Getting Fit Again: How to Ease Back into Exercise

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Getting Fit Again: How to Ease Back into Exercise

July 5, 2022

So, you want to get back into the gym? No matter the reason for your hiatus, good for you! You might be hungrier than ever for pumping iron, but don’t get too far ahead of yourself, warns Samantha Costello, CPT, a National Academy of Sports Medicine trainer.

Why? Because sure, you could go hard and fast, but chances are if you don’t take the time to build up a new routine slowly, you might burn out. Getting back into exercise is about looking inward to make long-term lifestyle changes, Costello says. Here are five ways to do just that.

Clarify your goal.

People tend to create goals at the height of their motivation—when they have a big event coming up or when they feel bad about not fitting into clothing that used to fit, Costello says. But this can lead to unrealistic goal setting where people try to do everything at once. Often, this is because people don’t take the time to clearly lay out what “getting in shape” or “getting healthier” would actually mean for them.

Ask yourself: How do I want to feel? What do I want my body to be able to do? Maybe for you getting in shape would mean being able to run around with the kids or climb up the stairs. For others, it might mean losing a certain amount of weight or swimming 25 laps in the pool. Whatever it is for you, make sure it’s a specific goal. “When you know your goal in your head, when you’re thinking that and you commit it to voice or you write it down, that takes your mind and body into action,” Costello says.

Make a plan.

Never underestimate the power of a plan. Breaking your larger goals into smaller goals via a plan will help you stay motivated, Costello says. It helps keep you in the game for the long haul because small successes keep you wanting more.

Costello says to think about the action steps that will help you reach your goal. If your goal is to run a marathon, you’d start with running a mile. If your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight, make it a goal to make it to the gym three times a week. Stick to the plan you set in place by thinking about how exercise fits into your life. Think through what sacrifices you may have to make—and make peace with them. For example, achieving any goal almost always takes time to devote to it. What time do you have to devote to your goal? How will you allocate it? “We have to think about what we’ll consciously work on in exchange for these goals, and really bring that into our awareness, because a lot of times we act subconsciously,” Costello says.

Build slowly.

Half the battle is showing up. The other half is actually doing the exercise. Being smart about how you do the exercise, and not getting hurt, is extremely important. “You have to be a realist. It’s so important to be smart about how you build your program. You have to walk before you run and run before you sprint,” Costello says.

She suggests starting small—and by small, she means as little as five minutes a day if you’re starting from scratch. She suggests a technique called habit stacking, where you take something you already do every day, like brushing your teeth, and add a habit on top. When you’re about to brush your teeth, Do 5 pushups, 10 squats, and 10 squat jumps, then brush your teeth. “Do that every day for a month and you’ll be proud of yourself, and are going to want more,” Costello says.

Care for yourself.

As you build up strength, your body will be adjusting, which means one big truth: soreness.

“A body in motion stays in motion. And once you’re not moving for a while and your body gets used to that, you have to reteach your body how to move,” says Kat Hickey, an International Sports Science Association trainer.

The best way to manage this is to pay attention to how your body is responding to the new activity you’re doing. Being sore isn’t always a good thing. If it is very difficult for you to sit down and stand up, squat down to use the bathroom, or go up and down stairs, then you’ve pushed yourself too far, Hickey says. Make sure rest days are a part of your program, whatever that may be.

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