Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fitness Enemy Number-One: Inertia

What's the biggest challenge to your healthy lifestyle? If you're like just about everyone I know, it's inertia.

One unplanned off day becomes two or three, and then a week, and it goes downhill from there. Or one day of eating and drinking becomes a weekend, and then "to hell with it," and you couldn't even take a guess at your daily calorie intake. Sometimes, the lack of exercise and poor diet go hand in hand.

OK, are you ready for the big guilt trip? Too bad. You won't get one from me.

First of All, Don't Beat Yourself Up

Sure, sometimes what you need is a swift kick to the rear-end. But for most of us, that just makes things worse. That's the problem with inertia. You feel like you can't break it, and the more people try to help you, the harder it gets. Or, more succinctly, "Eff it, why bother?" A while back, I wrote about my problem with "fitspo." It's not likely to get you off the couch in the first place, so why would anyone think it'll work now?

The thing is, there are plenty of perfectly reasonable explanations for how you got off track:
  • Work sometimes takes over your life.
  • Maybe your wife has been sick and needed you to pick up the slack on the home front.
  • Maybe you've been sick or injured yourself.
  • Vacation. There's no shame in taking your week off as a week off.
  • A change in your daily routine can screw up your workout schedule.
  • Stress. Some people use exercise to relieve stress, but that doesn't work for everyone.
You can probably add some of your own. And it's not hard to see how these things can affect your diet, too.

So cut yourself some slack. You're a Regular Guy, and you have Regular Guy priorities. As fitness coach Mike Samuels writes, "Healthy body, healthy mind and all that, but if nutrition is just one more stress on top of everything else, take a break and look after number-one18-inch biceps and visible abs don't make you a better person."

There's only one problem: Your body doesn't care. Your body doesn't care that the reason you've been eating takeout almost every night is that you've been working till 9:00. Your body doesn't care that you've been traveling constantly and have been too tired to hit the gym. Your body doesn't care that your kid smacked up the car and you had to carpool for two weeks. You're going to lose some fitness, and you're going to add some weight. It's understandable, but it's also inevitable.

OK, so now what? You want to get yourself back on track, but if it were really that easy, you would have done it already, right? How do you break the inertia?

What Happens When You Get Off Track?

My last two weeks of January
Susan Paul at Runner's World actually answered this question really well in response to a reader query this week. The short version is that your aerobic capacity -- your ability to take in and use oxygen -- suffers. There are a number of physiological processes that go into this. And you'll start to lose some strength, too.

I don't think that it's coincidence that you start to lose both aerobic fitness and strength after about two weeks. Our bodies have a knack for seeking balance.

Of course, there are a lot of variables in play, such as your genetics, how fit and strong you were to start, just how inactive you've been and how old you are. But I think this is a good basic barometer for the average Regular Guy. So if it's been less than two weeks and you're ready to get back to it, you can probably stop reading here. Maybe take care not to overdo it in your first workout back, but you should be basically fine to pick up where you left off.

But What If It's Been a Longer Layoff?

There are two battles to fight here: the mental and the physical.

The mental battle is probably the tougher of the two. And the longer it's been, the harder it is to persuade yourself to break the inertia. Here are some tips for getting your head back in the game.

Remember That You're Not a Noob: You may be out of shape, but you still know what to do how to do it. You haven't forgotten the basics of and running form. You know how to use the equipment at the gym. You still have your gym gear and shoes. Remember when you were first starting out and you knew none of this? You're already ahead of that guy.

Be a Little Patient: Because you're not a noob, you're not going to waste time with stuff that doesn't work. It's going to be tough sledding at first, but you'll get back to a good place more quickly than you would if you were really just beginning a fitness plan.

You Know You're Capable: I know this is easier said than internalized, but it has to count for something to have already achieved something -- even if you've let it go. Sure, we all have our doubts. But you've scaled this mountain, so you know you can. Try not to let anyone or anything convince you otherwise.

Focus on the Here and Now: It's good to have goals. But don't worry about the long term right away. For the time being, your goal should be just to get going. Get that first workout under your belt, and then start planning for the next one. Don't worry about how you look or how many pounds you want to shed. Just put one metaphorical foot in front of the other.

Start With the Stuff You Like: I've said this before: Any coach or trainer will tell you that the best workout is the one you'll actually do. If you can't bear the idea of going out for a run or trying to deadlift, don't. Go for a hike. Play basketball. Ride your bike. Get started by getting that heart rate up a little bit. Just like inertia, momentum is also tough to break. If you're doing stuff you like, you'll keep doing it.

Give Yourself Permission to Bail: Get your gear on, drive to the gym, go through your warm-up and tell yourself, "I'll give this five minutes. If I'm absolutely miserable, I'll just pack it in." No, really. Tell yourself that. Because the thing is, once you get going, you're a lot more likely to keep going than to quit after five minutes -- especially since you're not putting too much pressure on yourself.

Reward Yourself: I'm not a big believer in rewards, because for a lot of people, that means food. And that can undo the good you've just done. Instead, every time you finish a workout, put a dollar in a jar or an envelope. And when you've saved $30, buy yourself something just for you.

Reach Out for Support: Make a date to work out with a friend, or even just trade war stories online. There's nothing like a little accountability to keep you moving, and it's always good to know that other people are feeling the same struggles you are.

Don't Ignore the Physical Obstacles

Getting your mindset right is definitely the bigger of the two obstacles here, but you still need to be cognizant of the physical issues. You're just getting back to it; you don't want to be sidelined again by an injury or a sense of failure. So make sure you're not overdoing it right away.

Start With the Basics: Competitive runners go through one or two "base-training" phases every year, where they're simply logging miles and building up endurance before getting into race-specific training plans. You've been off your game for a while, so it makes sense for you to build up your base, too. This is not the time for speedwork at the track, HIIT or a complex lifting program. Give your cardiovascular system a chance to increase its capacity and your muscles a chance to get used to the workload.

Forget Hardcore: One of the toughest things for any Regular Guy is intentionally limiting yourself when you feel like you can do more. But even if you feel like you could go that extra mile or you could add that extra plate to the bar, don't. It's not just your lungs, heart and musculature; your bones and connective tissue have to re-acclimate, too. If you don't want to end up right back on the DL, start small and work your way back gradually.

Be Consistent: OK, you've gotten that first workout under your belt, and you don't feel like you're ready to die. It's not going to do you much good if you wait a week to do it again. Yes, you need to rest for your cells to regenerate, but if you're not moving at least three days a week, you won't see much in the way of gains.

You Can Do This!

Let's tie this all together:

  • Stuff happens in life, and the best of us get off track sometimes.
  • It's not easy to get past the mental roadblocks, but you have some tools in your bag.
  • You know you've done it before, so you can do it now.
  • The smart Regular Guy sees the long-term, not just the here and now, and works his way back gradually.
The bottom line: You're worth the effort. Being able to live the life you want to live -- to enjoy work, family and friends -- is rewarding, and getting yourself back to that feeling of fitness is one of the major building blocks. Remember that great feeling of being able to keep up with your kids, or do the heavy lifting that needs doing around the house, or simply catching your wife checking you out when you get ready for bed. And remember that you're setting yourself up for a long lifetime of those moments. It sounds a little corny, but remind yourself: YOU ARE AWESOME!

Got some awesome stories to tell about coming back from illness, injury or just a long layoff? Need a little push from some other Regular Guys? Sound off in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment