The good news is that being keen to make improvements is an important first step, so let’s build off that awareness and explore some tips for getting back on track.
1. Re-frame your expectations
If pre-pandemic, you were working towards a particular goal or were used to a certain level of physical performance that you haven’t been able to maintain, it’s time to re-frame. For example, if you were training to run 5km, but have not done much running lately, you may be disappointed if you put on your running shoes and can’t run the whole distance.
Decide on a new, more realistic goal, while maintaining your original one in the long term (if it is still desirable to you). If your goals have changed, that is totally fine too. See this as an opportunity to reset and renew your goals.
2. Have a joyous goal setting session
Once you have decided on your new goal or goals, bring them to life with passion and positivity. View the process of working towards new goals as something that is an investment in your health and happiness. Set timeframes and imagine the emotions you’ll feel when you hit each progressive goal!
If you are still wary of the time you can commit, split your goals into manageable, smaller, realistic steps. Coming back to the 5km run example, you might be best to start with shorter distances or walking/jogging at intervals. You can then eventually work up to that 5km run in a realistic timeframe.
3. Know why you are exercising
Be clear and purposeful. Are you training to optimise your energy and be more productive in other areas of your life? Are you looking for physique changes such as weight loss? How does being fit and healthy impact you?
Know these things when you head into your workouts and repeat them like a mantra when the going gets tough. This should help to boost you through the challenging parts of your workout, especially when you’re getting back into the swing of things.
4. Consider going back to basics
If you have been largely sedentary, it could be beneficial to establish a plan that revolves around going back to basics.
If you are lifting weights, review your form and technique on the core lifts and movement patterns. Go for a light or moderate weight and 10-15 repetition range across 2-3 sets. For cardio, start with a shorter 15-20 minute session and add duration gradually.
Check in with your body after every session to create awareness on how you feel. Can you push harder next time? What intensity is your body welcoming? Be okay with taking it slowly and see your health and fitness as a long-term project.
5. Celebrate every small victory
If you are coming back from a place of lesser physical fitness than before, you will undoubtedly face times that are extremely frustrating or uncomfortable. For that reason, throw a proverbial party when you hit even small milestones in training. Every time you increase your weights or performance, feel better at the end of a tough session, or get moving when you really didn’t want to, acknowledge your awesomeness and how far you have come.
Understand the significance of this progress in the context of what you have been through and celebrate your body and mind gaining strength.
6. Visualise the struggle
There is no point denying that your more intense workouts will have tough moments. Try a technique called “mental contrasting” during your warmups. Imagine your workout unfolding and include the tough parts. See yourself struggling, but also overcoming your obstacles. Visualise your workout ending and anticipate your feelings of pride and relief.
This technique can become a useful habit when you are tackling anything in life that has challenging elements to it. It’s like positive thinking but keeping it real.
7. Consider trying something new
A fresh start might be just what the doctor ordered. If you are starting from scratch, now could be the perfect time to try that activity that has always been on your to-do list. You may like to try weights, so book a session with a PT. Improving your core strength and flexibility through Yoga or Pilates may have always piqued your interest, so search for a local studio or find an online option. and go for it.
This may encourage a new burst of motivation that can assist in getting you started again.
8. Take care of your body after a workout
It is likely that your body is going to feel pretty sore and fatigued when you start your routine again. What you do after your workout is an important part of yielding results, such as muscle gain and weight loss, while reducing muscle soreness. There are some ways that you can ensure that it doesn’t last too long (or put you off exercising again!)
While warming up and cooling down are key to reducing this phenomenon, some of the best ways to ease later muscle soreness are light stretching, or an activity like a walk or foam rolling to get the muscles moving again. You may also like to do something relaxing such as taking a warm (or cold if you are brave) bath with Epsom salts. Make sure you are also rehydrating efficiently after exercise where you work up a sweat and get enough sleep to give the muscles time to recover.
Remember that muscle soreness, although uncomfortable, is not dangerous and it’s totally safe to continue to work out if you are experiencing it. See it as feedback that your workout has been successful!
9. Use your training as an opportunity for mindfulness
Our new normal unfortunately means heightened levels of stress and anxiety for many of us. Regular exercise can be a great tonic for this, especially if you stack mindfulness activities onto your renewed healthy habits. Always set an intention before your start training. It can be something as simple as “now is me time.”
Visualise parts of your body moving as you train. By utilising mind-muscle connection and consciously and deliberately focusing your attention on your muscles as they move, you will not only enjoy moments of deeply connecting with your body, but you will also improve the overall quality of your movements. For example, if you are working with weights, see the muscle in your mind's eye, emphasise your movement and really sink into the feeling of your body working its magic.
At the end of your session, try a quick meditation. After you stretch, pop in your headphones and look up a guided meditation online, if you don’t have access to any already. Apps like Calm or Headspace are a great place to start and there are plenty of others freely available on YouTube. Lie down, drift away and let the benefits of your session integrate within your mind and body.
And finally, tell your body “thank you”. Throughout your session, take moments to thank your body for its ability to move, for being healthy and for keeping you alive.
If anything, the pandemic has been a reminder of how important our health is, so dust off that gym gear and know that investing in a healthy routine is one of the best forms of self-care.
By Kate Kraschnefski Head of Compliance & Training at the Australian Institute of Fitness