Exercise is a struggle right now. Here’s what’s really going on, and how to feel good about training again.
Hands up if you’re feeling weird about working out right now? Rest assured, everyone feels the same: a bit bleugh, a bit discontented, a bit over it. Perhaps this is just the usual winter spiral of not wanting to leave your warm cosy flat for a run or a walk to the gym in the freezing weather. But it does feel like there’s something more going on than just coldness and darkness.
In fact, there are five things that personal trainers and research suggest could be causing your funk, from post-lockdown fears to burnout. Which one is ruining your workout routine?
1. The novelty has worn off
A report by the Global Health & Fitness Association found that 50% of all new gym members quit within the first six months. A 2020 paper looking into new year’s resolutions also found that after six months, only 40% of people were still on track. With those figures in mind, is it any surprise that you’re struggling right now?
The gyms re-opened in April 2021. It’s now the end of November. That’s over seven months since you threw yourself back into your workout routine. While we tend to think that starting a new training programme is the hardest thing, the reality is that we really struggle with keeping it up. Right now is probably the time when you’re most tested – that isn’t a solution, but it might give you the comfort you need to push through. If you can make it through the next few weeks, the chances are you’ll feel more comfortable with your routine.
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2. You’re being impatient
For personal trainer Veowna Charles, the key reason we’re feeling a bit meh about our workouts is because we are expecting too much, too soon. “After having so much time off, people had to rebuild their aerobic capacity as well as their strength,” she says. “I know that a lot of people are now feeling like they should have advanced further than where they are now, but they’re not considering the fact that they actually needed to retrain their body for the first few months.”
Stylist’s news writer Amy Beecham knows that not meeting her expectations has led her to feel unmotivated to train: “My favourite body part split always used to be upper body as the feeling of lifting weight over my head was so empowering to me, but I find myself zoning out when I’m completing my military presses and feeling unbothered by barbell rows.
“It’s hard to put my finger onwhy – I know that I’ve found it increasingly hard to make steady progress with my lifting now that some of the “beginner gains” that I experienced when I returned to the gym after the lockdown hiatus are wearing off.”
The only way to work through that is to be humble. While adding numbers to the bar is great for your ego, it’s not the only way to progress. Frequency, variation and enjoyment of your routine could be better ways to monitor your gym success until you get back to where you were.
3. You’re burned out
Perhaps you weren’t one of the people who took time off in lockdown and lost fitness. Plenty of people actually kept up or increased their exercise to compensate for their otherwise sedentary lives. If you moved from daily HIIT workouts at home straight back into a strength-based gym routine, or you loved running so much over lockdown that you’ve maintained a huge weekly mileage, is it any wonder your body is screaming for rest?
Pre-Covid, we had ebbs and flows of fitness in our diaries. Holidays in summer were often taken as downtime, or the Christmas season was too jam-packed to train. For the past two years, we haven’t really had those natural breaks in routine. That means many of us have just trained at the same standard for years on end. That’s exhausting. Maybe now is the time to take a pause, rather than fight through.
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4. You’re lacking confidence
“Lots of people are feeling nervous about going back to classes after time off – whether that’s an extended break since Covid or just since a restriction-free summer. They feel like they won’t be able to keep up with other people and the longer they leave it, the lower their confidence gets,” says Charles. “Really classes are there to be enjoyable and everyone should be turning up with their own individual goals. Your push-up may not look like her push-up, but you’re still doing a push-up.”
How you tackle this depends on your willingness to get back to your training routine. Immersion therapy is probably the fastest way to get into it – diving straight in with a class so you realise that there’s nothing to fear. The other option is slowly building your fitness back up with home workouts until you feel ready to get back out in front of other people.
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5. Your social calendar is full
Sorry to remind you, but the C-word is just around the corner. Not that you need to be told, because you’ve got three different social events this week alone, and it’s not even double-digit December yet. When you’re busy and lacking sleep, getting your training done can feel like a drag.
One thing that’s important to remember is that we only have one energy tank. You don’t have separate reserves for work, exercise and socialising. When one or two of these sources start to drain more energy, it’s actually wise to lower your output in other areas of your life. “Last year we were all deprived from these social occasions, so I’m definitely now seeingpeople prioritise evenings out over keeping active,” says PT Lauren Forde. “If you usually try to cram all your training into the working week, try to find some time on the weekend for movement. Remember, exercise isn’t only there to keep you healthy but also to be enjoyed – if you’re finding it a chore to get moving then maybe reconsider what workouts you’re doing.”
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