On Taking a Fitness Break

So have you ever taken a break from your normal workout routine?

Generally, the secret to lifelong fitness is consistency. Learning how to coax yourself out of a seductive state of physical relaxation into a sweaty panting frenzy of uncomfortable exertion? That's crucial, and it takes practice, will-power, and even courage. In my opinion, an almost-daily practice of vigorous exercise is the profoundly annoying key to staying fit for life.

And yet, sometimes there are very good reasons to let things slide for a bit. These include:

1. Major Illness
2. Debilitating Injury
3. Natural Disasters
4. Overwhelming and All-Consuming Life Events
5. Discovering You Just Don't F--cking Feel Like Exercising For A Few Days

Anyone care to guess why I skipped my normal cardio, stretching, weight training, HIIT, and balance exercises for nearly a week?

Well, my inactivity resulted from a combination of factors, many of which were obstacles I could have easily overcome had I been feeling sufficiently motivated. But I wasn't, so I succumbed to the bad case of dontgiveafuckitis and put everything off except lovely long walks by the seashore for many days in a row. Note: this was after our road trip, which presented a much higher degree of difficulty in working out, yet I managed to stay on track just fine.

Now I'm back to the sweaty stuff, hooray!  But it occurred to me that over the years, I've had to learn almost as much about how to NOT exercise as how to exercise.

Involuntary breaks due to Illness or Injury

These are a whole different animal from voluntary breaks and are so freakin' frustrating!  Perhaps the subject of another post, which I've no doubt written before, given my hysterectomy, broken arm, etc.   Fortunately at my age I can't remember when or where I wrote about them, so will probably write it the same things all over again later--be forewarned.

But to summarize: HEALING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!  Don't sacrifice long term health by doing dumbass things to lessen short-term, misplaced guilt.  Figure out what you can do safely and then treat the whole Patience and Acceptance thing as a good personal development lesson that will serve you well as you approach your wheelchair-and-Depends years.  (The sad truth: you will either (a) die in the prime of life or (b) need to learn to cope with a body that hurts and won't do what you want it to anymore.  Yet some people manage this with grace and good humor. When your turn comes, will you have cultivated the flexible mental strategies to be one of them?)

Also, keep in mind that if you keep fixating on what you can't do rather than what you can, you will become a tiresome querulous bitchbucket and a huge pain in the ass to be around. Trust me, I speak from experience.

But what if you're not working out because you just don't feel like it?

Tips for Weathering a Voluntary Period of Not Working Out:

1.  Evaluate the Consequences

Are you someone who often takes breaks and has a hard time coming back? Is this "temporary" break likely to derail you and set you on the path to slothful simmering self-hatred?

Then get off your ass and get back to it! This is not the self-help tip list you should be reading.

But go easy on yourself and set the bar low.  Fitness perfectionism may be part of your problem.  Or perhaps you need to put some energy into re-motivating yourself to work out.

On the other hand, are you someone who has been exercising consistently for ages, who always gets back into it when life interrupts, and who has natural cycles that includes periods of demotivation?  Then by all means, drop the guilt and nagging and enjoy a little time off!  Most likely your sudden inertia is telling you that you need to mix it up a bit.  You could use the exercise time to be good to yourself and body in a different way--catch up with friends, sleep more, enjoy some contemplative solitude, play, create, enjoy, relax... there are tons of other endeavors besides physical torture exertion that your body and mind might thank you for later.

2.  Drop the Stuff That Sounds Icky But Keep Moving at Least a Little

If you go on some nice easy walks, stretch a bit, dance, whatever sounds fun, you can reframe "lazy slacking" as "active recovery." Doesn't that sound way more impressive?  Plus you'll sleep better and feel more like yourself and not like you've been possessed by the Pillsbury Doughboy.

3. Be Wary of Fitness Magazines Until You're Ready to Get Back Into It.

I love reading fitness magazines, even the awful ones.  And I had two issues of Experience Life waiting for me when I got home, which is the only one I subscribe to that is not awful.  It's one of the few that actually focuses on health and fitness, rather than wasting countless pages extolling miracle weight loss tips and advice on hair, makeup, fashion and other superficial girly stuff.  (Note: at one point my subscription to Experience Life was comped, and I can't remember if I renewed myself or if it still is free, but I'd totally pay for a subscription. In fact, I have no idea why I felt the sudden need while writing this post to be all gushing and grateful... probably it has to do with the pile of other health & fitness titles sitting there on the nightstand with the same old annoying crap in them. But if you guys know of any other good health & fitness magazines you love, please let me know in the comments!)

But anyway, when you are not working out hard, even for a few days, it is weirdly painful to read your favorite fitness magazine or visit fitness blogs and websites!  Motivational advice and inspirational hints when you are trying to honor and respect your demotivation can feed the voracious guilt monsters. Much more fun to save your sources of fitness inspiration for right before you get back off your ass and you're psyched to implement any new suggestions you come across.

4. Figure Out What You're Avoiding

Perhaps the most helpful thing you can do if you feel like taking a break is to take a few minutes--or even just a few seconds--and figure out what exactly sounds the most loathsome about your current routine.  And then a few more seconds to see if there are any alternatives, tweaks, or inspirational ideas that you could dream up to make it less obnoxious.  And then, if you really want to chase any lingering guilt monsters away, do some preliminary preparation to make reentry more fun: download some new songs, find a new phone app, order a new exercise toy, or go back to that fitness magazine with an open mind and a craft a plan to actually do some of the stuff in there.   Give yourself something to look forward to when you get back into it.

Anyone else ever take a fitness break, whether voluntary or involuntary?  Any thoughts, complaints, or tips?

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