The only thing harder than starting a new exercise program is getting back to it after a long hiatus. Working hard during the first half of the year might prepare you for swimsuit season, but if the most strenuous thing you do all summer involves unfolding a beach chair, you need a plan.
The only thing harder than starting a new exercise program is getting back to it after a long hiatus. Working hard during the first half of the year might prepare you for swimsuit season, but if the most strenuous thing you do all summer involves unfolding a beach chair, you need a plan. Jumping back to where you last left off can lead to frustration at best and injury at worst. So here are 10 tips from experts for getting back into a workout routine safely.
1. Don't Be Hard on Yourself
People often feel they've lost all their hard work after time off, but that's not the case, says Doug Miller, Ph.D., professor of health and exercise science and director of wellness at Messiah College. "It's not wasted at all, and the benefits from the exercise can last much longer than most people realize." Miller cites a study that found squat strength decreased by only 13 percent when fit participants took eight months off from exercise. Plus, it took only six weeks for the study participants to regain their initial strength. So get back to your routine and you'll see results faster than you may think.
2. Get Support From Others
While posting on social media can help, support from in-person friends can never be underestimated, says professor of exercise science Doug Miller. "It adds accountability and provides a group of friends you can exercise with and get to know." So ask a friend to join you on the journey, join a local jogging or cycling club or sign up for a local exercise class. It's also motivating to work out with someone slightly better than you for healthy, fun competition.
3. Ignore the Calendar
Setting a start date for next week or next month sounds like a good way to resume your fitness plan, but this simple task becomes complicated when you realize how many events, trips, celebrations or holidays can get in the way of reaching your goals, says PJ Monson, founder of MyFitMojo. "Avoid thinking so far ahead. Just pick a day and start. Chances are, when you reach a potential obstacle you will be already married to your routine and not willing to cheat."
4. Start With One Thing
Set a single goal to get started and stick with it for a week. "If you try to change too many things at once about your daily routine, then you are more likely to become overwhelmed and quit," says personal trainer PJ Monson. Examples of simple goals could be getting to the gym three times a week, cutting out wine at dinner during weekdays or going on a 20-minute walk every day. "Once you stick with it for a couple of weeks, reward yourself by adding on another goal," Monson says.
Related: 10 Essential Fitness Goals and How to Achieve Them
5. Invest in New Workout Gear
Purchasing new workout gear or clothing can help motivate you to restart your healthy habits, because it'll give you a chance to put it to good use. New gear could even include a set of Tupperware for your healthy snacks and work lunches, says personal trainer PJ Monson. If your new plan includes taking a yoga class, spend money on something to help motivate you, such as a new outfit, yoga mat or colorful blocks. If you plan to walk or run, a heart rate monitor or pedometer can give you the push you need to stick with it.
6. Make It Short and Sweet
No need to try and commit to a two-hour daily workout, especially when you're first getting back in the swing, says fitness coach PJ Monson. "You'll end up tired, sore and over it." Start with 10 minutes of brisk walking or a 20-minute HIIT workout and go from there. Ideally, Monson suggests striving for an hour: a 20-minute strength routine, 30-minute cardio session and 10 minutes of stretching. "Make sure you know the workout you are going to do before you get to the strength floor," she says, "otherwise you will find yourself wasting time wondering what to do first."
Related: 13 Foolproof Ways to Make Your Workout Fly By
7. Clean Out Your Kitchen
Aside from getting back into the workout groove, you'll also need to take a look at reestablishing good eating habits. Start with beverages, says Sharon Richter, RD, nutrition ambassador for KeVita probiotic drinks. "Clean out the fridge and pantry of all drinks with dyes or artificial sweeteners. Replace them with water, sparkling water, low-fat milk or unsweetened almond milk and coconut water." Then hit the condiments. Toss out all items containing high-fructose corn syrup and dyes and replace them with fresh herbs, natural mustards, oils and vinegar.
Related: The 20 Best Foods in Your Grocery Store
8. Make Over One Meal Each Week
In the same way you want to avoid prematurely overdoing your fitness routine, ease back into healthier eating habits by changing one meal a week, says Sharon Richter, RD. For breakfast, ditch the fat-laden muffin and choose lean protein and a high-fiber carbohydrate like egg whites with veggies. When you're ready to tackle lunch, you can still have a salad, but you also want to include healthy protein like nuts, chicken or fish. For dinner, focus on portion control. "And allow yourself a couple of bites of dark chocolate for dessert," says Richter. "You'll notice that you'll start to crave the healthier options."
9. Keep a Food Journal
Writing down what you eat every day makes you realize what you're really taking in, says Sharon Richter, RD. (Or use a calorie-tracking app like LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate.) "You especially want to look at things like alcohol. If you're having two glasses of wine during the week with dinner and four cocktails on a Friday and Saturday, for example, that adds up to 18 drinks a week. Try to cut it down to 12, then eight." If you discover your snack choices include sweets and other unhealthy treats, substitute raw almonds, fruit, low-fat yogurt or other healthy choices.
Related: Track Your Calories With LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate App
10. Seek Professional Help
If boredom, lack of results or injury inspired your last hiatus, it's a good idea to take proactive steps to prevent it from happening again. "Exercise specialists can help you set up a plan that's just right for you," says Sean Wells, bistroMD fitness expert. "And they can be found anywhere -- even in your gym. Asking the right questions and having an expert help you set those goals gets you started on the right foot." Ideally, look for a trainer who specializes in your particular goals, be it weight loss, muscle building, bone strengthening, etc.
Related: 9 Questions Your Trainer Wishes You'd Ask
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever fallen off the fitness/healthy-living wagon? What did you do to get back on track? Are there other ways you've heard of that we missed in our list? Tell us in the comments below so that the Livestrong.com community can benefit from your experiences!