind sprints on the beach three or four times per week. This felt more like fun to me than work [and] I began to lose some of the extra fat I had accumulated during my hiatus.”

Set new goals
Reducing extra pounds may be the primary reason why you decided to start exercising again, but broadening your view of success can keep you on the road to fitness. Dr. Susan Bartell, a Port Washington, New York-based psychologist and health expert, recommends setting small, short-term goals that are readily achievable. This method allows you to feel accomplished immediately. Short-term goals can include simply extending the length of your workout by a minute or two each day or walking on the treadmill at a higher resistance level for a few minutes.

After you begin to feel more comfortable with your new fitness routine you can begin to set long-term goals. “Long-term goals should include adding new workouts to your routine (take a class once a week instead of only using the treadmill), challenging yourself (running in a 5K race) and never staying stagnant when it comes to the challenge of your workouts,” says Bartell. “Give yourself a goal of how long or how often or how hard you want to exercise each month and make a new goal once you’ve achieved the one you set (as long as this is medically healthy for you, of course). This will help you stay motivated.”


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