How to Restart an Exercise Routine

Are You Ashamed of Quitting Exercise? Ditch the Guilt and Get Going

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It would be so much easier to exercise more consistently if there weren't so many other things happening all the time, wouldn't it?  If we didn't have to deal with all these nagging things like having a job and having to do those annoying, time consuming things like feed ourselves and, of course, our kids need food as well, I'm told.

However, life is messy and sometimes that spills over into even the most carefully planned workout routine.  Even the most devoted exerciser will eventually have to abandon his workout routine for any number of reasons.  How many of us deal with this is to think the following:  "As soon as [this annoying situation] is over, I'll get right back to exercise!" And then you find out that once that annoying situation is over, there's a brand new one just waiting in the wings.

So, what do you do when you've gotten so far away from how fit you used to be that you don't even know where to begin?  How do you get over the guilt and fear and just get moving again?

The good news is, it's easier than you think.

Step One:  Admit Where You Went Wrong

Step 1: Admit Your Mistake

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Most of us feel guilty when we've gotten off track with our workouts and maybe we're even afraid to get our bodies moving again. As a result, we often keep putting it off until we're so far away from regular exercise, getting back in shape seems impossible. But no matter how long it's been since you've exercised, putting it off isn't going to make it any easier. You're better off facing where you are and starting from there.

  1. Admit where you went wrong. Take some time to think about what happened to throw you off track and what you might have done to prevent it, if possible.
  2. Stop kicking yourself. Guilt, when taken too far, can sometimes keep you from getting back to your healthy habits (e.g., I'm such a loser and I obviously can't stick with a program, so why bother?). Give yourself a time limit (say 20 minutes) for feeling guilty. When time's up, put it aside and move on.
  3. Figure out your weak areas. Now that you're trying to get back into exercise, you know how hard it is once you've gotten off track. Now is a good time to look back at common situations that tend to throw you off and notice any patterns. Do you ditch your workouts everytime you leave town or have to work late a few nights in a row? Becoming aware of your weak areas and planning for them can help you stay on track, which is your next step.

Step Two:  Plan for the Future

Step 2: Plan for the Future

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From the previous step, you now have an idea of what happened and where you went wrong. With that in mind, now is a great time to prepare for the future so you can avoid starting all over again. The only real difference between successful exercisers and those who quit is that successful exercisers are adaptable. They know things will happen in life to interrupt their schedules and they plan for it.

  1. Know Your Schedule. Your first step is to sit down with your calendar or day planner and look at the coming month. Are any major events happening? A vacation, a holiday or a big work project? Make a note of anything unusual that might interrupt your schedule.
  2. Plan your workouts. For any major events coming up, make a plan for how you'll keep exercising. Even if you have to pare down your usual routine or split your workout into short sessions throughout the day, figure out how you'll maintain some kind of activity no matter how small it is. For example, if you know you'll be working late for several nights, could you take 10 minutes at lunch for a walk or get up a few minutes early for some strength training? Be creative.
  3. Get prepared. You have a schedule and a plan, now you'll need to make sure you have everything you need to follow through with it. If have to shorten your workouts, do you have some new workouts to follow? Do you have the gear you need for lunchtime workouts or quick home workouts? You may need to gather some workout ideas or home gym equipment so you're prepared.

Of course, you can't plan for everything. You could catch a nasty cold or have to deal with your kid's illnesses or any number of unexpected interruptions. Sometimes you really can't exercise and, if that's the case, make a promise to start some kind of activity (even if it's just stretching or a little walking) as soon as you can.

Step Four:  Ease Into It

Step 4: Ease Into It

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Getting back to your routine doesn't necessarily mean jumping right back into the same program you were following before. The biggest mistake many of us make when getting back to exercise is overdoing it...or what I call the Guilt Response. When we get off track, our first response is often to jump back in and do twice as much work to make up for what we missed. But, there are a number of problems with that response:

  • Loss of strength and endurance. If you've been off exercise for more than 2-3 weeks, you've lost some of that strength and endurance you once had. As a result, your body won't be capable of doing the same level of training you were doing before.
  • Injuries and DOMS. Going full-speed with your workouts from the start means you'll be experiencing plenty of muscle soreness (DOMS) and if you keep trying to workout when you're very sore, you run the risk of injuring yourself.
  • Dreading your workouts. If you do too much too soon and you're sore, tired and fatigued, you may start to dread your workouts and that's not the attitude you want when trying to get back on track.

Acknowledge that it's been awhile since you've worked out and that your body has'll need time to build back the strength and endurance you've lost and that means easing into your workouts.

Step Five:  Listen to Your Body

Step 5: Listen to Your Body

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One frustration in returning to exercise is facing the loss of strength and endurance. Many of us try to push too hard, wanting to be where we were rather than starting out where we are. But, whatever your mind wants, your body has its own agenda and it's important to act on your body's cues to back off.

This is especially true when coming back from an illness. If you had a nasty cold or flu, your body expended a lot of energy in fighting it and may be weaker than you think. You should follow doctor's orders but, when you get back to it, some cues you want to pay attention to include:

  • Heart rate or perceived exertion. If your heart rate is higher than normal or you're out of breath, you may need to back off.
  • Energy level. In general, you should start to feel more energy as you progress from your warm up into the heart of your workout. If you find your energy levels are dropping, that's another sign that your body may not be ready for that level of exertion.
  • Weakness or fatigue. If you're lifting weights and feel weakness or fatigue in the muscles or body, that's a sign to back off and rest or proceed directly to some light stretching.
  • Bonking. Bonking is a term we often use for endurance athletes when they hit the wall or, in other words, lose power because they've used up their energy stores. Bonking can also happen to regular exercisers, especially if you're coming back from an illness. You may be dehydrated or you may not be eating as much as normal. On top of lingering symptoms like coughing, runny noses and lack of sleep, you can easily bonk without warning.

Learning to listen to your body is essential for getting back to your routine. If what you're doing doesn't feel right for any reason, give yourself permission to end your workout early...just don't forget a light cool down if needed.

Step Six:  Create Your Workout Schedule

Step 6: Create Your Workout Schedule

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When creating a workout schedule, you may not know what your strength and endurance is after your break. It can be frustrating to feel that you're starting all over, but your body will remember how to exercise and your strength/endurance will come back 100% if you give your body some time. Try this approach when hammering out your workout schedule:

  • Schedule your workout days. To do this, you might look at your old workout schedule and create a lighter version. For example, if you used to workout 5 or 6 days a week, set up a schedule for 3-4 days of exercise and just squeeze in the basics - a little cardio, a little strength and a little flexibility.
  • Plan your cardio workouts. Again, look at your old schedule and then set up a routine that's a bit lighter than what you were doing before. If you used to run 5 days a week, you might start with a walk/run program for 3 days. If you used to workout for 45-60 minutes, try for 20-30 your first week or two out. Some workout ideas:
  • Plan your strength workouts. Your strength workouts may be where you experience the most soreness. To avoid that or at least minimize it, plan on a light program. For example, you might choose 8-10 exercises targeting the whole body and perform one set of each exercise. It may feel like you're going backwards to start with a light workout, but it's better to take it easy than to get so sore, you can't workout at all. Some ideas:Some things to consider when first starting out:​
    • Schedule more recovery days. You may need a few extra days to recover from your workouts.
    • Schedule gentler workouts. I find that yoga and Pilates are great for easing back into exercise. For ideas, check out these Yoga-Pilates Based Workouts.

Step Seven:  Delve Into More Free Exercise Resources

Step 7: Delve Into More Free Exercise Resources

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These resources, articles and workout ideas will help you adjust your attitude and give you ideas for how to get back on track with your workouts:

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