If you ever take a short—or extended—break from your workout regimen, you’re not alone. Plenty of people find themselves off-track for one reason or another. But what matters most is that you’re willing to get back up and try again. Here, experts share their best tips for conquering your first workout in a while.
Start with small victories.
After a break from exercise, it’s important to start small instead of going all in, so to speak. Michele Gordon, a New York City-based fitness expert and founder of Cardio Sweat Party, suggests committing to just two days each week to work out. Then, slowly add one more every week after until you find a routine that works for you. “Quite often, a lot of us go all-out after a hiatus and then start to feel too sore, too tired or, worse, injured, to keep going the next week,” she says. “If you’re in good shape, but just took a few weeks off, you can start small by simply extending your warm-up and cool-down or working out four times that week instead of five.”
Retrain your brain slowly.
If you used to run six miles a day, but haven’t run in several months (or years), or if you used to lift heavy weights on the regular, but haven’t in a while, start slow. “Don’t come to the gym thinking you can do what you used to when you trained a lot five years ago,” says Chris Ryan, C.S.C.S and founder of Chris Ryan Fitness. That’s just asking for an injury. “Everything is relative, so scale back the intensity of the first few workouts and concentrate on full range functional movements that leave you with a good sweat, but no injuries.”
Enlist a support system.
A push from friends, family or workout buddies can go a long way in helping you stay on track. Don’t take the burden of starting an exercise routine all on your own. “If you surround yourself with positive forces on your health, you’ll be able to get into your workout program and have people who have your back when the going gets tough,” says Gordon.
Make it fun.
Chances are, you find your workout routine less appealing than you once did when you were exercising on the regular. This might mean it’s time to change things up and find a new workout that you enjoy. “If you go into the workout knowing it’s fun, then it will be,” says Gordon. “Play your favorite music, make your workout a game, take a fitness class and, most importantly, laugh!” If you make your workout fun, you’ll be apt to do it again (and again and again!).
Write down your goals.
Research shows that writing down your goals is more effective than just thinking of them. In fact, one study found that those who wrote down their goals and dreams on a consistent basis were 42 percent more likely to achieve them than those who didn’t. Ryan agrees. “If you don’t have a plan to succeed, then you are planning to fail,” he says. “Think in simple terms, though: ‘three classes this week,’ ‘run five miles by March 1,’ or ‘first pull-up by next birthday,’ etc.”
Celebrate personal records.
Every time you do something to your best effort—whether that’s running an extra five minutes or .5 miles per hour faster on the treadmill—celebrate it. It could be another rep on your strength day on the squat rack. Anything you do to your best effort is a milestone for you, so celebrate yourself and your great efforts!
Do it for you
According to research, if you’re sparking up your workout routine again for the sole purpose of looking good at your high school reunion or to fit into your wedding dress, you’re less likely to stick to it for the long haul. It’s more effective to find internal motivation—or, in other words, to exercise for your own happiness instead. “People who are internally motivated and exercise because they want to are most likely to keep up a regular regimen,” says Gordon. Bottom line: Workout for you!