When you’re getting back into the gym after a break, the most important step is getting yourself to the gym. Once you’ve gotten yourself there, it can be tempting to just jump right back into long, difficult workouts, but you’ll actually increase your risk of injury and burnout that way. Instead, start with short workouts and light weights, and gradually work your way up. Maintain your new gym routine by staying hydrated, eating well, getting enough sleep, and treating yourself well.
Motivating Yourself to Get to the Gym
Schedule your workouts ahead of time. It can be hard to manage fitting workouts into a busy schedule, but if you already have them blocked off in your week, it feels less optional. When you’re just starting, aim for 2 or 3 workouts in a week, and remember they can be short.
- Schedule in rest days between your workouts to let your body recover.
Set realistic goals. If you haven’t exercised in months, the odds of you suddenly sticking to a 5-day workout per week schedule are pretty slim. Instead, set goals that actually fit with your life. Remember, working out twice a week for 30 minutes is so much better for you than not working out.
- Even a small amount of exercise is good exercise.
Find the time of day that works for you. Maybe you always find yourself hitting snooze instead of completing those morning workouts, or feel exhausted when you get home from work or school. Experiment with different times. Consider packing your workout clothes in the morning, so you can go straight to the gym after work and avoid the pull of your couch.
- Keep in mind that scheduling a morning workout the day after an evening workout might be too exhausting.
Set out your exercise clothes in advance. Pack your gym bag before you go to work if you plan on exercising in the afternoon. If you plan to workout in the morning, lay out your clothes the night before so they are the first thing you see in the morning.
- Building the habit of exercising through little routines like putting out your clothes makes you exercise without thinking about whether you should do it.
Find a workout buddy. Working out is way more fun if you do it with a friend, and you’re more likely to actually get yourself to the gym if you know a friend is waiting for you. It’s easy to flake on yourself, but if you know you’re letting your friend down, you might find that extra bit of energy to get you in the gym door.
- Working out with someone is also a great way to bond and deepen your friendship.
Join a group or a fitness class at the gym. See if your gym offers spin classes, weight-lifting sessions, yoga groups, or any other kind of fitness that interests you. Working out with a group can be a positive way to motivate yourself.
- Having a scheduled weekly group fitness class is a great way to start out, even if you can only go to the gym once a week.
Ramping up Your Workouts Gradually
Warm up for 5-10 minutes before you start your workout. You can warm up by climbing stairs, jogging on the treadmill, using the elliptical, or even just going for a brisk walk before you start your workout. Warming up is super important – not only will it ease you into the workout, but it can prevent you from straining your muscles and getting injured later.
- Try mixing up warm-ups you do so that you don’t get bored.
- One way to make warming up more fun is to listen to music or an audiobook while doing it.
Start with 10 minutes of aerobic exercise and gradually increase. Endurance aerobic exercise, like biking, walking, running, and swimming, is super important for your heart health. Start with a manageable amount, such as 10 minutes per workout, and add on a few minutes per week.
- Completing a short workout can give you a sense of accomplishment, which helps you stay motivated to workout again, and possibly for longer, the next time.
- Eventually, aim for getting a total of 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderate to vigorous activity in a week.
Start with light weights and focus on your lifting form. When weightlifting, start out with a weight that you can lift for 8-10 reps without being exhausted. If a weight is too heavy for you to lift while maintaining proper form, than it’s too heavy for you to use. Try doing 3-5 sets of these repetitions.
- It can be helpful to take a weight lifting class, see a personal trainer, or watch videos on proper form to learn how to lift weights without injuring yourself.
Add heavier weights and more reps gradually as your muscles get stronger. In future workouts, you can gradually build up by increasing the weight or doing more reps per set. Increase your weight in small increments and never increase the weight to a point where you can’t lift with good form. For example, if you were previously lifting 20 pounds (9.1 kg) for 8 reps per set, you could either move on to 25 pounds (11 kg) or 10 reps per set.
- Building up your strength gradually will lead to more long term gains than exhausting yourself with heavy weights right away.
Listen to your body and modify your workout for comfort. If you’re in pain, feel dizzy or nauseous, or have unpleasant shortness of breath, give yourself a break. Don’t push yourself to complete a workout that is hurting you, because that won’t help in the long run. Switch to lighter weights, fewer reps, or a slower pace, or call it quits for the day.
- The important thing is to make working out a sustainable activity, not to push yourself really hard for a week and then burn out.
Cool down with at least 5 minutes of stretching after your workout. Stretching helps keep your body flexible and injury-free. It will also help cut down on post-workout soreness. Do some basic leg stretches, like toe-touches, lunges, and butterflies. Remember to stretch your back and arms, too.
- Try holding a stretch for about 30 seconds.
- When you’re stretching, it should be mildly uncomfortable, but not painful.
Be patient and proud of yourself. Building up strength, endurance, and fitness takes time, so try not to get frustrated with yourself if you don’t see immediate progress. Avoid the temptation to do way-too-difficult workouts before you’re ready, because that will just set you back.
- Remember to be proud of yourself for getting back to the gym– this is a big step toward taking better care of yourself.
Feeling Good and Maintaining Your Routine
Remember to schedule in rest days. When you’re first getting back to the gym, you might want to consider scheduling your workouts with a day in between, for example Monday-Wednesday-Friday. You don’t have to be totally inactive during your rest days– do some walking, gentle yoga, or relaxed biking to keep your body moving.
- If you haven’t worked out at all in a while, you will see improvements even if you only work out once a week.
Reward yourself for working out with an episode of TV or a cup of coffee. When you’re just starting to exercise, it can help motivate yourself with a little reward after exercising. It can be as simple a reward as watching TV or reading a fun book. Try to avoid rewarding yourself with junk food – it’s fine to occasionally eat junk food, but it’s best to associate exercising with a healthy reward.
- Once you get into the habit of working out, your body will remember the amazing post-workout rush of endorphins, and you’ll start to want to workout even without a reward.
Deal with soreness with light movement, stretching, and hot baths. Soreness is really common when you’re getting back into working out. The best thing that heals soreness is time, but you can speed it along with some light movement like walking or swimming. Many people also find that relaxing in a hot bath soothes the pain.
- Soreness often sets in 1 or 2 days after your workout, rather than immediately after.
Drink plenty of water to keep your energy levels up. Staying hydrated before, during, and after your workout will help you feel your best. Carry a water bottle around with you so that you remember to drink, and have a glass or two of water at every meal. If you’re hydrated throughout the day, you’ll feel much better when you’re working out.
- As a rough estimate, adult men need about 3 litres (3.2 US qt) and adult women need about 2.2 litres (2.3 US qt) of water per day.
- If it’s hot or you’re exercising frequently, you’ll need to drink even more water to stay hydrated.
Aim for about 8 hours of sleep per night so that you’re ready for the gym. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep, but most people need at least 8. Teenagers tend to need 8-10 hours of sleep per night, while adults will need more like 7-9 hours, and adults over 65 need about 7-8 hours.
- Practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed at the same time each night, shutting off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- The good news is that exercising will help you sleep better.
Fuel your body with a healthy diet of vegetables, whole grains, and protein. When you get back into working out, you’ll probably find that you’re hungrier. Keep your body fueled and healthy by eating lots of vegetables at every meal (potatoes don’t count!), eating whole grains like whole wheat and brown rice, and eating healthy protein.
- Eat high-quality proteins like fish, eggs, chicken, tofu, or beans, rather than processed meats or red meat.
- If you’re trying to build muscle mass, eating protein is helpful. To figure out how much protein you need, check out this protein calculator: https://fnic.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dri-calculator/.
Look at exercising as a gift rather than a punishment. Some people use workouts to punish themselves after eating unhealthy meals, but this strategy can be really detrimental in the long run, because you’ll think of exercising as something unpleasant. Instead, try to reframe exercise as something positive you are doing to help your body. Think about the ways exercise can help your life, by letting you relieve stress, sleep better, and get stronger.
- Remember that it’s okay to eat an unhealthy meal every now and then – there’s no need to beat yourself up about it.
- If you find yourself struggling a lot with body image and using exercise as a punishment for yourself, you might want to consider talking to a therapist, because our minds need to be healthy just as much as our bodies.
Find an alternative exercise if you really don’t like the gym. If you’ve tried motivating yourself to go to the gym, but find yourself really dreading it, that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to a life on the couch. Instead, find activities you enjoy. You might hate the gym but love a dance class, a pickup game of basketball, going running in your neighborhood, or hiking on pretty trails.
- There’s no need for exercising to be a grueling ordeal that you force yourself to do. Find something fun, so you’ll actually want to stick with it.