The anxiety of stepping foot back into a gym, workout class or back on the yoga mat after months or even years away can be really overwhelming. The idea that you can’t perform the same way, lift as much, run as far or even feel yourself getting out of breath is enough to stop you in your track before you even start. To make your first visit back less intimidating and more successful, we tapped fitness experts who’ve been helping their clients hit the reset button on their health.
What is the first thing I should do?
Returning to the gym may call for a new wardrobe, but getting cuter gear isn’t actually the first step. Former international heptathlete and bobsledder turned fitness trainer Caroline Pearce says to make your workout an appointment with yourself. “Put it in your calendar the same way you would a meeting or dentist appointment so you don’t allow yourself to miss it or put it off ‘until later’,” says Pearce. “Be realistic. Know your schedule and plan ahead with when you can fit it in. By planning ahead, you’ll avoid agreeing to other time demands that take you away from your ‘you time’ of exercise time.”
What is the best way to ease back into exercising?
Lead meditation instructor for the FitOn app, DeAndre Sinette says accessibility is the key to success those first few sessions or classes back. “I made the mistake of overbooking my schedule with workouts that were also daunting and I would either half-ass or just skip them and make an excuse,” he explains. “I love that FitOn workouts are shorter but effective. Approach planning workouts like you plan goals: have big goals but break them down into achievable actions. Just five to 10 minutes of working out is better than one workout a week for 60 minutes. Do a little, a lot when first starting out!”
“Start small with 15-30 min workouts and add up over time,” adds FitOn personal trainer Bree Koegel. “If you have the privilege of working out multiple times per week, make sure your entire body gets some love. Dedicate an entire workout session to your upper body, one to your lower body, and one for full body. Make sure you incorporate styles that make you smile, to keep you coming back for more.”
Continue taking baby steps by working on your goals in small increments says Sweat Factor trainer Jamie McFaden. “Lay out a schedule for how you would like to build on these overtime,” she advises. “To keep yourself motivated, find exercises you genuinely enjoy and hold yourself accountable through a team, community, trainer or app. Whenever you are feeling discouraged, take a moment to define your WHY—why do you want to workout? How does it make you feel?”
I’ve gained some weight. How will that affect my workout?
Jessica Mazzucco, founder of The Glute Recruit says to drop the shame about any extra weight as so many of us are seeing a different number on the scale than we did last year. “Many of us have put on weight due to the pandemic and that is nothing to feel ashamed of,” says the personal trainer. “If you are resuming exercise with added weight, be mindful of the fact that depending on the amount you have gained, this can place greater strain on joints, especially the knees, back, and ankles.”
So what should you pay attention to if you’re a little heavier than the last time you worked out? “At first, it might be best to include exercise that reduces weight-bearing, such as stationary bikes, water exercise, or rowing machines,” says Mazzucco. “Once you’ve lost some weight and improved your cardio function, then you can add more walking or jogging to your exercise routine.”
How can I ensure I stick with it?
Afraid that the sedentary lifestyle will call you back eventually? The experts say to make sure you’re doing something that will keep you coming back. “Variety!” notes Pearce. “Commit to a mixture of different workouts from HIIT to yoga to Pilates to fight-style fitness. Not only will you avoid boredom, but you’ll avoid the plateau in results that comes with repeating the same workouts. You’ll also discover which style your body responds to best.”
What is the biggest mistake most people make when going back to the gym?
More important than starting is giving yourself the patience needed to help your mind and body get back to the state it was in before you hit the pause button on your fitness. “For people who were in peak condition before the pandemic, it is human nature to want to ‘get back there’ right away,” says Mazzucco. “This impatience and tendency to overdo it will cause injury. A year with little to no exercise is a long time and it’s going to take time to get back to where you were before the pandemic. After a week or two of consistent exercise, you can bump up the intensity, provided you’re not losing form or feeling serious pain. Be patient with yourself in the process.”
Another common mistake people make when getting back into it is not letting their body rest. “If your muscles are sore to the touch, they’re probably craving a rest day,” adds Koegel. “Take those cues seriously to increase your efficiency when you’re ready to get back in the game!”
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