— By Kirsten Nunez
Riding the fitness “bandwagon” isn’t always a smooth ride. Sometimes, the bumps are so strong that they throw you off. What now? Is it possible to try and catch up? One side of you knows that it’s worth a shot, but the other might not even know where to start.
Don’t let that bump in the road be the end of your journey—know that you’re not alone in the “fell off” club. We all know the fitness bandwagon is the place to be, but like most habits, maintaining a life-long routine takes hard work.
Why Do People Quit?
There are countless reasons why people quit exercise after pushing themselves for weeks, months or even years. According to Karen Katz, trainer and Pilates instructor in New York City, it’s common to feel discouraged if you’re not seeing (fast) results. “[However], a new job, schedule, baby, pet, or even a significant other can change someone’s habits and priorities,” she explains.
Katz mentions that moving, injury and travel can also get in the way. These real-life situations are major and normal, but they can also mess with your flow.
Trainer Brooke Taylor of Taylored Fitness adds that boredom is another roadblock. “Or [maybe you] pushed too much too fast, that you quickly burnt out or got injured.” Sound familiar? It’s a common newbie mistake, but you’re only human.
Before scolding yourself, look at this fall as a teaching moment. You’ve started once (or maybe even twice) before, so who says you can’t do it again? This time around, you’ll have the chance to fuel the routine in a new and different way.
“Missing a few days from the gym is no biggie,” reassures Justin Ochoa, personal trainer and owner of PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, Indiana. “Even missing a week can be a good opportunity to recharge. But if you’re physically inactive for months or years, [it] can leave you with an uphill battle when trying to get back into it.”
That’s why it’s vital to start slow, just like the first time. A game plan will save the day—whether you’ve skipped out your workouts for a month or a year.
The Dangers of Starting Where You Left Off
Jumping right back into an exercise routine, expecting to pick up right where you left off, is a recipe for disaster. No matter how enthusiastic you are, restarting a routine will have its downfalls so going in with the same mindset as you had before increases the risk of repeating the same mistakes. Give yourself time to adjust to a new approach or mindset, whatever that might be. Habits need time to change.
Most importantly, going hard is a setup to getting hurt. Katz, Taylor and Ochoa all agreed that potential injury is the number one risk of pushing yourself too fast.
“I see it way too often,” says Taylor. “People push full force. However, coming from a de-conditioned state, your heart rate will elevate a lot quicker. Your body will respond—and reject—the load.”
Ochoa echoed similar concerns: “After stopping a training program for an extended period of time, an individual can become detrained. [It’s] a loss of physical and psychological adaptations from previous training experiences.”
The bottom line? Take it easy. “Go at your own speed and listen to your body,” advises Katz. “It’s great to be eager about jumping back into a fitness routine, but going too hard too fast can result in injury and burnout.”
The Action Plan
The decision and process of terminating a fitness routine look different for everyone. As such, every comeback will be just as different. But with these general steps, you can strategize a triumphant return in a way that works for you.
1. Review and Reflect
Be honest with yourself. Take a step back and look at what really went wrong. In order to jump a hurdle, you need to know where it materialized in the first place.
What did you like about your routine before? Dislike? Write down your thoughts and see if you notice any patterns or red flags that can be avoided in the future. Reflect on the benefits when you were active, and remember how you felt. For some, this can be enough to fire up a new layer of dedication.
Of course, in the situation of a new job or injury, there are other factors. In those cases, focus on the new aspects of your current lifestyle, because they’ll come in handy when it’s time to plan.
2. Find What Can Be Changed
After reflecting, look for pockets of change. Again, this will be extremely different for every situation and person. It may include expectations, distractions or lack of motivational factors.
In the case of an injury, the actual exercise might need to be gentler to accommodate your current physical strength. And you know what? That’s okay.
If you dreaded your Wednesday yoga class every single week, it might be a sign that you didn’t enjoy how it made your body feel or the energy in the studio just wasn’t quite right. If you found yourself feeling pumped up when you exercised with your neighbor but struggled to motivated yourself alone, you might have been pushing yourself into the wrong kinds of workout environments. Look at all aspects of your previous plan and work to determine where things started to unravel.
If time was an issue, tackle time management first. Yes, we’re all busy, but know that physical activity doesn’t have to be a whole day affair. Viewing time as a roadblock really means that you don’t consider fitness a priority, says Ochoa.
3. Plan the Change
Now that you know what needs to be changed, it’s time to figure out how to change it.
This time around, don’t be afraid to try things differently. “Find a form of exercise that you like that inspires you,” says Taylor, even if that means trying out something new. Katz also suggests grabbing a friend you can count on, whether it’s at home or at the gym. Having a workout buddy is a game changer for motivation.
The same goes for making breakfast the night before or setting out your clothes. These little habits will set you up for success.
Working a tight schedule? Remember, two or three 10-minute walks each day totally counts and those little bursts of activity pay off in a major way. So would a two-minute session of yoga, according to a preliminary 2017 study in “Frontiers of Psychology.” Recognize that “fitness routine” doesn’t have a single definition, so you’re in control of how and when exercise fits into your schedule and lifestyle.
4. Set Mini Goals
To execute the plan, it helps to set goals. Whatever you do, though, remember to start small.
According to Taylor, it starts with coming to terms with the fact that your body is in a different place for now. “Set attainable goals that you know you can accomplish,” she recommends. It’s a must for avoiding the feeling of defeat and feeling empowered, instead. Little victories will fuel motivation and momentum.
Taylor mentions that she has clients make a goal sheet. She asks them, “What do you want to accomplish in the next six weeks? Three months? Six months? One year? We then break it down from there.” As you work through the goals, check in with yourself to make sure the right changes are being made. This sort of mindfulness is key.
5. Don’t Overestimate
While you’re reaching for those goals, avoid overestimating. Sure, being an overachiever might work in other parts of life, but not when you’re trying to safely jump on the bandwagon.
Your strength and speed are not the same. While you might have been able to run three miles without stopping before your break, your endurance is likely not the same, so it’s important to start slowly. The same goes for weightlifting, yoga or any other activity. You don’t necessarily have to start from the very beginning, but do set yourself up for a routine that is gentle on your body as it adjusts to sweating again. Take it down a notch and be kind to yourself. “Try to avoid the shortcuts,” advises Ochoa. “Stay focused on progression at an appropriate rate.”
Jumping back on isn’t an easy feat. But as you move through the motions, you’re doing yourself (and your future self) a favor. As Ochoa put it, “Fitness is about longevity and living a happier, healthy lifestyle. Do the work and embrace the journey.”