I don't if you're like me ... but 5, 6, 7 days a week, that is how regular I’d been in the gym for the past 10 years. Then 2020 happened. Gym closures, distancing, social isolation, and falling off the workout wagon changed the routine.
I tried home workouts, plenty of them. It just wasn’t the same. Where was the motivation? Where was the energy? Where was the reward of sore muscles after a great lifting day? Progress felt non-existent. Without progress, fitness enthusiasm continued to whirl down the drain.
Finally, after more than a year, gyms re-opened with enough flexibility and safety measures to be compatible with my work schedule and comfort level in social distancing. It was so exciting! It was like going to a birthday party I’d waited months to attend!
That enthusiasm was crushed within minutes of my first workout. Squat form, running technique, the ability to do even one bench press at my previous weight, or one pull up ... gone. Not to mention, I didn’t enjoy body parts rubbing on other body parts as I moved—they never did that before! So, I walked out, thinking to myself, “I’m not where I used to be, so why bother!”
Seven months later, however, I was crowned Fitness Champion at the World Tri Fitness Challenge. So, how did I get from the motivation drain to a win?
Here are my top five techniques for developing body positivity when you aren’t where you used to be. I hope these tips will serve you in finding your new fitness wins, too!
1. Stop comparing yourself to your past self.
It is easy to fall into the trap of “I used to be able to do that. If I can’t do that now, then it is not worth trying and failing.” Replace your comparison with curiosity. Curiosity sounds like, “I wonder what I can do. Maybe I’ll try TRX pushups for as many reps as possible instead of the bench press today.” Don’t be afraid to explore new exercise variations that might have been outside your trusty go-to classic routine.
2. Find a new way to create wins.
Perhaps your idea of a win was a bench press PR or lifting a heavier load. When returning to fitness, max strength activities will deflate your ego (and maybe hurt your joints and muscles, too). Instead of focusing on a number, or past definition of a workout win, focus on what you used to feel when you had a great workout. Was it sore muscles? Was it a great sweat session? Was it talking to people that also care to show up at a gym? Maybe find a new fit activity to try, something you've never done before and therefore don't have a baseline to compare yourself to ... Pilates? Kickboxing? Yoga? Be prepared to surprise yourself as you uncover hidden interests and talents.
3. Stop counting reps.
At one point, my coach handed me a set of dumbbells and said, “Can you do this?” I looked at the weight and said, “Yes, that is my six-rep max.” I proceeded to follow that statement with three sets of 15. Reps do have a place in program design progression. However, when you are returning to fitness, allowing numbers to dictate your capabilities may only feed your self-limiting beliefs. Try switching to as many reps as possible to fatigue or as many reps as possible in a given time frame. Delight yourself with your new accomplishments.
4. Smash the scale.
Are you allowing a number to dictate how you feel about yourself? A number on a scale is not a behavior, feeling, or attitude. Unless you use that number to make weight for a competitive event, break up with it. It is easy to allow that number to dominate your sense of worth and cast shadows on your day. Instead, commit to ditching the scale for good. Feel the cloud of fitness gloom and doom lift instantly.
5. Audit your kitchen.
Chances are your nutrition habits changed in the past year. Do you still have 20 boxes of pasta in your cabinet from when food became a bit scarce in the spring of 2020? Did you take up stress eating? Did you take up boredom eating? Your fuel sources and reasons for eating are behaviors under your own locus of control. If the foods in your kitchen are quarantine overstocks or comfort foods for stress and boredom, donate them. Replace them with well-rounded food groups that align with your current fitness levels and goals. It doesn’t matter what your goals used to be or how active you were two years ago. Consider the NOW. What will support your health, endurance, and strength today and for the next year to come? Stock your kitchen with these nutrient-packed choices. When your body receives a variety of clean-eating, well-rounded food groups, you will naturally feel more energetic and empowered.
In closing, if you feel deflated, sad, or upset that you aren’t where you used to be in fitness and body image, try the above tips to re-ignite your body-positivity journey as you re-engage with an active lifestyle.
About the Author: Dr. Meredith Butulis, creator of the ISSA Fitness Comeback Coach Certification (online), is a Sports Medicine Physical Therapist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and Precision Nutrition Certified Nutrition Coach in practice since 2002. She consistently walks the talk as a fitness, physique, and OCR world-level competitor and lifestyle transformer since 2006, celebrating many wins along the way. Want more total fitness lifestyle inspiration and interaction? Follow Dr. Meredith on Instagram @Dr.MeredithButulis or join the free “Fitness Focus Fuel” Facebook Group.