You were finally able to get into rhythm of working out regularly. You tried your best to meal prep every Sunday evening (although sometimes you waited until Monday... or Wednesday). You even bought new fitness attire to match your personality and it actually fits! But despite your best efforts and good intentions, somewhere along the way life derailed your routine. It happens to everyone at some point in their journey, and it stinks.
How do you make a comeback after experiencing a setback?
Well, you have a decision to make: do you want to feel resentment towards your setback, or are you willing to learn from the experience and move on? (Hint: we suggest moving on, but we also understand it’s sometimes easier said than done!) Second, you may have to reassess your goals, your desire, your time and your commitment before making your comeback in order to be successful.
Many people feel concerned about “losing their gains” due to a temporary illness like a seasonal cold which keeps them out of the gym for a week, but what if you fall out of your fitness routine for a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years? The good news is you do not need to halt your journey altogether and start over. You can keep working towards the same goals provided you set a different level of expectations for how you achieve them, such as stretching out your original timeline to account for healing from a physical injury, recovering from an illness, or dealing with a major life event.
Accidentally getting hurt (like pulling a muscle or breaking a bone), having surgery and even giving birth all fall under the category of “physical injury” as they require appropriate time to heal from. Your doctor will be able to help you understand what you will and will not be able to do during your recovery, some of which may include physical therapy. If you are enrolled in PT, continue practicing the exercises at home as they suggest! These movements may seem mundane in comparison to heavy squats or burpees, but they will help your body heal faster.
What if your derailment is mental, not physical? Experiencing a change in your mental health can also be hard to overcome. A study published by Biological Psychology explains how “exercise intensity matters for management of depression, anxiety and stress” highlighting how moderate intensity exercise (such as strength training) reduced depression, while high intensity exercise (think tempo running or HIIT workouts) increased stress. If you’re trying to manage your mental health while also working on your fitness comeback, understand slow-and-steady improvement is better than pushing yourself too hard. Know that consistency is key and you will reach your goal as long as you continue trying.
Either way, try not to let your stubbornness win by attempting your old exercise routine, just to get hurt all over again - or worse: exacerbating your existing injury. Be patient and acknowledge your body needs this time to repair the damage and that you can achieve a satisfactory level of fitness again.
Falling out of a routine can be frustrating, especially if it was a routine you felt passionate about at one point in time. Priorities change, and that’s ok. Similar to feeling derailed after a life event, it’s important to take time to process the change before you can renew your determination to make the habit stick once again.
If you feel like your fitness rut is due to a lack of motivation you once had an abundance of, then maybe it’s time to try something new to see if it piques your interest instead. There are many different types of exercises and training styles available, some people find once they start practicing a different type they’re able to rediscover their motivation!
Remember, you don’t need to start over, but it is OK to give yourself a fresh start! A 2014 study on The Fresh Start Effect outlines how this phenomenon has the potential to help people overcome important willpower problems. Similar to setting your New Year’s Revolution, take this moment to acknowledge how far you’ve come in your entire journey.
First, try not to place the “blame” on yourself. If you feel you have become the victim of your own circumstance, then there may be more emotions to unpack before you can give yourself the opportunity to move forward. If this is the situation you find yourself in, then be sure to speak to a friend, family member, coach or other professional about your situation so they can help you through it.
It’s important to focus on what you can do. Try to appreciate how your body has the energy to move a little more than it used to, even if it’s not the same as before. Holding a full plank for 20-seconds is an improvement over your last attempt at 15-seconds, and performing five pushups on your knees definitely requires improved strength compared to doing five pushups on the wall. Take the process one step at a time. Your continuous effort - no matter how small you think it is - will help you progress to where you want to be.
At the end of the day, every person has a valid reason to give up after a setback, which is bound to happen to all of us at some point in time. (because, hey, it’s life) but it’s also entirely possible to overcome almost any obstacle or setback so you can continue on your fitness journey. Just remember to take it one day, one choice and one moment at a time.