How has your exercise plan been going during the pandemic? While some people took the lockdown as an opportunity to seriously overhaul their health and fitness – taking up marathon training programs, buying a Peloton bike or getting seriously into their live-streamed HIIT workouts – others took it as a green light to slack off, indulging themselves with endless Netflix binges and whatever junk food took their fancy.
If you fell into the latter camp, as the world starts to slowly return to some kind of normal, you may be wondering how you can get your fitness plans back on track. It’s perfectly understandable if things have fallen a little by the wayside – many of us have struggled with motivation in times of so much uncertainty, and when so many of our normal treats and outlets have been taken away, we’ve fallen into unhealthier comforts instead. Whatever the reason, there’s little doubt that many people are feeling quite sluggish and out of condition right now. If this is you, and you’re now feeling ready to return to prioritizing fitness, nutrition and training, you may be wondering where to begin after so long out of your usual routine.
Where Do I Begin With Exercise Post-Lockdown?
One of the most important points to begin with is to accept that your physical condition will not be the same as it was before the country went into lockdown. In fact, the worst thing you could do would be to try and jump straight back in at the same level of your previous fitness plan, as that could easily result in an injury which may put you out of action for even longer. If the most you have done for a while is lift the remote and try to work out how totals work in different sports, then you may need to accept it’s going to be a journey to get back to the peak of your fitness. Start gradually reintroducing exercise into your life, slowly increasing what you do week by week. FitBit estimates that adults in the US have been, on average, 12 percent less active during lockdown conditions. This means you are likely to be noticeably less fit than you were prior to March. Protecting your body from exercise injury should be a primary concern during the first few weeks of getting back into training, especially with weight lifting and resistance training. Both the amount, and the intensity and duration of your workouts will need to be revised. Aim to do no more than fifty percent of what you were doing on any of these fronts prior to the pandemic. That means limiting your runs to two and a half miles if you used to do five, lifting slightly less than half of the weight you used to do, and cutting down the time you exercise for the first few weeks as you ease your body back into it.
Get In Those Stretches
Prior to the pandemic, you may have been the kind of person that habitually skipped the warm-up and cool-down sections of your workout. That’s a shortcut you can’t afford at the moment if you want to keep your body healthy and return to full activity. Start with basic warm up stretches before any type of physical activity, and remember to cool down afterwards as well. You might want to invest in tools such as a foam roller to help disperse lactic acid, or look into taking supplements designed to support joint and bone health, like Omega 3, Vitamin D or Glucosamine. These can all help your body as it comes back to full condition. Protect your back and legs from injury by incorporating a few simple bodyweight moves into your routine. Things like squats, wall sits, lunges, hip and leg raises and planks are all great for strengthening your core and building up a basic foundation of fitness again. The other bonus is that these sorts of exercises don’t require any equipment and can be done with very little space – plus their results build up quickly. Gentle yoga routines can also help to stretch out the body. Moves like the downward dog and cobra promote a return to mobility and thoroughly stretch out areas like the lower back which can be the first to fail when you’ve been inactive for a while.
Address Your Diet
Another area where a lot of us have fallen down during pandemic conditions is our diets. It’s been very easy to reach for comfort foods or lapse into patterns of snacking working from home that you would never do in the office. But in order to support a return to fitness and training, it’s equally important to get your diet right. One of the big keys to it all lies in batch cooking. Set aside some time, perhaps on a Sunday night or a quieter weekday evening, to cook a large amount of two or three simple healthy recipes. Once cooled, portion the food up into individual servings using tupperware, freezer bags or foil containers, and put them into the freezer. That way, you always have a healthy and tasty meal that can be microwaved in minutes, rather than relying on take outs or ready meals now that life is slowly getting busier again. If you struggle with eating properly at breakfast as you’re pressed for time, think ahead and make several day’s worth of breakfasts, like homemade low-sugar granola bars, savory breakfast muffins, overnight oats, bircher or fruit smoothies and have them ready to go in the fridge – this saves being tempted by something unhealthy mid-morning. Focus on including higher amounts of vegetables and fruit in your diet. This can be achieved by making some simple swaps – substituting spaghetti for courgetti, or adding an extra side of vegetables and less starch to each plate you eat. Eating a rainbow each day of different colored fruits and vegetables can give your body the variety of nutrients that it needs, or you could try going ‘flexitarian’ and committing to meat-free days where you eat a vegetarian alternative for health reasons. Little swaps like this really do add up and can help you to gently shed those extra pounds. You may also want to consider adding something like a powdered supergreens supplement to your diet to boost your intake.
Try Out A New Activity
Sometimes the issue is more with motivation – if we haven’t really exercised for months, it can be extremely hard to get back into the habit of making it a part of your life again. If that’s the case for you, a good trick for re-finding your spark is to try some new activities to find something that feels good. This could mean trying out an outdoor bootcamp or trying one of the thousands of free online fitness classes available. You might discover a love of a sport you had never pictured yourself enjoying. Or you could try an entirely different setting, such as water based sports or climbing. Once you hit on something you enjoy and want to learn more about it becomes a lot easier to keep at it and persuade yourself to get fitter again.
Use The Power Of Positive Visualization
Another trick for getting motivated to workout again is to use positive visualization techniques. This is something well known to coaches, elite athletes and top business leaders. Set aside a few minutes in a calm place to clear your mind and picture yourself becoming great at the exercise you love. Imagine the scene in as much detail as possible – the sights, sounds and smells as you cross the finish line on that half marathon or take part in that event. The more you can involve your senses to trick your brain, the better. The more often you can do this visualization, the better. This practice really trains your mind to ‘rehearse’ success and think positively about getting back into a sport you love. A lot of great performance is as much in the mind as in the condition of your body.
Set A New Goal
Although jumping straight back into it can result in a bigger setback, it’s equally important not to be too aimless. Set yourself some specific goals for the fitness gains you want to make – a long-term achievement that you can then break down into smaller milestones to keep you on track. Try aiming to increase your training back to 75 percent of your former intensity, duration and other measures by week three, and back to 100 per cent of where you were before lockdown in five weeks. You can build it up from there to get yourself back to where you want to be. Speaking to a trainer to devise a proper plan to bring back your fitness is also a helpful step. If your body gives you extreme pain or tells you to stop, then listen to it. Speak to a doctor if things don’t feel right or old injuries make themselves known again. Good luck!