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Motivation is Fickle: Tips on Returning to Exercise After a Break

Oh motivation you fickle little bitch. Motivation is a fairy-tale nymph - she dances in while we’re feeling emotionally vulnerable in Dick’s Sporting Goods and encourages us to purchase expensive healthy living equipment thinking: “This time will be different.” She buzzes around our heads while we’re committing to expensive yoga class packages but conveniently pulls an abrupt dip out when we’re silencing alarm clocks ten minutes before class.

- Jessamyn Stanley

Jessamyn Stanley has it so right. Motivation is not a good friend when starting back into an exercise routine. Motivation doesn’t even feature when we first start back. The meeting with an actual friend, the feeling that comes after exercise and the knowledge that we are doing good things for our health are our first spring-boards into starting up again. And, as summer winds down and the routine of everyday life kicks back in. It is time. Time to hit the park, the mat, the pavement. Whatever works, whatever gets us moving again.

Just Go Gently

The hardest thing for me when getting back up in the air again is realising just how unfit I am. I am always surprised by it. I forget that fitness isn’t a constant thing that I always have. What I do remember is that I’ve got there before I can do it again. We all have varying levels of fitness over the course of our life but our bodies are amazing and adaptable and never lose the ability to gain fitness no matter how unfit or old we are.

The first weeks back are tough and expectations need to be reasonable. Too much too soon can be defeating, emotionally and physically. My first day back I aim to get in the air and swing for 10 minutes - anything more is a bonus. I have learnt the hard way that coming in at 100% after a break just leads to injury.

I also see with friends and clients that a month of a go-hard-or-go-home mindset quickly becomes I-went-too-hard-so-now-I’m-staying-home. Eating “perfectly” and training every day is too hard to maintain. A gradual build up with a slow and steady approach is much easier to sustain. A relaxed eating philosophy of feeding myself with good food is much easier to live with than one that punishes. I love the @be_real_campaign maxim that you only need to feel guilty about eating food - if you stole it. “I’m not allowed to eat that” doesn’t leave space for listening to your body’s signals and needs.

Listen to Your Body

And. Listening to your body is important. Before you start exercising, notice your breath, tension levels, where you hold your weight and pay attention to your body’s movement habits. Take a minute to notice these things after exercise and compare the differences. It is important to pay attention to your body while you are moving because pain is like a persistent toddler if we don’t hear it when it is whispering to us then it becomes a screaming tantrum.

Rest days are important too. Even though it feels as if your body is taking the day off, it is actually working hard repairing and rebuilding itself so that it will be stronger for the next time you ask it to do a push up or go for a run.

Feeling tired when you start back is to be expected too. Your body has had to work harder and adapt to increased muscle and tissue stress - taking a nap if you can is great or going to bed a little earlier might be necessary for the first few weeks.

Timetable It

Even if you choose to exercise just one day a week, put it in the calendar. Book a babysitter if necessary. I have been going to the same contemporary dance class since my son was a baby and it has taken years but I am pretty good now. I won’t ever be a professional dancer but that has never been my goal. By committing to one day a week for 7 years I have accumulated hundreds of hours of dance training.