Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Sometimes it’s by choice. One thing is always constant: long breaks from the gym are hard to recoup from, both mentally and physically.
Getting back on track requires mental toughness and humility. It’s a lot like starting a brand new habit, regardless of how disciplined you were in the gym before your break. There are many factors to consider, like training tempo, proper recovery and nutrition, and injury avoidance among others. It’s important to set realistic expectations of yourself before starting an exercise program with fresh muscles and an untrained cardiovascular system.
Each weekend in April I traveled to a different country, with only three to five days between each trip to rejuvenate at home. During this busy month, I knew expecting myself to strictly follow a strength program would be foolish. I tried to be rigorous in my routine several times in the past, and it always left me feeling weak and unconfident. But this April, I did it right. I managed to keep a light exercise routine – once or twice a week or easy lifting or cardio. When it was time to hit the gym again, I eased into it, finding my mojo. Inevitably, I lost some strength and endurance. But losing some muscle was well worth sacrificing to see many parts of the world.
These are my very basic rules when getting back into the groove of things:
It’s a Date
Set a reasonable commitment date. Reasonable is the key word here. Starting a difficult workout program on a typically busy day – say, Monday before the workweek starts – is a bad idea. If you have never been the type of person to wake up and hit the gym a few hours before your shift starts, you will have a hard time committing to be that person abruptly. It’s unreasonable. And it can be demotivating.
Instead, commit to a workout regimen that coincides with your schedule. In the example above, I’d recommend starting on a Saturday or any other day that you don’t have commitments.
Personally, I have a hard time hitting the gym on the day I get back from a travel trip, so I set my goal date for one day after I get back. Because it’s easier for me to commit to, I actually do it.
Ready, Set, Goal
Start with easily attainable goals. This can be something as simple as walking two miles a day. The point is to make your first few goals so easy that excuses and other barriers are null. Accomplishing something, no matter how small, is a big motivator to tackle future goals. It puts you in the mindset of, “Wow, if I can do that, imagine what else I can do!?”
When I am getting back on track after a long break from the gym, I generally workout every other day during the first week or two. This gives my body time to recover fully before my next workout. I don’t focus on cleaning up the diet until the second or third week. One thing at a time. Completion outweighs complication during this stage.
Be realistic in your goals. Mindset is everything. If you’re dwelling on how you aren’t as strong or fast as others (or as you once were), you will have larger hurdles to jump over in the beginning. It won’t be any easier over time unless you change your comparative attitude. The person who accepts where she stands is going to progress much more easily because her focus is on progress, not on current status.
Avoid doing this by setting realistic expectations of yourself. Try not to hold yourself accountable to the same physical standards as before you stopped exercising. The good news is that the body will adapt to the stimulus it goes though. By accepting your current state, you will negate the self-inflicted mental limitations and excel in your physical goals.
Let Me Take a #Selfie
Share your goals and accomplishments. This seems to contradict my last post about deleting social media. However, sharing your goals with someone can help you hold yourself accountable. We are designed in a way to avoid embarrassing situations or potentially making ourselves look bad. It seems counterintuitive, but that avoidance of discomfort can sometimes be a great initial motivator to start an exercise routine. I personally find it easier to deal with the discomfort of exercising than to deal with the shame of telling someone I didn’t live up to my word.
Though this type of extrinsic motivation helps in the short run, you’ll need to find internal motivation to keep up your exercise habit in the long run. Read about how to boost motivation here.
I hope this post helped you see that the biggest hurdles in the gym can be mental rather than physical. If you ever need tips, you know where to find me!
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