Refresh Your Fitness: Part 1 | Starting Over with a Stronger Foundation
From time to time, everyone struggles with motivation to exercise. Sometimes this leads to fewer workouts or periods without exercising, which can lead to feeling down on oneself.
When you miss a workout, you also miss the serotonin and dopamine boost that comes from exercising. And, with increased sedentary time, you’ll likely gain weight and/or lose muscle, making your clothes feel less comfortable, decreasing the positive connection to your body that bolsters confidence.
Although a lack of feeling good in your body is a compelling reason to work out again, it’s important not to let a negative perspective drive your return to fitness.
It’s tempting to whip yourself back into shape by jumping headfirst into extra-long, grueling workouts. But using exercise as a weapon against yourself is self-defeating. Beating yourself up through training doesn’t just feel bad, it over-stresses your system, making it more difficult for you to realize metabolic goals (i.e., burning fat and gaining muscle) and fully recover in between workouts.
Also, because a de-conditioned body is at increased risk for injury, you can easily hurt yourself by training too hard or too soon, thus hampering your fitness over the long-term.
That’s why I’m sharing this 7-part “Refresh Your Fitness” series to safely guide you back to an effective regimen that fosters long-term success. This first blog in the series sets the foundation by guiding you to a positive mindset and getting you moving in the right direction. So, whether you’re reestablishing your exercise routine – or just starting for the first time – the following tips will put you on a consistent path.
Reconnect your mind and body.
When getting back into exercising, we often get hung up on aesthetic goals and forget the importance of improving how we feel. Negativity we feel about our body being “out of shape” might actually stem more from our mind-body disconnect than how we look in a bathing suit.
The “mind-body connection” is essentially the communication between your brain and body. Enhancing your mind-body connection creates a positive sense of self and respect for your body that facilitates your exercise effort, which, in turn, helps you achieve your look-good goal. Doesn’t that sound more desirable and sustainable than waging a workout-based war against yourself?
To restore and strengthen your mind-body connection after being sedentary, I recommend practicing this progressive muscle contraction/relaxation daily for one week and then at least once weekly thereafter.
Instructions for Progressive Muscle Contraction/Relaxation:
- This is best done lying down, but you can do it from almost any position because it relies on muscle contractions with very little to no movement.
- During this exercise, your breath will serve as the link between your mind and body, so begin by focusing your attention on your breathing.
- Inhale as you close your eyes tightly and tighten your jaw by clenching your teeth.
- Exhale as you release the tension, letting your eyes remain gently closed.
- Inhale fully into your ribcage and hold your breath, creating tension in your chest, upper back, and neck.
- Exhale to release.
- Inhale and squeeze your hands into fists, trying to make contact and create tension in all the muscles of your arms.
- Exhale to release.
- Inhale to squeeze the muscles of your back-side and pelvic floor, tightening your abdomen at the same time.
- Exhale to release.
- Inhale to curl your toes and create tension in all the muscles of your legs.
- Exhale to release.
- Take five additional, long, deep breaths, while your mind rests in awareness of your body’s state of total relaxation.
Start breathing better.
The safety and efficacy of any exercise program is predicated on executing proper form. If your posture is poor and movement is restricted, then it will be difficult to perform almost any exercise safely. That’s why it’s in your best interest to optimize your breathing and, consequently, your posture before beginning or restarting an exercise program.
What does breathing have to do with posture and movement? The short answer is: everything. The shallow, upper-chest-oriented breathing pattern many of us have fallen into reduces the function of our diaphragm, requiring upper-body muscles to compensate as accessory breathing muscles that lift the rib cage during inhalation. This creates painful, movement-limiting, chronic upper-body tension and poor posture. For more on the biomechanics of proper diaphragmatic breathing, check out my CNN article “How to improve posture and relieve pain with your breath.”
Practicing breathing better will decrease tension to restore mobility and set a solid postural foundation for proper exercise form. Here’s a way to practice every day:
Instructions for Seated Breathing Exercise:
- Sit comfortably in a chair with your hands on your lower ribs.
- Begin lengthening and deepening your inhalations and exhalations in and out of your nose.
- As you breathe, concentrate on the movement of your ribcage.
- Inhale, filling the lowest lobes of your lungs so your lower ribs externally rotate and expand out to the sides.
- When you exhale, completely empty your lungs, using core muscles, almost like an abdominal crunch, to move your lower ribs in, back, and down toward your waist.
- Repeat this for 5-10 breaths, practicing several times a day.
Also try my Breathing Bridge exercise, as shown in this video. And for more information on breathing better, check out my Breathe Better 101 online course.
Walk your way to a healthy routine.
When establishing an exercise routine, consistency is key to long-term success. Exercising needs to become a lifestyle habit akin to tooth brushing. Rather than diving into an overwhelming workout that’s too time-consuming and too strenuous to sustain, begin by forging a daily walking habit of 15-20 minutes a day.
Because walking is so accessible, it’s easy to discount its benefits, making it one of the most underrated fat-burning, mind-body exercises.
From a fat-burning perspective, walking at a moderate-to-brisk pace is very effective. Just remember the importance of staying hydrated, especially if you’re walking in warmer temperatures. Adding Catalyte®, an NSF Certified for Sport® electrolyte restoration complex, to your water is a great way to optimize your hydration.*
In terms of mind-body benefits, when you take walks disconnected from devices, it gives your mind a much-needed tech break, enabling you to tune into the sensations in your body. Even better, walk outside to gain the health benefits of green space and making vitamin D. But if you can’t get outside in the sun, then it’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement.
After you establish a daily walking habit, it creates a platform for sustainably expanding your exercise program.
Create a no-excuses, follow-through plan.
After spending a couple of weeks following the tips above, you should feel confident in your mental and physical capacity to expand your exercise regimen. To ensure long-term success, it’s important not to fall short on a follow-through strategy, specifically regarding when and where you’ll work out. Try to anticipate and deal with potential issues before they arise because unexpected hiccups can quickly snowball into excuses not to work out.
Not having enough time is a popular excuse for skipping exercise. Don’t let that be your excuse! If you can’t find a dedicated 30-45 minute time slot at least three times per week, then trade out your daily walking time on those days.
Will you be returning to your old gym or do you need to find a new one? If you’re planning to workout at home, then it’s important to create a dedicated workout space, so you don’t run into issues like clutter, other family members needing the space, etc.
Using the tips above, you’ll not only build a foundation for returning to regular exercise, but also forge a commitment to a healthier lifestyle.
Look for the next blog post in the series to guide you through bodyweight training, teaching you movements to restore strength and functional range of motion.
Note: This blog was adapted from content created by the same author and published on CNN.