You were a regular at the gym, working out, pounding the treadmill and keeping an eye on the aerobics class. Then you had a bout of flu and had to stay away. You lost some muscle tone and all your motivation. Now you’ll do anything to avoid exercise. What's to be done?
How the mighty have fallen. The more you procrastinate, the worse you feel, but the thought of being flabby and sagging among all those perfectly toned and honed bodies is a little intimidating.
How do you start?
The trick is to do it slowly but steadily. Your first visit need entail nothing more than a steam bath and a cup of coffee. The next time, start with some long, slow stretches:
- Calf Stretch: Face a wall, standing about two feet away from it. Keeping your heels flat and your back straight, lean forward slowly and press your hands and forehead to the wall. You should feel stretching in the area above your heels. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and then relax. Repeat.
- Quad Stretch: Face a wall, standing about a foot away from it. Support yourself by placing your right hand against the wall. Raise your right leg behind you and grab your foot with your left hand. Gently pull your heel up toward your buttock, stretching the muscles in the front of your right leg for 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch with your left leg.
- Groin Stretch: Squat down and put both hands on the floor in front of you. Stretch your left leg straight out behind you. Keep your right foot flat on the floor and lean forward with your chest into your right knee, then gradually shift weight back to your left leg, keeping it as straight as possible. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch with your right leg behind you.
- Hamstring Stretch: Lie down with your back flat on the floor and both knees bent. Your feet should be flat on the floor, about six inches apart. Bend your right knee up to your chest and grab your right thigh with both hands behind your knee. Gradually straighten your right leg, feeling gentle stretching in the back of your leg. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch with your left leg.
If you could bench-press your own weight before you got sick or dropped out, you’d be silly to try it on your first time back at the gym. Concentrate on rebuilding your cardiovascular fitness by running, swimming, cycling or rowing. You’re more likely to stick to an activity you enjoy, so try a number of activities.
Concentrate on making exercise a habit again. Some people find it takes at least three weeks to develop a routine. While a thrice-weekly workout of 20 minutes each is the prescribed minimum, you might find a light daily workout better for getting back into the habit.
Start off exercising three or more times a week for 20 minutes or more, and work up to at least 30 minutes, four to six times a week. This can include several short bouts of activity in a day. Exercising during a lunch break or on your way to do errands may help you add physical activity to a busy schedule. Exercising with a friend or a family member can help make it fun, and having a partner to encourage you can help you stick to it.
As you become fitter, aim to keep your heart rate at about 60 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. To figure out your target heart rate, subtract your age in years from 220 (which gives your maximum heart rate), and then multiply that number by 0.60 or 0.85.
You may find that having a gym partner helps you stick to a routine. Extend your pace and workout time gradually. Within a fortnight you’re likely to start feeling a difference. Once you’re reasonably fit, you can move on to weight training.
(William Smook, Health24, updated September 2009)