I’m one of those annoying people who loves to work out. I love to run, I love doing hot yoga, and I adore my barre class. I don’t feel like myself if I miss a workout, so I hardly ever do.
And this past fall . . . I think I exercised like five times. (I did, however, get an excellent workout on my right arm, lifting my glass of chardonnay.)
I’m not perfect. Yes, I’m a dietitian, but I also slip up and fall down like everyone else. I still work on my tendency to binge eat, I still struggle with body image, and sometimes I skip my workouts.
But this time was different. I am currently going through the one of the worst experiences of my entire life, and this fall was the low point. So it was totally understandable if I didn’t get my daily workout in. But going completely off the rails like this was particularly damaging.
It’s been a challenge to get up the motivation to run. I don’t feel like going to yoga, because I know I’m not going to be as flexible. And I have to force myself to barre class, because I know how much harder it is when I haven’t been in so long.
When you start skipping workouts, yes you lose physical conditioning, but the worst part is what it does to you mentally.
This is how it happens: you miss one day, then another, then you say “I’ll start over on Monday.” Then you start doing the minimum because you don’t feel like it. Then you feel bad about yourself that you’ve been so lazy. And then you quit altogether. It’s like trying to go back to work after not having had a job in 20 years.
It’s a slippery slope from a few missed runs to no workouts at all.
So the “losing it” part I’m talking about refers to the psychological effect, not the physical effect. Here are just a few of the ways that it’s harder to get back into your workout routine if you fall out of it too long:
It gets exponentially worse. If you miss too many workouts, you’ll start only doing the minimum. So if you’re used to running five miles, you’ll only run two. And if you get used to only running two, you’ll eventually just do one — and so on. Pretty soon, getting on the treadmill for five minutes seems like a struggle.
You won’t push yourself. It’s not good to push yourself too hard, but it is a good thing to push through that negative voice that tells you to quit because you don’t feel like it. Every time you tune out that negative chatter in your head, you build your confidence to do it again the next time you hear it. And the more confidence you build, the more likely you are to work out longer and harder at your next session.
You’ll stop trying new things. If you feel great and energized by regularly working out, you’re more open to trying new things. Consistently pushing through that voice that tells you to quit (as in point number two) makes you more willing to be a beginner and do something that makes you feel awkward — like hot yoga or a barre class. And it gets harder to feel like a beginner the older you get, because our societal brainwashing teaches us that you can’t be as active, flexible, or strong as you age (which is completely untrue).
So how do you prevent yourself from falling into this trap?
First of all, focus on how you feel instead of on how you look. Working out to lose weight puts you in a resistant state because then you have to force yourself to do it. But if you focus on how you feel when you work out — vibrant, strong, more alert — you’re more likely to stick with it. Because then you know that skipping it will actually make you feel worse.
Second, do something every single day, no matter how small it is. Take a walk around the block. Do push-ups. Walk a flight of stairs. Doing something small is better than doing nothing at all — and not because of calorie burning. It’s mental. If you do something, especially when you don’t feel like it, you build your confidence to keep going.
If you truly need a day off, take one. Just make sure to shorten the amount of time you take off between workouts, because the longer you go without one, the harder it is to get back.
The voice that tells you to skip a workout because you just don’t feel like gets louder and more convincing every time you give in to it. But if you override it long enough, you’ll start to hear it less — and maybe even change it into something different entirely.