Help, I’ve Fallen off the Exercise Wagon
If you just spent the last month like I did: (a) With a piece of honey cake in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, (b) Doing an exercise routine exclusively made up of balancing hot dishes on one arm while walking laps in and out of the house, (c) where regeneration activity included multiple hours seated in meaningful contemplation or reading, or… (d) All of the above, plus sullen concerns about your lack of energy and expanding waistline…Then you will want to read on about how to bounce back into working out.
First: Let’s get real about expectations. You will want to pick up where you left off. This generally means you will want to return to the couch (Remember a body at rest tends to stay at rest from physics class in High School?!?) or, You will want to become the quintessential weekend warrior and jump headlong into intense cardio and double sessions in the gym. I want to take this moment to help you pause and do neither of those instinctive but completely unproductive impulses.
Instead, follow my
5 tips for getting back into exercise and fitness in a sustainable way:
1. Prepare for success. Lay your workout clothes and sneakers out before you go to bed. Schedule the workout in your planner and block out interruptions. Do that workout before you have time to think about it…because thinking during the next two weeks (your break back in period) will only get in your way. We want this on auto-pilot because deciding to work out and actually getting there is the hardest part. Short-circuiting the decision part is key. So stack that workout habit on top of some other firmly established habit (like waking up in the morning) and do it in a way that keeps it front of mind- i.e. having the sneakers in your visual space or the phone appointment alarm.
2. Begin the way you mean to go on. Plan on ONE thing you can stick with consistently FOREVER. Maybe that’s a 10 minute walk. Maybe that’s a 10 minute walk three times a week. Maybe that’s a 10 minute walk plus 20 situps and 10 modified pushups and a stretch. Pick that one thing you could reasonably, easily stick with for the rest of your life… and do it consistently for the next two weeks.
Resist the urge to give 110% these first two weeks. You want to work out to a point where you notice there was something happening but not so sore you can’t move (and sometimes you can’t tell because soreness doesn’t kick in until 24-48 hours after, so it’s ok to do a little less than you think you can that first time.) This is NOT the time to push your limits. You do not want to miss a workout these first two weeks. Consistency IS success. Soreness is not the indicator of success. I’m fairly certain you didn’t plan to go on needing to hold onto the walls easing yourself onto the toilet because …leg day.
3.Figure out your WHY and write that down. Why do you want to get fit? Want to not die so soon? Write it down. Want to look awesome for your niece’s wedding. Write it down. Need to get up the stairs without passing out? Whatever that “WHY” is, figure it out now, and write it down. Read what you wrote down often. Put it in your phone. Make a collage about it. When you have a meaningful reason, you can withstand the discomfort of making space in your life to commit to it.
4. Have Fun. The more fun you have while doing the workout the more you will stick with it. Maybe you fell off the wagon because you were bored. Then try something new- a new class, a new sport, something which used to make you smile but you gave up years ago like dancing in your bedroom like Madonna to show tunes.
5. Get support. Need a sports bra, get it. New sneakers? Need to dial a friend, a counselor, a coach, a trainer? You can’t do this alone. You need support so plan that out. Register for a class or take that walk Wednesday with a friend. Call a trainer or a sports med doc or a physical therapist if needed, so you can move better.
Periods of time off can break a plateau and even help reinvigorate your excitement and desire to exercise. Observing the Jewish holidays practically enforces a degree of moderation, and even regeneration (a key component of fitness), so don’t sweat it. It’s an overall sedentary lifestyle that becomes detrimental for our wellbeing but following these tips will allow you to ease back into sustainable exercise.
Another version of this article appeared in LA Jewish Home October 20, 2022 (a newspaper serving the Greater Los Angeles Jewish Community)