Why is it hard to restart a routine?

Being physically active and exercising used to be your thing. It was something that you looked forward to, then you got injured and had to take some time off. Now, you’re trying to get back into the swing of things, but it’s incredibly challenging. How come you’re struggling? Is there anything you can do to make the process easier?

ExercisingWhen you’re in the exercise groove, it’s no problem to maintain it. However, it’s easy to get out of the habit. Maybe you’ve got an important deadline at work or several family events scheduled, so you decide to take a few days off. Suddenly, a few days become one week and then one month or even one year. This happens despite knowing that exercise makes us feel better, both physically and mentally. When you’re restarting an exercise program, the first step is usually the hardest. Many people don’t realize how you resume your workout routine can significantly influence your level of success. If you try to jump right back into the program you were doing before, you could easily get hurt. A study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine in 2015 discovered that taking a two-week break from physical activity can result in a rather substantial reduction of muscle strength and mass. Unfortunately, the study also found that it can take even longer to gain it back. So, how do you implement a new exercise routine safely?

The first thing to address is mindset. If you’re looking for an excuse not to work out, you’ll find every distraction possible to prevent you from doing it. The motivation to make the change must come from within, meaning that the driving force is something that is really important to you. Finding the right “why” is key because it’s going to be a challenging journey and you need to have enough motivation to get you through the tough spots. One of the best ways to look at it is to think of wellness, not weight loss. Weight loss is just one aspect; whereas, wellness focuses on a group of items that encourage a healthy lifestyle. Exercising is a tool to help you reach these goals. It can also assist in achieving other targets in your life because it gives you more energy, helps you sleep better, and reduces depression and anxiety. It’s natural to focus on how much better you want to look, but think about how physical activity will boost the way you feel. Also, don’t think you need to spend a lot of money to get started. Buying fancy fitness gadgets or joining an expensive gym will not sustain your desire to get into better shape.

After you discover the key to your motivation, you should talk to a doctor. This is to ensure you’re healthy enough for physical activity. They can provide information on how to remain injury-free. Most people overestimate their fitness level when restarting a training routine. Rather than assuming your ability is the same as it used to be, take some baseline measurements of your aerobic fitness, strength, and flexibility before you start. You should be able to answer these questions:

  • How long it takes you to walk 1 mile?
  • How many half sit-ups, standard pushups, or modified pushups you can do at a time?
  • How far can you reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you?

Record the results either in your phone, calendar, or notebook. After six weeks, repeat the process and then every few months. This will help you monitor your progress and be very rewarding to see concrete evidence that your fitness level is improving. Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for the numbers to plateau. If this happens, you may want to increase your workouts to keep seeing gains. Typically, the quickness of your progression is based upon your total time off, the reason for the break (ex. injury versus scheduling conflicts), and your level of fitness prior. Don’t be alarmed if it feels like it’s taking a long time to reach your goals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals who make slow and steady progress when trying to lose weight are more likely to keep it off.

You’ve found your motivation, been cleared by your doctor, and know your current fitness level, now comes the hard part of developing a regular exercise routine and acting on it. To assist in achieving your goal, you need to set yourself up for success. It’s not uncommon for us to set targets that seem insurmountable. Instead, start with a goal that’s so doable you can’t fail, like walking without stopping for 5 minutes. By doing this, when you meet it, you’ll feel successful, motivating you to keep increasing your aim by one more rep or one more minute. Often, once you are up and moving, you will more than likely keep going. During this process, you’ll hit your larger goals as well. Another element is making lots of good little decisions. Look for ways to incorporate more activity into your normal day, such as getting up and walking to a coworker’s desk to chat instead of sending them an email or taking a five-minute break to stretch your legs rather than looking at social media. This applies to your family life too. Regularly getting adequate amounts of sleep and not skipping meals are vital to promoting a healthy lifestyle. However, experts recommend not fixing your eating habits initially. Making too many changes at once can make you feel overwhelmed and less likely to stick to any of them. In this case, concentrate on exercising first. When you’re ready to pay attention to diet, health professionals suggest slowly changing your nutrition patterns over time. One of the first changes they support is adding more water to your daily routine since this will help you stay hydrated. When you’re more active, you sweat more, so replenishing your water levels is key and can help you recover faster.

The other part of being successful in achieving your goals is consistency. The body and mind crave it. Habits are created by the consistent daily activities we chose to put our time towards. When you haven’t exercised in a while, you develop the habit of low physical activity. This feels normal and when we deviate from any habit, it feels weird. Since most people find exercise is unpleasant, especially if you’re out of shape, adding to that the weirdness of changing habits makes it that much harder to stick with a program. Changing a habit takes time. It takes a minimum of 30 days to create one, so focusing on short-term, easily achievable goals initially will keep you motivated during this time. If they feel pathetic, remind yourself that you have to start somewhere. Once the habit is formed, you can make things more challenging. Exercise is like anything else—if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re more likely to keep doing it. This is why it’s vital to choose an activity that you like to do. It can take trial and error to find the right one, but it’s worth investing the time to find an activity that you truly look forward to.

One of the most common excuses for skipping exercise is not having enough time. When your schedule is tight, it’s an easy thing to put off. However, this means you’re missing out on the benefits exercising provides when you probably need it the most. Exercise is a great way to improve your mood and destress. Researchers have found that skipping just one workout can increase your odds of missing subsequent workouts by 61%. Working out for even 10 minutes is enough to prevent you from falling off the wagon. However, it’s essential to put in the effort and get moving during those 10 minutes. This doesn’t mean you have to drive to the gym for a 10-minute workout. Instead, do a body-weight routine in your bedroom. A helpful tip to not skipping workouts is to put them on your calendar and treat it as an important appointment. Make sure it’s scheduled for a time that you won’t get easily distracted. It can also be useful to have preparatory routines in place because they make it easier to follow through on your plan. It’s as simple as packing your gym bag the night before, preparing breakfast and lunch for the next day the night before, and placing your alarm clock on the other side of the room, so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. If you’re planning to work out at home, create a dedicated workout space. By developing a strategy that helps you anticipate and deal with potential issues before they arise, you’ll be able to stay on track more easily. One thing that can encourage you to exercise is to have a workout partner because this will hold you accountable and provide motivation when you’re running low on it. A study from Michigan State University found people held planks 33 seconds longer when working out with a team than if doing the exercise alone.

One of the primary goals of your new fitness routine should be mobility and flexibility. These are vital to preventing injury but often are overlooked. By incorporating them into your routine, you’ll increase blood flow and circulation while improving range of motion and joint mobility. Some experts recommend using a foam roller before and after you exercise since it can loosen up knots in your muscles by breaking down adhesions and scar tissue that may have built up during your time off. This is a great way to get your muscles stretched before working out and to reduce muscle soreness after. Remember, a recovery routine is vital to not feeling sore, so allow time for daily stretching and cooldowns. Another option endorsed by experts is to do some strength training exercises that use your body weight, such as squats, lunges, bridges, hamstring curls, stability ball mobility, and core work. The purpose is to activate your muscles and mobilize them.

One of the easiest ways to start an exercise routine is to focus on walking. It’s very accessible and provides many benefits. All you need is a pair of shoes and to go out of your front door. If you walk at a moderate-to-brisk pace, it’s very effective for fat burning, especially if you’ve not having eaten in a few hours because your insulin levels are low, causing your body to rely on its fat stores as its primary energy source. Help your mental health by disconnecting from your devices while walking. You can start by walking just 5 – 10 minutes daily for the first few days and then begin adding a few minutes more to each walk. Ideally, you should get up to about 20 to 30 minutes per day. If you have time to walk longer, go ahead; just don’t pressure yourself to do more since this could sabotage your daily habit. Similarly, some days you can only walk a few minutes…don’t skip it. If you normally walk outside, but the weather isn’t great, try doing a few sets of walking lunges or marching in place inside. The key is that you do something active during the time you would’ve normally walked. You don’t want to break your habit!

Once your body gets used to moving again, you can add in some other activities. However, it’s still essential to ease back into them. Your schedule could look something like this:

  • Week 1: Cardio two times per week for 30 minutes each, strength training one time per week.
  • Week 2: Cardio three times per week for 30 minutes each, strength training one time per week.
  • Week 3: Cardio three times per week for 30 minutes each, strength training two times per week.
  • Week 4: Cardio two times per week, strength training two times per week, and circuit training* one time per week.
    *Combine cardio with strength training for a more intense workout

On the days that you’re not doing something, continue to get in a walk since it’s low impact on your body, but will still provide numerous benefits. The most common form of cardio is running. The run-walk method is a great way for runners to safely increase their mileage and improve overall cardio capacity. The key is to increase the length and intensity of the running intervals gradually. A mistake many runners tend to make is increasing their mileage too quickly. You should only increase your number of weekly miles by approximately 10% each week. Before running, do some exercises to activate your muscles, such as clamshells, bridges, squats, split squats, lunges, lateral lunges, and planks. Some experts recommend 15 minutes of these activities before any run. The goal is to move your body in multiple directions. When running, try to land softly on the foot’s middle portion with the foot landing directly underneath the body. Cooling down can include slowing down the intensity of a run for about five minutes before stopping and doing static stretching or foam rolling afterward. The overall goal is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of the two, plus at least two strength-training sessions with the aim to increase that to 3-5 times a week. As you age, you lose muscle mass; strength training can help preserve it and build stronger bones, helping reduce the chance of fractures. Strength training workouts should be divided into different body areas, known as splits. A typical split may look something like this:

  • Day 1: Legs/Core
  • Day 2: Chest
  • Day 3: Back/Core
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Day 5: Shoulders/Core
  • Day 6: Arms
  • Day 7: Rest

Bodyweight exercises, such as walking lunges, pushups, triceps dips, assisted chin-ups, assisted pull-ups, single-leg deadlifts to a calf raise and spiderman planks, are a great choice because they are challenging but put minimal stress on your joints if done properly. Also, you can add weights to them once you’re ready for something more challenging. The key is establishing a baseline and then slowly begin to increase the number of repetitions, number of sets, and add weight. Safety and efficacy are based upon executing proper form. If your posture is poor and movement is restricted, it’ll be difficult to safely perform any exercise. If you’re having difficulty maintaining correct form throughout a set, you could be experiencing muscle fatigue. If you’re resorting to compensatory movement patterns, you could end up with an injury. Keep an eye out for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which begins 24 to 48 hours after a workout and can last for three to five days. It’s an indication you are training too hard, too quickly and is your body’s way of telling you to back off and reduce the intensity.

It’s crucial to realize that you’re going to fail at some point during your journey. This is okay…just don’t give up! Remember, every time you try and fail, you learn a little bit more about yourself. When you start over, you’re getting closer to the point of making things stick. You can look at today as the first day of the rest of your life – everything else that has happened up to that point is in the past. Change can literally happen in an instant and be sustainable. When you decide to start anew, something powerful can happen. Willpower, momentum, and inspiration are high during the first week of change, so use it to your advantage. This is the time to begin to make any changes that will help you permanently. When your excitement starts to wane, you’ve at least taken steps towards a permanent change that can carry you in the weeks of low motivation. Each time that you start over, it’s important that you try to change differently this time because if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

Being fit and healthy should be about making yourself feel great, having confidence, and aiming to be your best, not going to the gym every day just so you can check it off your list. Don’t get discouraged when changes aren’t happening as quickly as you’d like. By eliminating obstacles and enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll be able to consistently workout, which is better than doing nothing. Remember, your goal should be to be functional and pain-free—you want to fix your body, not break it!