Whether the break was 1 week or 25, coming back to the gym after some time off is really really difficult. It is more difficult than starting for the first time by what seems to be a factor of ten. But it’s a new year and you’re ready to get back at it. This re-start is a pivotal point in your life of fitness. It’s really important that your re-start is done strategically. Here are some tips:
For the sake of this post, let’s define a “break” according to the minimum recommended training schedule. Let’s say a “break” is six or more weeks of less than 90 minutes of vigorous activity. You can actually maintain a substantial amount of fitness in just 90 minutes per week or three 30 minute sessions. Even if you had a week or two of consistency broken up by weeks of not-so-much consistency, we’ll still call this a break.
Get brutally honest about the break
Maybe you needed or wanted the break. In that case, nice work! Seasons are super important in life and fitness. It’s actually beneficial to take a week off or take 12 weeks of going easy, yet consistently. But let’s say you didn’t plan the break. What are the things you told yourself about the break? Did they have to do with external factors? Or maybe you just simply beat yourself up. In either case, that’s the wrong approach and won’t serve you. It’s a great habit to get your mind in the zone of ownership. Our brains are particularly good at justifying past actions. It’s a defense mechanism against physical danger, but doesn’t serve us very well in the modern world. Here’s an example of one of my own failings:
I wanted to write more in 2018. I didn’t write as much as I intended. But I was really busy. I started building a new gym, launched a new software company, re-structured our organization, and started a nonprofit. Plus I wanted to stay as available as possible to our team and members during this time.
It’s a convincing argument, right? And it’s a justifiable argument if my goal isn’t as important as my other priorities. Meaning, I say writing more is important. But if I don’t actually write more, I need to ask myself a new set of questions:
- Do people busier than me write as much as I would like to? Yes
- Is writing important enough to me that I’m willing to be inconvenienced in other areas? Yes
- Can I wake up earlier, watch less Netflix, or outsource an activity to find 3o minutes a day to write? Yes
You can look at this exercise one of two ways: I’m blaming myself (negative) or I’m taking ownership (empowering). By taking ownership of the situation, I’m not only more likely to achieve the desired goal but I’m practicing a skill that will serve me in other areas of my life and work.
The mind of a noob
When you first started working with a coach, you were probably entirely bought into the process. This is due to a combination of fear of something new and the accountability of working 1-on-1 with a professional coach. Adopt that mindset again. Pretend like it’s your first time working out, ask questions of your coaches, and take it slow.
There’s no making up for lost time
There’s a great saying that’s often used in health and investing for retirement: “The best time to start was yesterday. The second best time is today.” Just like sleep, you won’t be able to work out “extra” and make up for the break. Remember the movie “50 First Dates”? Pretend like your first day back is your first day altogether. You’ll be tempted to zero in on how fit you used to be. This is wasted mental energy. You’ll probably event comment on it to people around you. DON’T. Don’t let vocalizing a poor mindset define your actual mindset.
You are at your highest risk for injury
Our #1 red flag for injury potential is not the brand new I’ve never exercised in my life athlete. It’s most certainly the but I played football in college and lift weights all the time I don’t need to be coached athlete. If you’re coming back from a break you may be teetering in the camp of “I know how to do all this.” You are now equipped with the mental toughness and technique you gained when you first went through an intro program. Because you already have these skills, you’ll be tempted to ramp it up too quickly. Keep the weight light, the gymnastics simple, and the intensity low. Build them up until March. Then set it loose.
Prioritize most important things
Sleep is more important than nutrition and nutrition is more important than exercise. If you have limited time, focus that time on the things that will have a compounding positive effect on the others. If you’re going to eat like garbage but work out 5 times a week, just work out twice and meal prep the other three days. Those two workouts will have a much better result than the 5 with poor nutrition.
Go easy on yourself
We’re not wired for delayed gratification. The fact that you even adopted a healthy lifestyle change in the first place puts you in the vast minority of people. Celebrate that! Remind yourself that you’re doing something good for your future self and family. Find tiny milestones along the way to celebrate your progress. Grab a buddy and keep each other accountable. Aim low with how many times you commit to the gym or meal prep, but aim for consistency. And — as always — reach out to a coach for an assist.