Thursday, 25 August 2011

Exercise: It's Hard After a Break!

It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been a month or two since you’ve moved your body. Holidays, illness, hectic social life, family crisis and overtime at work all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to your local yoga studio or gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to get you back onto your mat or the treadmill, if you've stepped off...
  1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in your practice and the habit will take some effort to stop. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
  2. Reward Showing Up – A Bikram teacher who used to teach at the studio in which I worked, once said to me "half the battle is just getting into the room". Once you're there, mentally pat yourself on the back, everything will be better than you think just because you've made the effort to get there.
  3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
  4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes. The same goes for your yoga practice. If your finding your usual class isn't for you right now, try something else, somewhere else.
  5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
  6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
  7. Enjoyment Before Effort - After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep up with your practice or going to the gym.
  8. Create a Ritual - Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
  9. Stress Relief - What do you do when you're stressed? Chances are it isn’t running or yoga. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphins which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence. There are even specific postures that help with stress and fatigue.
  10. Measure Fitness - Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
  11. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a fancy machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
  12. Isolate Your Weakness - If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the studio? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
  13. Start Small - Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
  14. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.