Let’s be honest, knowing how to get back into fitness after a dip can be tough—but we’ve all been there.
You embark on a new fitness regime with every intention of sticking it out, but then something happens—life gets in the way, and before you know it, you find yourself months behind, frantically searching for the motivation you once had.
First thing’s first, don’t worry. These things happen, and it’s certainly not unusual. Even the world’s most elite sportspeople experience peaks and troughs in their careers.
If you’ve been out of the loop for a while, searching for ways to get back into fitness, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s how to get back into fitness after a long break.
How to get back into fitness after a long break
1. Set a goal
First things first—set yourself a goal—no matter how small or silly it may seem compared to what you may have been working towards previously.
Take running, for example. Let’s say you were easily smashing out 10ks a few months ago, and now you’re struggling to do even half that distance. There’s no shame in going back to basics. In fact, your body will thank you for taking smaller steps instead of trying to do too much too soon.
The NHS Couch to 5k programme is great for runners (and walkers) trying to build their fitness back up after a break.
Having an end goal can help you stay on track this time, and it’s also a good way of holding yourself accountable for what you’ve set out to do and what you want to achieve. And remember, change doesn’t happen overnight, but everything you do will help you make progress towards your goals.
Put a date in the diary for when you would like to have reached a certain point, and channel your efforts into doing so.
2. Take it slow
Our last point leads us nicely into this next one. Taking things slowly when getting back into fitness is very important.
As nice as it would be to simply pick back up where you left off, the reality is that it’s probably going to take time to get back to your previous levels, especially if you’ve had a very long break. Make sure you give yourself that time and factor it into any new plan you might draw up.
You might think you’ll be progressing quicker by cutting a few corners here and there, but push yourself too far too quickly, and you run the risk of picking up an injury, which could see you out of action again for a long time—and none of us want that.
3. Prioritise rest
You’ve probably heard fitness pros and sportspeople talking about how important rest days are. Well, they’re absolutely correct.
Just because you’re working on your fitness, it doesn’t mean you have to be doing something every single day. Your body needs rest and recovery time just as much as it needs exercise. Doing too much and not allowing your body adequate time to recover is not a good idea for several reasons.
Firstly, every time you work out, you create small tears in your muscle tissues, which repair themselves again while you’re resting. So, by not having enough rest time, your muscles won’t be properly repairing themselves, putting you at greater risk of injury as you continue exercising.
And secondly, overdoing it is a surefire way of burning yourself out and resenting the exercise completely. You’re far more likely to stick to a plan this time around if you listen to your body and prioritise rest—and that includes getting a good night’s sleep.
Related: The importance of rest days
4. Do something you enjoy
When looking at how to get back into fitness, one of the most important things is to find something that you actually like doing. It sounds obvious, but you might be surprised at the amount of people who just ‘grin and bear it’ when it comes to exercise because they think it’ll do them good.
Ask yourself why you couldn’t quite stick to your last fitness plan. Was it perhaps because you didn’t enjoy what you were doing and, therefore, procrastinated to the point of no return?
Of course, this may not be the case for you—but the point stands. If you don’t like something, don’t do it. For example, don’t force yourself to run for hours if you hate it. It’s much better to find a healthier middle ground that your body and mind will be satisfied with, and you’re much more likely to see positive results in the long term this way, too.
Exercise and fitness training come in many forms, so make sure you find one that works for you.
5. Focus on stretching
If you’ve been out of action for a while, stretching needs to play an important part when you’re planning how to get back into fitness.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the workout ahead of you is; you should always make time for stretching. A proper stretching routine loosens up your muscles and prepares them for the strain they’re about to endure, allowing you to keep going for longer.
Your chances of getting injured are much greater if you haven’t stretched properly, so do your body a favour to avoid another period of having to sit it out.
6. Stick to a routine
‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is the age-old saying, and it certainly rings true when it comes to exercise.
While nipping out for the odd run unplanned or squeezing in a last-minute gym class, of course, won’t do you any harm, you should consider drawing up a proper routine if you want to stick to things long term and see positive results.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of exercise plan templates online that you can easily download and adapt to fit around your life and other commitments. For example, check out these PureGym ones to start you off.
If you can, try to map out your week or even the whole month in advance, clearly marking out your workout days, what each one will consist of, and, of course, your rest days. As we said earlier, these should be just as much of a priority as your exercise days.
Your plan can be as tight or loose as you like—but while holding yourself accountable is mostly a good thing, remember it’s important to NOT beat yourself up too much if you miss a day or two every now and then. Sometimes, it’s just unavoidable, and that’s okay.
7. Use an app
Apps on your smartphone can be very useful for getting back into fitness, as there’s virtually no end to the list of things they can do.
Even if it’s something as simple as tracking your meals and nutrition on MyFitnessPal, seeing a snapshot of everything in one place can be really helpful and a good source of motivation, too.
Fitness and exercise apps can help you monitor your progress towards your goals, keep track of everything you’re doing, and even provide ideas for future workouts. They’re also great for seeing how far you’ve come since you started and remembering that even on ‘bad’ days.
Being part of an online community can also be great for your overall morale, so even if you’re working out solo, you can still feel like you’re part of something bigger.
8. Buddy up
Getting back into fitness and exercise after a long break can feel incredibly daunting—especially if you’re doing it alone without any support, guidance or encouragement.
That’s why acquiring a ‘workout buddy’ can be hugely beneficial. If you’ve got a friend or family member in a similar situation also trying to work out how to get back into fitness, teaming up with them can be helpful for both of you.
Not only does it mean you won’t be working out on your own and can make your sessions more sociable, but that added push and encouragement from someone you know can make all the difference when it comes to staying on track.
In fact, research has shown that group exercise can be more habit-forming and that working out with others can help people to stay motivated over time. A bit of healthy competition can be good for you, too, as you’re far less likely to get complacent and let things slip again.
So, why not see what group classes are on at your local gym in the near future? This, too, can be a daunting prospect, but you may find that going with a buddy can help ease the nerves, and you never know—you might just enjoy it!
Getting back to the gym, or indeed joining a gym for the first time, may well be your first step towards getting back into fitness and sticking to it. However, you may want to consider protecting yourself with specialist gym member insurance before doing so.
Even if you’re extra careful, exercising always carries a risk of injury, which could not only stop you from exercising again for a while, but it could also impact your ability to work, depending on the severity of the injury.