Think Creatively to Jump Back on the Workout Wagon
My toughest fitness challenge wasn’t a workout. It was getting off of a couch. You’ve faced the couch challenge, too, if you’ve ever gotten out of shape then struggled to get fit again.
How do you retrieve your fitness mojo after a break?
When this question raises its accusing head, my instinct is to slink off to the comfort of my cushy couch. The TV remote is warm in my hand, as my mind tried to block out the fact that I’d feel better if I got moving.
If you’re like me, you’ll win this struggle only after you burst through the cycle of fibs you tell yourself. We all recite them, including biggies like, “I’m too busy.” “I’m too tired.” “I’m too lazy.
Creative thinking can counter the excuse of too little time.
Ask yourself, “How much television do I watch?” Now, what if you could make that TV time pay off?
Break out the resistance bands or free weights before you sit in front of the TV. Do strength training as you watch your shows. Try walking or jogging in place.
Let’s face it. Most television is not so dense with brainy concepts that you can’t work out and still follow it.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, try recording your favorite shows and watching them later, making sure to skip past the commercials. You’ll save 10-20 minutes, a stretch of time that you may later devote to working out.
A big chunk of time for exercise can be tough to find.
The good news is that you’ll get as much benefit if you divide your workout into smaller sessions and space them throughout the day.“We find time for things we value,” James Hill, co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry, told WebMD.
Lacking time for exercise is only a perception, Psychologist Henry Lew Yuen Foong, Singapore General Hospital, wrote on HealthXchange.sg. https://www.healthxchange.sg/fitness-exercise/exercise-tips/five-barriers-exercise-singaporeans-time-family-more
The suggested minimum exercise, 150 minutes, is 1 percent of a week.
If you think about your priorities and use time-management techniques, you can keep workouts in your schedule.
In deciding the best time of day to work out, keep in mind that fatigue will kill anyone’s will to hit the gym, That’s why Foong says to work out at the time of day you have the most energy, usually morning.
Personally, I’m a night owl, but a morning workout suits me. It eliminates the opportunity to spend the day thinking up an excuse not to go.
If you need extra willpower to get moving, think of others.
That’s what Foong suggests. Remind yourself that your loved ones depend on you to be healthy. If you have children, think of the good example you’ll set.
Nip doubts in the bud. When a negative thought about exercise surfaces, tell yourself to stop. Replace it with a mantra like, “Focus” or “Be bold.”
Your approach to fighting inertia may be deeply personal.
For me, it’s finding a way to pretend I’m not working out while I’m working out. This is when the personality trait of denial can shine, giving my entire family a leg up.
“Denial is the refusal to accept reality or fact,” Psychologist John Grohol wrote on his website, psychcentral.com. “It is considered one of the most primitive of the defense mechanisms, because it is characteristic of early childhood development.”
“Primitive”? Maybe, but not if you turn it to your advantage. That’s what happens when you seek out a social setting for exercise. It’s easy to do. Find a fitness class or club where talking to and working with other members helps you forget the “e” word,
I once got back into exercise with a beer-drinking running club.
It was right after I moved to Boston for a job. I knew no one at first. Sticking to an exercise program was a struggle. It didn’t help that, as a new recruit at a 24-hour news service, I worked the midnight shift, Wednesday through Sunday.
Walking to the bureau one evening, I squizzed a flyer promoting the Boston Barleyhoppers. They met Monday nights at the Bull & Finch, since renamed for the TV show set there, Cheers.
The Barleyhoppers would run about 2 miles to another bar, down a couple of beers, then run the 2 miles back and drink two more (numerologists, the significance of two?).
The weekly gulp-and-go sessions filled the bill for me, since literally running around with my friends was too much fun to feel like exercise. I began runningraces after learning I could always find fellow club members at them.
I’ll skim the details of the annual beer chases.
Held in Boston and Gloucester, Mass., each of the summer races encompassed about 3 miles and half a dozen bars. Runners drank a small beer at each.
The Gloucester Beer Chase was the only race I’ve ever medaled in. I also had heat exhaustion. Smart, huh?
The Barleyhoppers are no longer active, but after winding up in Houston, I joined a different kind of running program. Called Power in Motion, it is aimed at people who want to either start running or resume after a hiatus.
I convinced a friend to join a couch-to-5K program with me.
At the weekly training sessions, we walked and ran while chatting with each other and the friends we made in the group. Shared suffering creates a bond. The banter often helped me forget I was exercising. Soon, my fitness returned, and I was taking part in races again.
For some of us, the denial factor works even better when combined with a sense of guilt. After a couple of years in the walk-run program, I was asked to volunteer as a coach.
Once I began coaching, a sense of duty toward my athletes and fellow coaches kept me coming every week. I could not blow off a workout when people were counting on me.
The group sessions, plus two or three on my own during the week, helped me keep the fitness level I had worked so hard to achieve. Maintaining is a good thing. Your level of fitness can head downhill faster than you might think.
”[Aerobic] fitness starts to diminish slightly within three days.”
That sobering news comes from Prof. Michele Olson of Huntingdon College. She told Prevention magazine, “It’s also the fastest fitness parameter to regain relatively quickly.”
Her advice for getting back to working out is based on her science-based understanding of exercise and its effect on the human body. To redeem yourself and your health, pull back your former workout by, oh, about one-fifth.
The caution to go slowly applies doubly to those who feel compelled to up the ante as as penance for going AWOL. Suffering is not only absent from the re-entry plan, it’s downright frowned upon.
“Give yourself some recovery during your workout that you may not have needed when you were a gym regular,” Olson says. “Do 10 to 15 minutes, grab some water and add on another 5 to 10. Don’t jump back into doing 30 minutes straight at your typical pace.”
Control your enthusiasm
The gradual approach to re-entering the land of the fit will help ward off the injuries you risk by doing too much too soon, a common cause of comeback failure. A laid-back return will also aid in jump-starting the workout habit by reducing the burnout risk of those who are too gung-ho.
If you maintain regular workouts, you can can expect to reach a decent level of fitness in four to eight weeks, experts say.
In the past, I’ve had the bad habit of taking long breaks from exercise for a range of reasons, like a change in work schedule, moving to another town, or getting injured. I hope you never have the bad luck to cease workouts due to a serious injury or illness. But if you do, bear in mind that it could mean going back to workouts (under your doctor’s care, of course) at the most modest of paces.
“You don’t want an exercise goal that’s so far-fetched that you feel like you can’t even try,” exercise physiologist Krystal Johnson told the Harvard Heart Letter. ( https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-start-exercising-if-youre-out-of-shape- )
She should know. She does cardiac rehab at Massachusetts General Hospital. “If [you can only] commit to 10 minutes of exercise, two to three times a week, that’s a start,” she points out.
One way to decide the right level of intensity for your triumphant return to fitness is to add up how long you’ve been, uh, dormant. That’s according to Trish Schwartz, an exercise scientist for the American Council on Exercise. (Full disclosure: I got my certification to teach group exercise from ACE).
The cold, hard truth is that you’re officially out of shape after you’ve stopped training for four months. (I hate cold, hard truths, don’t you?)
Most of us don’t need a calendar to tell us we’re out of shape, right? Regardless of our favored activity, whether it’s cycling, hiking, Zumba, running, tennis, CrossFit or any type of aerobic movement, the tough part is figuring out how to become fit again as quickly as possible without overdoing.
“A safe way to get back into running shape or any other cardio training is by doing 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity at a relatively low intensity, two to three times a week,” Schwartz told writer Marion Webb, an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. (https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6587/jumping-back-on-the-fitness-bandwagon )
“After you complete a 30-minute workout at a low intensity without stopping or slowing down, you can begin to increase either the duration of exercise by two to five minutes or the intensity by 5 percent, but not more,” Schwartz says.
A return to strength training should be just as gradual. Find a weight that lets you complete somewhere between 12 and 15 lifts without losing form. Once you can do more than 15 repeats, up the weight. Be prepared for the weight to be 50 to 90 percent less than what you lifted before slacking off. This may drive you crazy, but remember that you’ll be back up to your old numbers in no time.
“It only takes eight to 12 weeks of regular strength training to achieve significant gains,” Wayne Westcott, fitness research director at Quincy College, said in the fourth edition of the ACE Personal Trainer Manual.
Start with one exercise for each major muscle group. Never mind how many sets you used to do. Limit yourself to 12 to 15 repeats for each type of lift. Recovery time is as important as ever in a return to weight training.
Two strength workouts a week separated by at least one day of rest is the common advice.
When it stops being a challenge to do one set of lifts, increase the number of sets to two. Limit the increase in weight to 5 percent. After three to four weeks, think about going to three sets of each lift. Continue to limit any weight increase to 5 percent, and reduce the number of repetitions to 8 to 12. Avoid increasing more than one measure at a time.
Weight lifters should be prepared: You’ll be tempted to rush your recovery. Everybody is. So ponder the tale of the tortoise and the hare. (Hint: The hare messed up).
“The biggest trap people fall into is trying to do too much, too soon,” says Schwartz. “While the renewed excitement of that endorphin rush that gives you that natural high can easily seduce you to become overzealous, giving in to more activity can lead to burnout or injury,”
No matter how long it takes to ease back into your workout, hold firmly to this truth:. You’re still way ahead of the folks who stayed on the couch.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have a sure-fire approach to getting yourself off the couch and back to working out? An inspiring story of triumph over sloth? If so, please let us know in Comments.