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How To Start Working Out Again After A Long Break

woman working out in an exercise class to illustrate how to work out after a long break

We've all been there... you miss your workout session once and, before you know it, you've taken an extended fitness hiatus.

Before we go any further, sometimes we just really need (or want) a rest, and that's OK. Research by the fitness tracking app Strava and the This Girl Can campaign recently found that one in three women are currently "taking a break from exercise". 

In a poll of more than 2,000 women, 35% of respondents said they were on an exercise break, with lulls in activity lasting anywhere from one month to several years. The average pause was 13 months.

But the majority of women (69%) currently on a break said they wanted to restart exercise. Nine in 10 said they faced challenges and obstacles. The most common were a lack of confidence or poor body image (68%), lack of focus (39%), being judged by others (19%) and lack of support (9%).

We know how daunting it can feel to get back into the swing of things, while simultaneously feeling the frustration of knowing how much better we'd feel if we could just get back in a routine. 

If you’re beginning to miss your regular workout routine and the energy and sense of achievement it gave you, read on for Darling magazine's Elise G Taylor's tips for gently easing back into it. You've got this.

It's a marathon, not a sprint

During December 2019, I began training to run my first half marathon. With five months to prepare, I planned out each day’s mileage and mapped out weekly goals. I dodged snow piles, braved 10-degree wind chill and wiped raindrops from my eyes. By March, I was running 10 miles a day and felt ready to conquer the race, which was scheduled for the next month.

Then, Covid-19 happened.

Like many others, I felt both devastated and defeated as the pandemic thwarted a major life goal of mine. With the race cancelled, I immediately lost all motivation to continue running. In fact, I stopped running completely while trying to adjust to a new tempo of life.Perhaps something similar happened to you during the pandemic or other obstacles have caused you to take a break from exercise. Establishing a regular rhythm of exercise after a long hiatus is an upward battle. Just the idea of starting itself can feel overwhelming. 

Although I don’t hold any certifications related to physical fitness, my own experiences tell me that a regular habit of exercise increases my energy and improves my mental health. Slowly, I began to enjoy exercising again. I rebuilt the endurance and strength that I lost during my break, even though it looked different this time around.   

Here are a few things that helped me along the way:

I figured out my reason for exercising

In the past, I found my motivation in tangible accomplishments that had a beginning and end, like finishing a race. However, with no foreseeable race in the future, I realised I missed the way exercise made me feel. Working out allows me to sleep better at night, gives me more energy to spend on people who I love and provides stability for my mental health.  

Reflecting on what exercise means for you can help build the momentum needed to start exercising again. Your “why” might look completely different than mine, but finding holistic motivation is important. Chasing an ideal waist measurement or jeans size places you on a meandering track with no end. The ever-changing, unrealistic nature of cultural beauty standards ensures that, as women, we never quite measure up.    

Experiment until you find a form of exercise that works for you

As a child, several hours of my day were reserved just for play. Whether exploring my backyard or building forts inside, playing expanded my imagination and provided an outlet for pent-up energy. We consider play an integral part of child development, but we tend to overlook its significance as adults. 

Like childhood play, exercise should be fun and enjoyable. Running on a treadmill or lifting weights at the gym are not the only options for physical fitness. 

If you enjoy the outdoors, consider taking a walk each day, riding a bike or rollerblading. If you have a competitive streak, try tennis or join a sports league. If the indoors are more your style, swimming laps in an indoor pool or practising yoga might suit you best. In this season of life, I find that weight training helps me to feel strong, but I also love a long bike ride or basketball game every once in a while.

Begin slowly

After a long break, you may be tempted to jump back into a hardcore fitness routine, but the key is to establish a sustainable rhythm. When I started exercising again, I only worked out two or three days a week. As I gradually increased my workout days, I tried not to be too hard on myself if I missed a day. 

Slowly building up your endurance and strength helps to prevent injuries from setting you back. Levelling up little by little ensures that you can maintain a new fitness routine and not burn out quickly by overexerting yourself.

Ask a friend to join

At the end of the day, most hard things are easier (and more fun!) with people by your side. Invite a friend to catch up over a walk or run in your neighbourhood. Continue your regular coffee dates, but this time, throw in a stop at the gym beforehand. 

If you’re looking to expand your circle, joining a workout class can be a great way to meet people and add structure to your fitness routine. Getting back into exercise after a long break can be challenging. But remember, you don’t have to do it alone!

*This article originally appeared on Darling

Are you back in the rhythm of exercise after a long break? What do you love most about working out?

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