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How to Get in the Habit of Working Out Again If It’s Been a While

A female personal trainer and client working out at a gym

Exercise is one of the best ways to ease stress, manage your weight and improve your overall health. However, getting in the habit of working out again after a long break can challenge you in several ways.

Challenging doesn’t mean impossible though, and you are up to the task. Here are gentle tips to start working out again after a long time that will ease your initial awkwardness and minimize aches and sore muscles.

What Prevents People From Maintaining the Habit of Working Out?

It may not be your fault that you need to rebuild the habit of working out. For example, an injury or illness may have taken you out of the game temporarily. Many doctors recommend a minimum of six weeks recovery time after surgery before returning to your regular activity level and some severe injuries, like compound fractures, may take even longer to heal.

Pregnancy can also sideline you. Although exercise benefits most moms during pregnancy, conditions like preeclampsia may confine you to bed rest. Although your condition may not hinder your partner, they may also take a hiatus out of empathy.

How Long Does It Take to Build the Habit of Working Out?

The Grateful Dead once sang, “the first days are the hardest days,” and their wisdom holds for getting back in the habit of working out. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for your routine to stick, but take heart. The process goes faster if you’ve exercised in the past and simply need to make like Stella and get your groove back.

Outside Influences and the Habit of Working Out

What if a busy schedule stymies your plans to get back in the habit of working out? You may have to get creative, splitting up your routine with mini bursts of exercise when you take 15 or a lunch break. Fortunately, research shows that this method can have significant health benefits — it might even increase your productivity by keeping oxygen flowing to your brain cells.

The people around you matter, too. Hanging around with sedentary folks influences your habits, whether you plan for it or not. Choosing to associate with those who also value fitness inspires you to stick to your guns.

How to Start Working Out Again After a Long Time: 6 Tips

Once upon a time, you loved to exercise — remember how freely you ran and skipped as a child? You can reclaim that same passion by being gentle with yourself and exercising self-compassion as you follow these tips to ease back into the habit of working out.

1. Start Slow

Maybe you ran the Ironman Triathlon in 2018, but that was six years ago. Make “slow and steady wins the race” your motto for easing back into the habit of working out, especially if you took a break due to illness or injury and return to the field with slightly different body configurations.

Pushing too hard can land you on the DL again. Yeah, folks like Aaron Rodgers are impressive — but look at how much play time he missed due to injuries. You probably don’t have a multimillion dollar contract to offset your health care costs, so be smart — going slow protects your budget as well as your body.

If coming back from an injury, follow your doctor’s instructions and follow up with them if getting back in the habit of working out spurs new aches and pains. Consider working with a physiotherapist or personal trainer, depending on your injury’s extent, to learn new, safer ways to move as you return to play.

2. Support Yourself Nutritionally

You wouldn’t react with shock if your car refused to drive on an empty tank. How can you expect your body to perform without the right fuel?

Begin improving your nutritional intake in wise ways. Focus on preparing healthy meals that are high in lean protein and contain plenty of plant-based foods for various nutrients. You don’t have to labor in the kitchen — for example a precooked rotisserie chicken adds protein to wraps and soups, no oven necessary.

A colorful plate of fruits and vegetables

3. Drink Plenty of Water

Staying hydrated fuels your athletic performance, and you may need to adjust your intake over what you consumed previously. Perform a sweat rate test by weighing yourself nude before and after exercising. For every pound lost, drink at least 16 ounces of fluid during your workout to replace what you lost.

As your workouts increase in intensity, consider adding electrolyte drinks to boost performance further. Read labels carefully, though and use your best judgment. Some versions contain lots of calories, making them bad choices for folks trying to lose weight.

4. Make It Fun

Who said working out had to be a chore? Don’t become a dour-faced gym drone, sadly

A group of people at a gym smiling, flexing, and posing for a photo

plodding through the miles while watching news of the dark and dire on the facility TV. Instead, put on your headphones, crank the tunes, lip-sync along and turn that treadmill into a performance stage. Better yet, kick the machines to the curb from time to time and explore the great outdoors while you walk or jog.

If running isn’t your thing, find something that is. Maybe you like to get down and dirty on the dance floor, grooving through classes like Zumba. Perhaps you adore group competition — head to your local parks and rec to sign up for a softball or volleyball league.

5. Phone a Friend

Exercising with a friend can help you get back into the habit of working out again by providing an accountability partner. It’s harder to skip the gym when you know your BFF awaits you. Plus, having a buddy can help you overcome any initial awkwardness you feel as you ease back into your program, especially if you aren’t quite as strong or slim as you once were.

6. Add an Element of Healthy Competition

What is healthy competition? It eliminates the element of shame, focusing only on celebrating victories. It’s also against yourself, not other people. You aren’t trying to prove you’re better than anyone but simply being the best you can be.

Set SMART goals as you get back in the habit of working out again. Remember, they should be:

●      Specific

●      Measurable

●      Attainable

●      Relevant

●      Time-Bound

For example, “I will work out at least 30 minutes, three days this week,” is an excellent SMART goal for someone just starting to work out again after a long time. It doesn’t pressure you to begin marathon training or even see gains during the initial phase —  your focus is rebuilding the habit.

Get in the Habit of Working Out Again

Two women smiling at a gym posing for a photo

Do you need a bit of an extra push to get back in the habit of working out again? Working with a certified trainer increases accountability and provides healthy tips to help you avoid injury as you return to the playing field. If you’re ready to start working out again after a long time, click here for a free initial transformation session.


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