Getting started is the hardest part
Last week we started a conversation about self care because I am digging myself out from under a mountain of stress, overwhelm, over commitment and not caring for myself. An exercise routine is part of my renewed self-care commitment, and I love that so many of you have joined me with your own ideas and intentions.
I am still in the whiney baby phase of “I hate working out.” Getting back on the exercise wagon is difficult, especially when you haven’t been doing it for a very long time. I haven’t been perfect, but it’s about progress and not perfection. If you didn’t commit with me last week, it’s never too late to start. Let me know where you are at in the comments and give us a self-care check in. Any step forward is progress and we’re here to support each other and cheer each other on!
In honor of me getting back into exercising, today I want to talk to you about how to start and stick to an exercise routine because I need this as much as anybody else.
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Just Do It!
I have changed stages of my life very abruptly, with my kids being close in age I went from having a bunch of babies, to a bunch of toddlers, and now they’re all in grade school. I want to share with you what exercise used to look like for me back when my kids were younger.
“Where did my other weight go?” I spin in circles like a dog chasing its tail to find my missing equipment. “It was JUST here!” I spot my 10-year-old grunting through the bicep curls I should be doing right now.
“I can’t do pushups with you on my back,” I tell my 7-year-old. “Mommy’s not that strong, yet.”
Three minutes later my stretchy band is in the hands of my 4-year-old as she rewards herself after a tough workout with MY cool down.
I spent more time doing search and rescue of my exercise equipment than I did actually working out, thanks to my six little workout saboteurs, but I DID MY WORKOUT!! After three years of not really being able to exercise due to adrenal fatigue, this summer I got back into an exercise routine that wouldn’t send me into a crash.
Once I got comfortable, school started and changed our whole schedule, so I’m starting over with establishing my routine. Back to school is as good as the New Year for making changes, so I’m making this change right now.
The hardest part of an exercise routine is STARTING. Once I’m on track, I’m a the biggest fan of a regular fitness regimen, but before that? I dread it, talk myself out of it, procrastinate it, and justify my dreading/talking/procrastinating.
Over my lifetime I’ve gotten back on the exercise wagon countless times due to c-section recovery, surgeries, cross-country moves, sprained ankles, and life in general. I’ve got my system down, and I’m ready to do this. Are you?
My Best Tips to Start and Stick to an Exercise Routine
Pick a time of day that works best for you. This is a very individual thing. For me it used to require getting up early. I had to do my workout first thing, so I could be dressed and ready for the day by 7 a.m. With a different school schedule I don’t have time for it in the mornings anymore, so I have switched to working out at night. I know others who like to get their kids off to school before working out, who need to squeeze it in during naps, or after the kids go to bed. Be honest with yourself about what time of day works best for you, and not what time of day you think you should do it.
Pick an interval that works for you. I’m a big fan of working out five days a week, Monday – Friday. However, in my current condition of being so out of shape, five days a week would be too much for my body. Being honest with myself about that is more important than sticking to this mental idea that I have to do it five days a week. Right now I’ve picked Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to give myself recovery days. Some people do great exercising every other day, or get their best workouts in on the weekends. What interval works best for you? It’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to be exercising at those intervals and what activities you’re choosing. This is really about being realistic and honest with yourself about what you will do.
Set up a routine and schedule it in. When we had been married for about six months and had moved twice already, I was feeling really unsettled and uncomfortable, and I finally realized why. One day I looked at my husband and said, “Have you noticed that since we got married we haven’t gotten into a routine?” He said, “I know. Routines are the worst. I’ve done my best to make sure we don’t get stuck in one of those!”
Sabotage! Now he tells me my routines are sexy because he understands that is why our family and home function efficiently. It’s why there are clean clothes in the drawers, dinner on the table, and I’m not a raving lunatic (usually). Not everyone is as structured as I am, but having a set time of day and a routine for exercise will make it a seamless part of the day so it doesn’t get pushed aside.
Be realistic about the time requirement. I had an epiphany a few years before I had kids. I will not do any exercise program that requires more than 30 minutes because I can very easily talk myself out of anything longer. When I realized this, I made up a program for myself. I had a collection of 20-minute exercise videos and an elliptical machine. When I got home from work, I changed clothes immediately and did a video or the elliptical.
My rule on the elliptical was that I only had to stick to it for 15 minutes, which was about how long it took me to get through the please-make-it-stop phase. If I wanted to stop after 15 minutes I gave myself permission to, and there were days that I did stop. Most days, after 15 minutes I was feeling pretty good and would go for about 30 minutes, or the length of a sitcom I watched while I exercised. I did this five days a week, videos MWF and elliptical TTH.
I actually got in pretty good shape doing this. I had good definition, everything was lifted and tucked, and I felt strong and…good. After my fifth baby in three years I got back in shape doing the 30-Day Shred, which is 27 minutes, including warm up and cool down. I’ve seen friends get amazing results doing longer programs like P90x, but there is no way I’m doing a 90-minute workout. Yoga is the only exception, I will do an hour long yoga class. I know myself, and that is key to my success.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you can’t spend 2 hours in the gym getting ripped, it’s not worth it. What is a good workout length for you?
Start easy. Anything you do is an improvement over nothing. Even if it’s a 15 minute power walk during lunch. If you haven’t been working out for a while like I have, starting up a really intense workout five days a week is not going to be a beneficial thing for my body personally. That would set me up for a crash and put me back where I was. Start slow, start easy and don’t make it so hard that you want to quit before you even get started.
Set up a space for it. The scenario I wrote above happens any time I try to do my workouts in the family room or anywhere I can’t lock a door. I have set up space in various places in my houses. I’ve done my workouts in my bedroom, but that can be tricky when I get up before my husband. I have a large-ish closet, and I’ve set up my laptop and hand weights in there before. It only had to be big enough for me to do a full pushup.
In our current house, we do have space to dedicate to exercise but it doesn’t have to be that way. We set up my husband’s rowing machine and inversion table in there. I set up my weights, stretchy bands, and balls in there. We mounted a TV to stream my workouts and to play movies on while we row.
In our Atlanta house we had a large sitting room off the master bedroom that had our exercise equipment and a TV. I know a lot of people don’t have the extra space for it, and there have been many times when I didn’t either. Get creative. Look around the house and see if there is somewhere you can make a corner for yourself. Have all of your things gathered in your space so it’s easy to pull it out and do it. Do the best you can.
Prep before. When I was doing my workouts in the morning it was ‘prep the night before’ since I didn’t want to get up any earlier than I already had to. I made my breakfast smoothie the night before and put it in an insulated thermos and leave it on my bathroom counter along with a water bottle. I set out my workout clothes and shoes.
I have some workout videos (I’m looking at you 30-Day Shred!) that won’t allow fast forwarding through the 5 minutes of commercials, so I put it in my player the night before to get through that so I can immediately hit play in the morning.
Now that I work out at night, I have all of my stuff together and have already eaten something. I just need to refill my water bottle, grab my workout clothes and I can get to it quickly. What do you have to do to get ready to work out? What slows you down? Do that the night before.
What equipment are you missing that will make this happen? If you love running or walking, and have little ones, get a jogging stroller (this one is about $100 and gets great reviews!). If a new one is out of your price range, check the local yard sales and classifieds.
Ask on Facebook if anyone wants to sell one. You would be surprised by how many people have one sitting in their garage and haven’t bothered to list it for sale. Do you have the right hand weights? Don’t use canned tomatoes. They are hard to grip. Buy them secondhand if you need to. Most garage sales have a weight set that’s been collecting dust.
Recognize it as essential. Thanks to my 20-minute exercise routine, I was in great shape when I got pregnant with triplets, but I was immediately put on restrictions, and was soon on bed rest. Then I had three premature infants. Then I was pregnant again and caring for three infants. Then I had four kids 18 months and younger. Then I was pregnant again, and very, very weak.
After my babies were born, I went back to my normal size pretty quickly, so exercise seemed like a luxury. I was wrong. It’s essential. My body got so weak from the strain of those pregnancies and not making time to exercise that I could barely get through the day. From then on I’ve made it a priority as long as my doctor said it was okay. Recognize that physical activity and fitness is essential to your physical and mental well being.
Get pumped. Nothing pumps me up like watching infomercials for exercise programs and equipment. It doesn’t (usually) tempt me to buy what they are selling, but it does make me want to pull out what I have and love, get up and feel the burn. I heart infomercials and health documentaries. They really motivate me. Also, certain songs pump me up. If I’m feeling extra apathetic about doing anything there are certain songs that I know I can listen to to get me going. One of them is “Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragons.
What motivates you? A mood board of pictures of you looking strong and healthy? Planning an adventure vacation you need to be fit for? Having fun with your kids or grandkids? I’m not a fan of thinsperation photos because they are usually a) photoshopped lies b) based heavily on genetics and body shape c) require dangerous and unhealthy habits d) being unrealistically thin isn’t the goal. Being healthy and strong is the goal.
Does working toward a goal motivate you? Training for a competition like a 5k or a triathlon? Learning a new skill like swimming or biking? How can you get pumped?
Change your perspective. Instead of thinking of it as a punishment, look at it as a rewarding time. Alone time is critical for me, and my walks are a great time for me to have 30 minutes alone. I think of exercise as self-care, like a hot bath, a face mask, or quiet time. Instead of punishing our bodies for not being what society says it should be, we can love our bodies and move them by giving them what they need to be strong and healthy. When I’m done I feel so good!
Find something it make it more enjoyable. Sometimes exercise is just horrible, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. Once when I was using the treadmill at the gym I was watching a program with my headphones, and I was laughing so hard, I had to get off because I was going to fall. One by one the people around me stopped to ask what so was funny that I was snorting and crying (see the video below). Maybe don’t get something quite that entertaining, but if distraction helps you through it, find something.
For me, the alone aspect makes it enjoyable. I like to listen to audio books while I walk, watch shows or movies while I use a cardio machine, listen to a custom pumped up playlist while doing workout videos, etc. I can get through anything while watching an episode of Friends on Netflix.
Does it need to be a social thing for you? Does doing it with a friend or spouse make it fun for you? Or maybe competing makes it fun for you, or tuning in to your body and perfecting your technique makes it enjoyable for you. Do you crave variety? Sign up for a an online program or gym that offers a variety of classes. Find that thing and make it happen.
Choose a form of exercise that you will do instead of the one you think will get you the world’s greatest results. What do you enjoy? There are a million ways to get fit. Running, walking, swimming, zumba, dancing, fitness classes, biking/spin, hiking, yoga, Pilates, barre, crossfit, and so much more. If Tony Little’s Gazelle rocks your world, do it. If you hate crossfit, pick something else. It’s so much easier when you actually want to do it.
There are the rare people who will push through exercise programs they despise, but us mere mortals need to enjoy, or at least not hate, our workouts. I tried running. I hated it. I dreaded it. I did my best to get out of it. It’s not for me. I really enjoy walking though, and I look forward to it. The world’s most effective workout program does you no good if you won’t actually do it.
DON’T PICK UP YOUR PHONE UNTIL AFTER YOUR WORKOUT IS OVER. Leave it in the other room, or better yet put it down before you get ready. Phones are such a time-sucker, and checking your texts can lead to emails, facebook, Instagram and more. Before you know it, you’ve waisted the 30 minutes you could have done your workout.
Accountability. Having an accountability buddy makes us more likely to stick to our goals. That’s why we are doing this self-care check in. It’s not a competition or a challenge or anything, we’re just checking in to say “hey, I did it!” And we’ll all clap for you, because everyone likes to be cheered on. If you know that you are going to try to not show up and do it, having somebody waiting for you makes you more likely to show up because you don’t want to let that person down. You may not necessarily want a workout buddy, but if that helps you, then do it.
Cute workout gear. For a long time I had old t-shirts and cut off sweats as my workout wear. Even though I work out at home alone most of the time, having a few cute workout leggings and tanks made a big difference in how I felt while I did it, and it motivated me to want to get dressed to do it. My favorite brand is Zella, but you can also find great stuff at Target, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls. Don’t feel like you have to get the best of the best or nothing at all. Looking good and feeling good makes a big difference.
Stickers are for grownups. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to put stickers on my calendar on the days I work out. I love to see the stickers accumulate. Pick stickers you love, that reflect you. You may be surprised how much you look forward to doing it, and how much it bothers you to see a missed day.
Set up a reward system. If we’re really struggling, we’ve got to pull out all the stops. Stickers and the post-workout high are a great in-the-moment reward, but long-term rewards are also motivating. What do you love? A massage? A facial? A shopping trip? A girls night with your bestie? A special date with your husband? Set up a money jar. $1 per workout (or whatever works with your budget), and at the end of the month, use that to reward yourself. Or save up and wait two months to reward yourself. Give yourself a bonus or some kind of incentive.
Figure out your budget and your rewards and set it up that way. I like the idea of rewarding after a number of workouts than losing a certain amount of weight, because bodies are tricky, and losing weight isn’t always straight-forward. Reward the effort, not the result.
A few of my favorite workout options are:
The Daily Burn is a subscription service that offers a variety of workout programs. You can try a free group workout or do a 30-day free trial!
One of my favorite programs is MuTu System. It’s what I’ve been doing this summer, and it hasn’t caused me to crash. It strengthens pelvic floors and was designed to close diastasis recti. You can find the 12-week program here.
Physique 57 has its signature 57-minute workouts, but their 30-minute express workouts are my favorite. Stream on demand here.
I am a Shred Head, and if I can work may way back up to it, I’ll be doing the 30-Day Shred again. Fast, effective, and less than 30 minutes. I just found this beginner shred video and…I’m so tempted. Maybe it will be my gateway workout. She even has a 10-minute workout series. I like mean people, so I’m a huge Jillian fan.
Check out these other posts I’ve written. How to be Beautiful Again with a Non-Surgical Mommy Makeover lists more workout options I enjoy. How I Get Ready in 20 Minutes or Less has tips to make the morning more efficient so you have time to workout.
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