When I was in my early 20’s I would work out for hours in an effort to lose weight. I would go swimming and take spin classes, go for long runs and spend time lifting. I’d exhaust myself to drop a few pounds. The bummer was that none of it was making me feel good or helping me lose weight. Instead, I had less energy, felt more tired, and on top of that I would feel hungrier, so I would end up eating more.
It became a vicious cycle.
Have you ever had that experience of exerting so much physical or emotional energy to make a change that all you end up doing is exhausting yourself? It’s great that you want it, but its also tiring to be continually hitting a wall.
If I could go back now and speak with the 20-something version of myself, I would give her a few pointers when it comes to exercise – specifically, how to work smarter and not harder and longer.
The first thing I would say is, create an exercise routine that you enjoy so you’ll be able to maintain it for years to come.
Here are some questions to ask when considering your exercise routine and how to make it last:
How does exercise help me feel and be better?
What are the types of movement I enjoy?
Can I maintain the workout schedule I’d like to have beyond a few perfectly scheduled weeks?
Is what I’ve been doing providing results?
Let’s explore these questions a little further.
The benefits of movement: Exercise is good for so much more than weight loss. It can improve our mood, maintain the mass and function of our muscles and increase our energy levels. Movement is also a great way to release day-to-day stress. With that being said, why add stress by doing types of exercise that don’t feel good or that drain us in the process?
Make it fun: There are so many ways to get exercise. If you are stuck in a place of thinking you need to get to the gym for a workout, consider the options below:
Find a local Zumba, Salsa, Country Line or other dance class to try.
Instead of meeting friends or family for a drink, meet them for a hike, take a walk at the beach, go bowling or maybe head to the batting cages.
Find a buddy or trainer you can meet with to either work out together or at least meet up with for the start or finish of your work-out.
Switch up your activities to try something new, if you’ve always done a cardio class, what if you tried a Yoga class. If you find yourself on the treadmill each time you are at the gym, what if you tried a boxing or martial arts class. Switching up our types of exercise provides variety and increases the likelihood of expanding the number of activities we know we enjoy.
Yes, the truth is, sometime we have to dig deep to get started (and remind ourselves why we are there!) but a good rule of thumb is that if we feel good once we get started, that’s the type of thing that is worth coming back to.
But if we starting from zero, how do we get momentum?
Seek Sustainability: Sometimes when I get excited about something new I think of big solutions and my first response is to want to do a lot and as often as possible. I want to start going to the gym 4 times a week, but I haven’t started to go once yet. I go on a walk I enjoy and start telling myself I should do it every day.
I’ve found there is a lot of value in “less is more” when it comes to trusting my ability to follow through and feel like I’m having successes. If I decide to try something once a week and do it, I’ll be a lot more likely to want to continue for weeks to come.
Here are a few ideas of ways to start small if you feel like exercise is not yet a part of your daily, weekly or even monthly routine:
Find more reasons to walk during the day – park further away from where you are going to increase your steps, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk around the block during a 15-minute break
Take a dance break when you get home from work, not only will this get your body moving, but it will help you transition from work to home and bring a smile to your face
Start a push-up contest with yourself – see how many you can do and try to add one a week to the count (you could also try this with holding a plank position and time yourself – start on your knees if needed and work up to a full plank position)
Do calf raises or squats while brushing your teeth
Take a few minutes when you wake up or right before bed to do a few simple stretches to wake up the body or help it wind down and release tension
If you’ve been struggling to start a workout routine or feel like you are hitting a wall, take a moment to consider some of the ideas above or see if they spark any other ideas for you. Don’t worry if you don’t have a routine down yet, life involves a lot of trial and error - it’s all part of the process. The key take-away is to keep trying until you find the one or two things that work for you.
Start small and see how you feel. Once you identify something that makes you feel good (during or after) work with that. And over time, you can see how to best incorporate it into a more regular and sustainable routine.