Want to Get Back in Shape? 5 Tips to Keep You From Quitting (or Hurting Yourself)
So that “weekend” off from the gym turned into a month-long hiatus? We found some trainers to help you get fit with the minimal amount of suck.
Getting in shape can sometimes seem impossible. You can spend an entire year working out, and still have days where you feel miserable in the gym (or, frankly, just existing, in general). But getting out of shape? Well, that’s super easy. It only takes, like, four consecutive days of eating pizza on the couch, or one bachelor party stretched out over a long weekend. And though that disparity can be used for motivation—I know I feel terrible today, but thirty minutes of pain now is better than having to deal with a month of suffering later—we all fall off our program at some point. Knowing how hard it is to get back means that even if we do start to re-climb that hill, we’re much more likely to give up.
Fear not, however. Should you find yourself among the ranks of lapsed gymgoers, we asked three men who know all about getting in shape for their tips on making a comeback: Gunnar Peterson, a celebrity fitness coach who acts as the Los Angeles Lakers’ Director of Strength and Endurance; Ridge Davis, owner of Ridgid Fitness in LA; and Joe Holder, a performance specialist and health consultant to some very famous people.
1. Just Show Up and Try (But Not Too Hard)
“I’m sure that half the time, you don’t want to show up to work—but when you do show up to work, you realize that it’s not as bad as you think it is, and you have to get done what you want to get done,” says Holder. “Just show up. Think, Even if I can do a half an hour of a workout, I get a half an hour in. Just get used to the action of activity, which is very important.”
If it’s been a while since you last worked out, Davis recommends starting with something as rudimentary as a week of stretching: two days at a basic yoga class, four days doing fifteen minutes of stretching, and one day resting. “My mantra is getting accustomed to your body, at least in the first four weeks,” he explains. “I think a lot of times people go back into the gym and go straight into what they ‘know,’ which is not much, usually. After three months off, going straight into the bench press, or squats, or deadlifts, even if you’re using light weight, is just going to cause an injury.”
2. Get a plan of attack, and make it reasonable
Davis compares going to the gym to visiting the grocery store: “[There are] all these options, and you kind of almost forget why you went in there. And nine times out of ten, most people don’t get everything that they wanted to get, but they got like twenty items that they don’t need.”
Just as heading to the local Piggly Wiggly without a list is a sociopath move, then so too is an aimless hour of exercise. Instead, once you’re ready for the weight room, figure out a routine that works for what Holder calls your “general preparation phase”—something that helps you get used to working out again. Usually, this means going higher in volume but lower in intensity.
For strength training, think about compound movements—deadlifts, squats, presses—doing 4 to 6 sets of between 8 and 15 reps. (If you’ve never done these exercises, do a session with a personal trainer to get your form right.) For conditioning, try for a “good easy circuit” you can build on: an eight-second sprint on a bike and a 12-second recovery, for about six to eight minutes. You should work up to anywhere between four and six sets.
3. There is no rest. Only “active recovery.”
Before the workout, pick a Spotify playlist that’ll last the entire duration. In between sets, don’t tweet (good advice for life, honestly); don’t check the markets (they’re probably bad); and don’t peep the news (it’s probably worse). Instead, jump some rope, or walk on the treadmill, or pace around the gym for a minute—anything to keep that heart rate up without decreasing your strength output.
4. Don’t skip stretch day.
Make sure to hit the “anterior chain,” which consists of the muscles on the front side of you body like quads, pecs, and the core—all of which are constantly tightened by our ever-sitting culture. Hip flexors, especially. It might seem like it’s not a “workout” but it’s just as important.
“Everything is so instantaneous now, and we’re just so high-wired that any time we have to decompress and just slow down, it’s hard for the nervous system,” says Davis. “We feel like we always have to be doing something and we skip the stretching: I worked out. That’s better than stretching. In reality, over time, if you compound [working out] with not stretching, that will lead to injury and prevent you from working out altogether. It actually ages you more.”
As Davis always tells people, “Looking great is good, but moving great is even sexier.” If you don’t believe him, just look at Tom “The High Priest of Pliability” Brady, who is both old (sorry, TB, those are facts) and also sexy (and really, really good at football).
5. This is the one area where it’s (kind of) okay to be into yourself.
That doesn’t mean you should stare in the mirror as others stare daggers at you. (Definitely don’t do that.) Instead, it refers to what Holder calls You, LLC: “With everything you do in your daily life, you’re basically trying to improve a business, and that first business is you.” Or, as Peterson puts it, “Take a swim in Lake You. You don’t have to apologize for focusing on yourself.”
And, Peterson adds, if you’re embarrassed about your fitness level at a particular moment in time, you can take heart in knowing everyone around you is probably just as inward-looking: “Nobody is really looking at you. No one cares because everyone is thinking about themselves. Other than the people who are there for health—which you know is, like, four of them—everyone is there for aesthetics.”