Getting Back to Work(outs)

I had such a stellar month of workout in November (you can read the post on my “no skip November” here), you might think I rode the fitness wave right through December as well. But you’d be wrong. Unfortunately, life got in the way in December. Here are my excuses reasons…

First off, as soon as November ended I was told by my physical therapist to abstain from gym workouts for a week in order to let some bursitis in my hip subside. Okay, no problem—I needed a little break anyway and my hip did hurt more than I wanted to acknowledge through November. Then came finals week for my community college students, Alli and I did a 2016 food trends webinar for Guiding Stars, and oh yes, I had to get a tree up and prepare (read: cook for days) for my annual holiday house party. After that all wrapped up (speaking of wrap, I did need to shop for, wrap and ship gifts to some far-flung family and friends, as well as get a few things for my immediate family members of course), my husband, two teens and I jetted off to London for a short pre-Christmas vacation that I had planned during the summer…when the busy-ness of December was obviously not on my mind. The trip was wonderful (London at holiday time is gorgeous and festive), but being away at that time of year certainly put us all more than a bit behind when we returned just before the holiday and had only a day or so to finish our holiday preparations.

You get the idea. December came and went and I only went to the gym two or three times, only took a walk with a friend once, and only saw my trainer once in the entire month. Yes, I felt guilty about it all. It was the worst workout month I’ve had in ages…maybe years, even.

It’s now January and I’m slowly getting back into the gym/workout/fitness groove. It hasn’t been pretty. What does it take to recommit to your workout routine? Here’s what I have learned…

Couscous, Lentil & Arugula Salad is a smart lunch to feed your body well after a mid-day workout.

Realize that cardio fitness may be the first thing to go.

The first few workouts at the gym felt like I was working out in quicksand and I took longer to catch my breath than I typically do. It all just felt much harder than I remembered…and actually, it was, as without a demand on my cardiovascular system, my body saw no need to put its efforts or attention there, so to speak. Loss of fitness after a break from working out is called exercise detraining effect. Some research shows that cardiovascular fitness drops first when one stops exercising for a couple weeks or more. Strength conditioning seems to take a little longer to diminish. In any case, it’s not the end of the world (though the first few days back at the gym may seem catastrophic). In fact, professional athletes are advised to detrain for various periods throughout the year in order to adequately rest their bodies—and some research indicates that detraining periods can be beneficial, even. So when it’s time to get back at it, realize that you will be more breathless, but that’s no reason to give up. (Incidentally, it’s possible to maintain much of your fitness level by doing fewer workouts/shorter workouts—see a trainer for specifics.)

Start slowly…I mean s.l.o.w.l.y.

The temptation is to try and “make up for lost time” by trying to build back up to your previous workouts as fast as possible. AVOID THIS TEMPTATION. Not only will you physically not be able to jump right back into your old routine successfully, you’ll probably feel awful as your body is shocked into mega-soreness and exhaustion (trust me on this—I know better now, but it’s still tempting to try harder, do more). Exercise stresses the body—too much, too soon can cause injury, not to mention frustration. It’s also nicer to feel good about your efforts after each workout—and being able to finish your workout without feeling like you’re going to expire is satisfying. Each workout is progress! Start with significantly lighter weights, and for cardio, aim for shorter and less-intense workouts. Build up your time, intensity and weights a little each week to let your body get used to it again. Here are some guidelines for getting back into an exercise routine from the American Council on Exercise.

Choose the time of your workout wisely.

It’s January and if you belong to a gym you know what happens. Yep, the whole city shows up at the gym and everybody wants “your” cardio equipment and is hogging “your” kettlebells! While research shows that people who exercise in the morning tend to stick with the exercise habit more successfully, late afternoon exercisers typically perform better. For me, going to the gym when the fewest people are there makes me happiest (though typically I do prefer to exercise in the morning because it makes me feel like I started out the day with an accomplishment). I have found that at my gym, fewer January exercisers are there after the morning rush but well before the lunchtime rush—and certain not even close to the after-work rush (shudder). So, that’s at about 9:30 or 9:45 to 11 am. Visit your gym at varying hours to see how it goes at your gym. Or, work out at home or outside and avoid the crowds altogether.

Make yourself a priority.

Your exercise time is an investment in your health, no matter what your goals are (stress release, strength, flexibility and balance, cardio fitness etc). YOU deserve that time and should not feel guilty about scheduling that time into your calendar. Plan out which days you’ll workout and at what times (as much as you realistically can), and block out those times on your phone calendar, paper calendar or wherever you note your appointments. Once you get back in the swing of regular exercise you may not need to do this (though it wouldn’t hurt), but for now, seeing those exercise sessions written down somewhere can be motivator. After you finish a workout, pamper yourself with a nice stretch and if time and schedule allows, a hot shower, bath, or if you’re like me, a short soak in the hot tub. Maybe your schedule calls for lunch time exercise, then your self-care post workout could include a tasty, healthful lunch—one good body move deserves another, right?