I’ve been away from the gym for a week or so (I injured my back… no, not lifting weights, but congrats to the few people who gave it some variation of “it’s because you do too much exercise”… )
Being injured is pretty humbling. Overnight, those things I do with barely a second-thought (putting a loaded bar on my back, walking out, and squatting; sitting under a vertical leg press loaded with plates and unclipping the safeties…) seemed terrifying. Impossible, even.
It gave me an insight into how it might feel to be a complete newbie to strength training. And made me realise why people respond the way they do when us muscle-heads talk so easily about lifting big weights.
It’s not the norm, it’s not easy, and it’s not second-nature. It just becomes that way over time.
Being away from training – particularly due to injury – opens your eyes to this. And returning to training puts you back, if not back to square one, then certainly back to a place where you need to think, rather than just “do” out of habit.
So, as I prepare to finally get back into training (hooray!) I thought it might be useful to write about how to get started, or how to start over. After all, social media is great about giving us people’s “fitness journeys”, “before and after” transformation photos, and the A-Z. Rarely do we hear about the B, C and D. The less glamorous, more workaday aspects of forming new habits. The important bits which build momentum… and enable people to get all the way to “Z”.
There are dozens of approaches you could take to training and nutrition when you start out. It’s highly unlikely you’ll choose the absolute optimum one first time. It takes a while to get to know your body (and mind). So just get started. Make it very simple. Don’t ask too many people for advice (they’ll all give you a different opinion!) Read, research and listen, but don’t give yourself a case of paralysis by analysis. And don’t sweat the small stuff. Get a basic, simple training plan in place (from one trusted source) and make common sense changes to nutrition, lifestyle, sleep and stress management.
Get into a routine
Keep your gym bag packed and by the door. Keep your sports kit where you can see it (lay it out near your bed if you’re an early-morning exerciser). Have all your supplements and shaker bottles within easy reach. Get yourself into a routine so that, over time, going to the gym or going to training, eating well, going to bed at a reasonable time (etc) become second nature. When I had my little hiatus from the gym, obviously I got out of the habit of picking my gym bag up, checking my training plan and heading out the door (via Waitrose for my free pre-workout espresso LOL – it’s all part of the “routine” ) I had to actually think back and walk through my little routine because I thought I’d forgotten it (!) Needless to say, a regular routine comes back quickly if it’s something which was previously well bedded-in!
Make it easier to do than to resist
Become aware of your areas of resistance. Do you find it hard to get up in the morning to train first thing? Or is it really hard to get home from work and then have to go out again to get to the gym? Do you find it hard to eat well in the evenings? Make it difficult to make poor choices. And make it much easier to make the better decision. Keep healthy food in the house which you know you’ll actually like eating, and keep it at eye-level so it’s easier to grab than the stuff you’re trying to cut back on. Find a training partner so those early morning sessions become more fun. Go to the gym on the way home from work. The best training routine is… the one you feel you can do (and enjoy). Don’t make it more difficult than it has to be!
Wish me luck with my return to training!
Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.