Lockdown and the Covid-19 Pandemic were a major disruption to many of our workout cycles, including my own. The closure of gyms, the shifting of work schedules, and the rewiring of our social lives all took their toll and took us out of the natural rhythm we were in pre-2020.
It can be hard to get back into the swing of things. If an activity, such as going to the Gym, has a regular slot or time hollowed out in your schedule, it is that much easier to stick to.
However, just as Lockdown scrambled our schedules. Over a year later, the lifting of that Lockdown threatens to do the same.
Regular exercise is important for all aspects of our health, be it mental or physical. And as such, it is important to get that routine back in full swing as soon as possible. You’ve got to enjoy the exercise routine you set out for yourself, and if you are constantly trying to make time, or worse, feeling guilty about not making time, then it will all be for nought.
As such, I’ve put together some tips from my hard-learned experience and others about how to get back into an exercise routine that works for you, ready for the reopening of Gyms and Fitness Clubs throughout the country.
1. Plan a Routine
An old Prussian General called Moltke the Elder once said that no plan survives the first encounter with an enemy. In the same vein, no workout routine really survives the first encounter with reality.
But that is no excuse not to plan. Moltke was a master-planner and his strength was recognising that a plan was necessary, but that flexibility was paramount.
His philosophy lives on today in the AGILE method of work used in offices. And it should be used in planning your workout routine. Your plan is your guideline, and if a part of it doesn’t work out, it should be flexible to cope and adapt to that.
Sometimes something will get in the way, an important meeting, a family emergency. Have overflow in your routine to be able to slot in a backup workout session without it feeling like a defeat. A friend of mine has a two-tier system. He strives to go to his gym at lunch every day, and if he can’t, he goes after work. It is simple but effective. Giving him the wriggle-room necessary to adapt to his mood.
2. Trial Your Routine
Visiting our good friend the General for some more advice. Trial your routine and learn from that test.
Did you try to work out at Lunch every day this week? Did you feel really hungry and tired in the latter part of the day? Maybe every day is too much, maybe Lunch isn’t the time for you.
Did you set out an ambitious plan and end up only sticking to half of it? That might be a good indication to scale back your plan. Not by the full 50% you missed, but maybe by around 70 to 80%. See how your next week goes.
Remember the days that work really well. Did Thursday’s workout feel beautifully stress free because you have nothing on in the evening after work? Then lock that one in place. Did Friday Evening on the other hand drag because you were missing out on all that weekend goodness. Then maybe try and lock in Friday morning instead. Adapt and learn from your routine. Otherwise you’ll forever be hostage to something you aren’t enjoying, poor motivation to stick to it, and no good for your mood or self-esteem.
3. Variety is the Spice of Life. What do you want to do?
While this list is mainly focused on lockdown ending and the return to your Gym or Fitness Club, that doesn’t mean it is the only thing you need to do.
Mix it up. Classes will be reopening now with the lifting of restrictions and that means an unprecedented amount of variety. And I’m not limiting this to just resistance and spin classes. There is a whole world opening out there again. Dancing, football, rock climbing, paddleboarding. There are a hundred ways to move your body, so don’t limit yourself to 30 minutes on the treadmill every day.
We’ve spent a good portion of this year trying to reconstruct a routine under a limited set of parameters. It is time to get out there and find out what you love and what works for you.
4. Find a friend
Speaking of limitations. Another limitation you no doubt keenly felt this past year, unless you live on a commune, is the inability to see your friends.
What better way to reintroduce yourself to the world then by syncing up some of your workout routines with a friend. This will be a great way to get back to socialising and make your restart less daunting.
In addition, you and your friend will be able to keep each other honest. With someone to motivate you and observe your triumphs and failings, your journey to a fitness routine will be that much easier.
5. Find a Target
So I’ve run out of quotes from our friend the General, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t make all those plans without a goal in mind. So let’s talk about targets.
A routine isn’t going to do all that much unless you have a target in mind. Now this target isn’t set in stone. As we discussed in point one, you’ll be shifting aspects of your routine as you learn what works and what doesn’t.
Your targets are the same. This will either be because you achieve them, or because your values change. Want to dress up as Conan the Barbarian for Halloween? Might need some more Chest Press in that routine. Halloween passed and you are now trying to keep that winter weight at bay? To the treadmill my friend.
Your circumstance and desires as you go through life will change, and your routine will change with it. But always have a goal, even if it is as minor as to just keep maintaining your existing gains.
Finally, think about what really motivates you to exercise. It doesn’t have to be something grandiose like winning Mr Universe. It can be as simple as because you really enjoy exercising, or because it puts you in a good state of mind for work, or for the evening at home.
6. Don’t Burn Yourself Out
Leading on nicely. Be kind to yourself, in your routine, and your target. It has been a tough and extraordinary time over the last eighteen months. And many of us are in a very different place to where we were before.
This doesn’t mean you need to crack out the whip and pump iron until you can’t move. That is, in fact, the opposite of useful. What we are looking to do is build a sustainable, responsible but effective routine.
And you hitting the gym twice a day, seven days a week until you’ve atoned for that lost year isn’t any of those things. It isn’t sustainable as you won’t keep it up and form a habit. It isn’t responsible as you may well damage your body, and it isn’t effective because you need time to recover.
Obviously, that is an extreme example, but we all have limits and this lockdown represents the perfect storm to accidentally over-exert yourself. You never want to hit the point where a workout will be pointless damage to your body. Sustainability is the name of the game. Ideally, you want this routine to be one you are doing for a long time (albeit with minor tweaks).
7. Make sure to get enough rest
Once again with an effortless segue between topics, the last point reinforces why it is all the more important to factor REST into your routine. Like Plato understood when he was hanging out in a cave, without the dark we cannot know the light. And without rest, we cannot get the results we desire.
While it might not be as glamorous as going up another 5k in your reps and sets. It is how you are going to enable your body to make those improvements and therefore it can’t be taken for granted.
As we referenced in points 1 and 2, this means that if you have a day where you’ve got a workout planned and your body just doesn’t feel ready. The issue might not be with you, but with your routine. Examine it closely, is this a one-off, or are you pushing yourself too hard. The last thing anyone wants, you most of all, is permanent damage to your body. Your routine should be designed to protect you from this possibility, but if you ever feel yourself falling out of sync. Rest up.
8. Your Point of View
Mindset is key in every walk of life. Whether something is bearable or unbearable will nearly always come down to mindset and your Gym or Fitness Club workout routine is no exception.
Whether or not you are finding the workout enjoyable is what really matters. As I mentioned in the variety section, find out what works for you. As I mentioned in the Target section, understand what benefits you and your body. But most importantly it has got to be something you enjoy doing. Take my go-to example, the rear delt fly. I literally look forward to the moment I can sit down and do that exercise. And that is how you should eventually feel about at least one aspect of your routine, and preferably more.
There will always be parts you enjoy less. I hate treadmills if you couldn’t tell. But I still get on one because I recognise it is an important part of what will help keep me in good shape. (And if I’m not feeling like it, see point 2, I just use the cross-trainer instead).
And In Closing…
If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that a lot of this revolves around planning, trial, and error. Finding your feet with a new routine post-Lockdown is going to be all about practice, perseverance, and persistence.
Remember it isn’t a race against anyone else other than yourself. We have all been locked away for a long time, and many of us haven’t exercised around other individuals in over a year. Celebrate your successes, learn from your failures. If you can celebrate the successes of others then all the better.
The Gym and Fitness Club environment is going to continue to be strange for a while to come. Covid-19 safety restrictions and measures will continue to be in force, and the looming threat of another lockdown is a distinct possibility as we move into the winter.
As such, it is all the more important that you remain optimistic, structured yet flexible in your approach to working out. Utilise your Gym or Fitness Club while you can, as long as it is safe and appropriate to do so.
This journey is all about improving yourself in whatever ways you want and that is worthy of celebration. It is harder than it sounds, but if done right, it is worth doing. Good luck!