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  • Claire Grainger

How to get back into exercise after a break

Even the fittest of people can fall out of love with exercise. Initially it can start with a change of routine. A holiday, illness, busy time at work. All of these can disrupt your exercise routine. This is then followed by a lack of motivation to get up and get back into it. The result is, a few months down the line, you feel like a complete beginner again.

I speak from experience. A regular gym goer, it would take a major event to stop me going to my favourite Les Mills classes. That major event was a shoulder injury - one that would eventually require surgery. Of course, I know I could have adapted my routine and done other types of exercise that didn't involve my shoulder. But I didn't. I sulked a little - and lost my exercise mojo.

So, there I was. Not knowing where to start. Feeling slightly foolish that I let it slide. That was three weeks ago. And if I tell you that it takes just three weeks to get back into fitness you'd be sceptical, right? I would have been. But stick with me - right now I'm now re-discovering how good it feels to work your body and use your muscles.

Keeping the sessions short works

Let’s get this out of the way right at the start. I don’t like exercise. Yes, I used to go to classes. They were addictive. I loved seeing the same people every week - and I loved the feeling at the end of them. But the main reason I work out is to feel healthier and look good. So, the first steps back to exercise were short. With each session lasting just half an hour, it was never daunting. It helped my motivation. And I still got that great, after exercise feeling after a half hour session.

If you can, book a personal trainer

Booking sessions into your diary means you have to go. Having someone pushing and encouraging you is motivating. Your workmates, friends and family may always be urging you to just have a piece of cake or skip the gym, but personal trainers genuinely always have your health in mind. By working with a PT, you also find you are doing lots of different and creative exercises. For me this means I'm not bored and have not only started looking forward to my workouts but genuinely felt a bit sad when I have a few days without a session. The workouts are based around resistance training and compound exercises - strictly no cardio. I still finish each session sweaty, red in the face and out of breath and I feel it in my muscles the day after each workout, in the most satisfying of ways. 

Don't completely change your life straight away

I like a glass of wine and my favourite food is curry, so I was pleased to discover I didn't have to stop those. My trainer recommended little changes such as not drinking caffeine after noon and making sure I eat dinner at least two hours before bed. Anyone can do that - and the thing is, it helps. Of course, if you really want to lose weight and get fit, you have to look at your diet too. But this is the thing. When you start feeling fitter, you genuinely want to eat healthier, and vice versa. It’s an upwards spiral. Three weeks in, I actually want to cut back on things - naturally.

After three weeks of training I have lost two per cent of my body fat, a pretty pleasing side effect of simply trying to rediscover my motivation. Of course, having a personal trainer makes things easier - and that's not an option for everyone. But classes can have the same effect - or there are so many free online workout plans you can find that tell you exactly what exercises to do and how to do them. That way, you don’t have to think.

And when you’re working out, don’t force yourself to do loads of cardio - building muscle is absolutely the best way to get fitter. You won’t suddenly become really chunky - you’ll actually get leaner because muscle is denser than fat.

I'm sticking with my personal trainer for another couple of weeks, but after that budget means I will have to go it alone. But the great news is - three weeks has been enough to give me the fitness bug.

I'll see you in the gym (I'll be the one with the bright red face).

My top tips for getting back into exercise

1. Just start somewhere

It doesn’t matter where you start, but just start. Don’t put it off till next week. Don’t say to yourself you need to get fit first… just start! It’s the hardest part…but it’s achievable no matter how small that start is. Just do it - today!

2. Ask someone for help

It’s OK to not be able to do it all by yourself. Acknowledge where you need help and then go and find it. With Activate Fitness new member you get a free personal programme with a personal trainer. Or there are so many resources available to you - look at our workouts on #getfitkit as a start.

3. Begin with what works for you.

Do you only feel comfortable committing to one day a week initially? Great! Mark it on your calendar and stick with it. Don't feel like you have to immediately start logging five to six gym workouts per week.

4. Don't forget to take rest days

Recovery is part of being active. When you take a day off, your body isn't. It's actually working very hard to repair and replenish itself after all the work you put it through. This is a lifestyle you're creating now, so be realistic.

5. And don't forget to listen to your body.

Chances are, your body is going to let you know that it's working hard, but learn the difference between good hurt and not-so-good hurt. There's a not-so-fine line between muscle discomfort from a good workout and pain that is letting you know something’s not right.

6. Don't skimp on sleep.

I didn't need to be told this - as I was exhausted on the first few workout days. Working out is 'work'—it takes more time and energy, so you might feel more tired initially because you are burning more calories and the body is trying to adapt to the increased stresses in the tissues.

7. Find a friend to keep you motivated.

Chances are that you have a friend, just like you, feeling like they need to get back into exercise. Together, you can keep each other motivated and accountable. Plus, if you recommend a friend to join Activate Fitness, you will earn a free month. So it's a win-win.

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