It is never too late to get back in shape. And unless you’re getting over an injury, it’s never going to get easier than today; it’s only going to get harder. I totally understand - there are a million reasons why we give up on our exercise routines; I’m no different. Whether it’s going back to school, getting married and starting a family, focusing on a new job or project, moving to a new city, or another stressor that makes you re-prioritize your time, exercise sometimes gets cut.
After a few weeks or months, you feel yourself getting out of shape: the pants fit a little tighter; your confidence wanes; and you’re forced to start watching what you eat a little more closely, which sucks the most. Whatever the cause, there’s never been a better time to re-focus on your heath and fitness. A regular exercise routine will give you more energy to tackle life’s challenges, boost your confidence, and improve your health.
So, what to do now that you’ve made a decision to get back in shape? The way I see it, the challenge is twofold: re-establishing healthy habits and re-engaging your body. Having ridden this roller coaster a few times, I’ve put together some notes that might be helpful.
Start Slow: It’s going to take some time to get back to the level you think you should be at or are striving to get to, and the last thing you need is an injury. Starting slow can help your body warm up to your new routine while you figure out what you are aiming for. And don’t overwork yourself, but do get your heart rate up, focus on form, and have fun.
Find Something You Like: You're more likely to stick with it if you find something you like. For some, it's picking up swimming again after a number of years off, for others it's a spin routine with an enthusiastic coach. The most important aspect of choosing an exercise routine is to pick something you enjoy.
Set a Goal: You could try your first triathlon or maybe your first one in a decade, run a 5k or more, or bike the C&O Canal. It helps to have something to work toward to help motivate you. Crossing that finish line, whether it’s in your head or at the end of an actual race, is a nice reward for all the work you are going to put in.
Establish a Routine: It’s important to establish a regular exercise routine to keep you moving even on the days you don’t feel like it. You don't have to push yourself to the limit every time, but just getting up and getting out there will help you establish the right habits. And you may want to skip a session or two, but I'd caution against that. When I’m feeling lazy, I like to tell myself that I’ll just take an easy run or only do a few laps in the pool - this tactic helps take away some of the buildup and dread of a looming tough workout. Then, by the time I’m on the trail or in the pool, I’ve forgotten whatever lie it took me to get out there and end up having a nice workout. No matter what it takes to keep you going, an exercise regimen of 3-4 times a week, starting easy and increasing in difficulty, will help you reach your goals more quickly.
Join a Club or Team: As we’ve discussed before, joining a team or a club is a great way to add structure, accountability, and fun to your training or exercise routine. It can help improve your technical skills and prepare you for a specific event. Another big plus is the social aspect – there are sure to be plenty of happy hours in addition to the fun you’ll have just doing the exercise. And most teams and clubs I’ve seen accommodate a range of fitness levels, so just because you’ve been out of it for awhile doesn’t mean you won’t fit right in.
Full Body Workouts: Whether it’s yoga, climbing, jogging, cycling, swimming, or another sport, I recommend focusing on full-body workouts that hit your major muscle groups and get your heart rate up, rather than spending a lot of time lifting weights for specific muscle groups. I like to incorporate exercises that strengthen my core to support a range of movements which help me maintain proper form in a number of exercises. And if you suffer from back pain, a strong core will definitely help.
Gear – Keep it Simple: Depending on which activity you choose, there will be a range of specialized equipment dreamt up by the major athletic outfitters to cash in on your desire to get fit. I recommend keeping it simple to start; get a basic set of equipment and get started. You may want to run out and buy a fancy watch or a new bike, but spending a few months getting back into the swing of things will help you refine your understanding of what equipment might actually help increase your performance.
Get Outside: For me, outdoor sports are the exact opposite of what I spend most of the day doing – sitting behind a computer and talking on the phone. Weekend adventures and my pre- and post-work exercise routine is what keeps me going. I'm lucky to be in Washington, DC, which boasts an incredible amount of green space. But wherever you are, find a park or a green space and get out and enjoy the fresh air!