Ebbs and flows
Back in the day, you could run a six-minute mile. Last summer, your skinny pants fit. Last month, you meant to get back to the gym, but wound up hibernating instead. First, give yourself a break. Like the seasons, fitness is often cyclical, says Angela Fifer, an executive board member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. “If it becomes a chore and a job, you’re really probably setting yourself up for injury. Your body is telling you something — it’s a good idea to listen to it.” But even when you’re ready to break a sweat again, breaking the momentum of inactivity isn’t easy. Fifer and two other experts are here to help.
Remember the good times.
Think about a time in your life when you loved moving. Were you splashing in the ocean? Playing tag at recess? Exploring a new city by bike? Remembering moments when physical activity was associated with happiness for you — even if that means expanding your definition of “exercise” — is a lot more motivating than remembering that race that left you heaving or that workout class that left you injured. Then, try to replicate it. “How cool was that to be able to jump in the pool and wear goggles and do freestyle across the pool?” says personal trainer Leah Quartararo, the studio manager at Life Time Mount Laurel outside of Philadelphia. “It doesn’t matter if it takes longer or is harder.”
Switch it up.
If boredom contributed to your retreat from a regular fitness routine, the obvious solution is to try something different. “There’s nothing better than trying a fun new workout, and doing it together with a friend,” says Franci Cohen, founder of Spiderbands, a fitness studio in New York City with classes featuring resistance bands and other equipment like trampolines. But you don’t have to live in a funky fitness mecca to find enjoyable and unusual ways to work out. “If you were running, do a Spartan race. If you did a triathlon, try SoulCycle or kickboxing,” says Fifer, a certified mental performance consultant, a type of sport psychology professional. “There are so many options.”
Consider your values.
Have you gotten too comfortable in your out-of-shape body? It might be time to call in some external motivation related to what you do value, even if it’s no longer a six pack. For Quartararo, who’s turning 50 this year, it’s her kids. “It’s cool for my kids to see me being active,” she says. For others, it might be a certain cause or charity. In those cases, look for a studio that donates a portion of its class fees to charity, sign up for a race that allows you to fundraise in lieu of paying registration or download an app that collects money for a cause with each workout logged.
Again, if you can’t find the motivation within you, look outside of you. Whether it’s a friend you promise to meet twice a week for an interval training workout, a local running club or a yoga studio whose members gather for tea post-practice, finding a community of people you enjoy and feel accountable to is well-known to support behavior change. Even virtual connections — say, by competing with far-away family members through an app like Strava or by syncing your activity trackers — can help. “Setting fitness goals with a friend has been proven as a tried-and-true method to keep you motivated, and going back for more,” Cohen says.
Set a low bar.
Just like comparing yourself to the fitness instructor is unfair, comparing yourself to an earlier self is more likely to discourage than help you. Instead, aim for something achievable right now — like going to the gym two days a week instead of five, or running a 5K instead of a half-marathon. “We want to lift the weight we lifted or go for that run and think we’re going to be able to go the same distance or pace,” Fifer says. “The reality is: We gotta slow down a bit.” If you don’t and wind up sore or injured, she adds, you’ve defeated the whole purpose of trying to get back to regular exercise, anyway.
Get over yourself.
Think that chick who’s continued to religiously take spin class while you’ve been MIA is judging you? Doubtful. “We all tell ourselves a story about what other people think or what other people are saying to themselves about us,” Fifer says. “But everybody is in the same boat — nobody is really looking; nobody really cares.” Tell yourself a different story — “I’m proud that I’ve been listening to my body and sleeping more this winter” — or don’t tell yourself a story at all. Just put on your shoes and get moving, Fifer says. “Sometimes,” she says, “we need to just stop with the stories, stop with the excuses and just do it.”
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