If you haven’t exercised for a while, it can be difficult to get back into the swing of things. It happens all too easily: you have an intense few days at work, drink too much at the weekend, have a couple of big meals out, and suddenly your energy levels are low, you’re sleeping badly and your abs have disappeared under a big fleshy cushion.
I hear the same things all the time: “I’m not drinking this month”, “I’m going to go gym before work every day”, “I’m going to start eating healthily from now”. But a busy week, a summer day and a cold pint of beer can test even the strongest of wills… Good intentions have a habit of turning into excuses, which can lead to a vicious circle.
But in the words of the great Douglas Adams: Don’t Panic! We’ve all been there. You should have seen me a few months ago, and I’m a personal trainer!
First, stop beating yourself up. Feeling sorry for yourself won’t take inches off your waist – in fact, anxiety can have the opposite effect. The past is the past. Also accept that if you haven’t trained in a while, things are going to be difficult to start with. Muscle takes some time to disappear (although much less to be hidden by fat), but strength falls away incredibly quickly. Don’t be disheartened if you can’t lift what you were lifting last year, or if your 10k personal best seems like a distant memory.
Write a list
Next, break things down into manageable chunks. You can’t overhaul your entire life in a matter of days, so concentrate on the things that will help you in the short-term. Write a list of areas you need to improve, and then pick the easiest ones first. Stop eating crisps – easy. Walk up the stairs instead of getting the lift – easy.
As the days and weeks go on, you can start tackling the more difficult items on the list – going to the gym three times a week, knocking 10 or 20 seconds off your regular run time, cooking a few times a week and putting some greens in there.
Health is holistic, so these things will improve your overall wellbeing – you might start to sleep better, or have more energy during the day, which will help motivate you to train more and harder.
When you’re writing your list, be specific: you set yourself up to fail if you don’t really know what you want. “I’d like to look better” is unhelpful. If you want to lose belly fat you’ll need to cut calories. If you want bigger arms, carve out some time for bicep curls.
Time, of course, is the ultimate excuse. If you can’t find 15 minutes to write the list I just described, then your priorities are all wrong and you need to look at your work/life balance. It’s easy to become consumed by work stresses, but try to make a conscious effort to compartmentalise that part of your life. Putting your phone down for half an hour at a time is a good place to start (write your list on paper, like a caveman). Also try meditation – it worked wonders for me. You need to make time for yourself, and if that isn’t currently possible, addressing why not should be top of your list.
Ignore the dread
Planning to go to the gym and actually going to the gym are very different beasts. The dreaded aches and pains are waiting. Your regular workout partner has got really good recently, which is super-annoying. There’s that parcel you need to post. There’s the snooze button… Often the hardest part of working out is actually getting there.
But at risk of sounding like a school teacher, the longer you put it off, the harder it’s going to be. Buy a diary and write four sessions in it for next week. These could be as simple as going for a long walk, or doing a light cardio workout. Just do something. Again, don’t worry about the level you used to be at – start building up intensity over weeks and months. Using a trainer or going to group sessions can be a great way to keep you motivated and hold you accountable.
Everything in moderation
My clients are too hard on themselves when it comes to food. One “naughty” meal and they think they’ve ruined everything. But there are no naughty meals – there is only the overall amount of calories you consume over a day or a week or a month. Keep a mental tally of what you eat. If you’re ordering takeaway every night, eating chocolate after dinner or constantly snacking at work, do some sums on how many calories that might be adding to your total consumption – you’ll be surprised how many it is. This is a great way to break bad habits.
The devil drink
Drinking is a big part of City life. Its hard to get away from, and it’s the main area my clients say they want to improve. First there’s the calories you consume, then there is the energy-sapping hangover. Productivity drops, nutrition goes out the window, depression kicks in. If this sounds familiar, you probably need to look at your level of consumption.
I never tell people to stop entirely – being drunk can be fun, after all – but if you’re constantly complaining about the effects of alcohol, then it’s a problem. Try to reduce drinking days. If you feel pressured into drinking, try telling people you’re aiming towards a specific goal – a weight-loss photo-shoot, a marathon, an exam – and they suddenly find your abstinence interesting rather than frustrating.
And remember: we live in London. There are plenty of things to do that don’t involve vomiting up a microwaved lasagne outside All Bar One.
At the end of the day, it’s your body, and your responsibility. So write that list, tick off some goals and start getting healthy again. It’s not as hard as you might think.
• Harry Thomas is a personal trainer and co-owner of No.1 Fitness, with gyms in the City and Tower Bridge. To book a session visit no1fitness.co.uk or call 020 7621 1312