How to Ease Back Into Movement After the Holidays

Taking a holiday break from the gym is totally valid — and when you're ready to get back to an exercise routine, here's how to do it.

How to Ease Back Into Movement After the Holidays
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Chances are, your holiday season has been jam-packed with a whole host of activities. From workplace White Elephant parties to potlucks hosted by various friend groups to baking and decorating tons of sugar cookies for your family's holiday dinner, it's safe to say you had a lot going on recently. With such a full schedule, it's possible you put your fitness routine on the back burner — and that's totally okay. In fact, taking a break from exercise could've been exactly what you needed to make it through the nonstop festivities on your calendar.

"As fun as the holidays are, they can be a bit stressful," says Tamara Teragawa, master trainer with YogaSix. "Especially if working out does not fit into your schedule easily, eliminating that added stress of trying to make time for it during the holidays will allow you to relax a bit." Taking a break from fitness around the holidays also helps you avoid workout burnout, adds Teragawa. "Some people experience that truly resting and taking a break from working out, for even a couple of weeks, can help their body reset and become ready to work even harder for them after the break," she says.

Now that the holidays are over, you might be wondering how the heck you're supposed to get back into a regular fitness routine. The TL;DR? It's all about listening to your body and taking things slooooow. Here are some simple strategies for easing back into movement at your own pace.

1. Practice Breathwork and Meditation

Before you start working out again, take stock of how you're framing things, says Robin Barrett, doctor of pharmacy, NASM-certified personal trainer, and creator of the Dr. Robin B app on Playbook. Instead of beating yourself up because you missed a few workouts during the end of the year, train your mind "to remember that the holidays were a resting period preparing you and energizing you to get back in the gym," she says. How do you do that, exactly? "Breathwork and yoga are very effective for mental preparation due to their focus on meditation and mindset," says Barrett.

A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that practicing meditation regularly could help improve your motivation to pursue a goal. So if you're in need of a little push to get moving again after the holidays, then meditation could be just the ticket. Plus, another study found that just two weeks of a mindfulness training course improved focus and concentration, two things necessary to help you get the most out of your workouts at any time.

2. Start Walking

Don't attempt to go all-out during your first workout as this could increase your risk of injury, as Shape previously reported. "Allow yourself to ease into things — this often means starting off less intense than how you were the last time you worked out consistently," says Teragawa. Consider going for a 10- to 15-minute walk to start, she suggests. "Do something that does not break your body and push it beyond its limits right away," says Teragawa. "You have to rebuild the strength, stamina, and endurance to help regain the confidence and motivation to push further."

3. Try a Gentle Yoga Flow

"Of course, one of my top favorite workouts for most people is yoga," says Teragawa. "A nice gentle flow class helps to gradually rebuild strength and confidence in your body but also helps loosen you up and work on functional mobility."

Other good low-impact workouts that can help you ease back into movement include walking, Pilates, and rowing, adds Teragawa. Low-impact workouts are ideal when returning to the gym after an extended hiatus because they have little to no impact on joints and tendons — meaning your risk of injury is lower, thanks to less pressure on your joints and a slower pace.

4. Do Something You Enjoy

Not big on yoga or Pilates? No problem! One of the best ways to ease back into movement is by picking something that brings you joy. That way you actually look forward to working out. "You may even find that doing something you like becomes therapeutic, so the main purpose of it isn't just to work out," notes Teragawa. Whether you're a fan of indoor cycling, dance cardio, or something else, the options are virtually endless.

5. Opt for Shorter Workouts

Start with 20-minute workouts three times a week, then increase the duration or intensity from there, suggests Holly Roser, NASM-certified personal trainer. "You can break that workout apart if needed and do 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night," she adds. 

And it turns out short bursts of physical activity have real health benefits associated with them, as Shape previously reported. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, interrupting 30 minutes of prolonged sitting with a short activity break (think: a two-minute walk or a set of squats) can help stabilize your blood sugar levels. This, in turn, could decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

6. Set Small Goals

You have to walk before you can run — and that's especially the case if you haven't worked out in a while. "Before you graduate from college, you have four years' worth of classes and final exams," says Roser. "Fitness is similar — before achieving a pullup, you need to start by amping up the weight on your lat pull-downs and curls."

Try setting a measurable, time-bound, and specific goal to maintain steady motivation all year long, suggests Roser. (For inspiration, here are some challenging but attainable fitness goals to work toward.) Bonus: "When you set small goals for yourself, accomplishing them will feel rewarding," she says. "If you have a large goal you want to accomplish, try to break it up into small pieces so you believe you can achieve it."

7. Take Time to Stretch

"Stretching and warming up for longer than usual when you first get back in the gym to avoid injury is important," says Barrett. An effective warm-up routine involves starting with diaphragmatic breathing, followed by foam rolling, dynamic warm-up exercises, and a few minutes of light cardio, as Shape previously reported. 

The best types of stretches to do before a workout, meanwhile, are dynamic stretches, which involve releasing and engaging again to help create blood flow, get oxygen moving through your body, and increase mobility, as Shape previously reported. The best cool-down routine, on the other hand, includes static stretches, which involve holding a specific position to create tension in the muscle, as these can help bring your blood pressure down more quickly.

8. Hold Yourself Accountable

One easy way to stay on track as you ease your way back into movement? Bring a friend along for the ride. "Talking to a friend or accountability partner can be helpful in motivation," says Barrett. After all, having a friend there to encourage you will make it so you're less likely to quit in the middle of a workout, as Shape previously reported. Some good-natured friendly competition can go a long way too. One study found that those who exercised with someone who they thought was better than them at a particular exercuse worked up to 200 percent harder and better than others.

Barrett adds that a personal trainer (or using a personal training app), can also be useful for the purposes of accountability and getting support. Another way to hold yourself accountable is by putting your workouts on your calendar, says Teragawa. "Start off with fitting in three to four days of work in short sessions and see how that goes before adding in more days or more intensity," she says.

9. Stay Hydrated

"Drinking adequate amounts of water before resuming your exercise routine is great for increasing endurance and performance during your workouts while preventing muscle cramps, dizziness, and other signs of dehydration," notes Barrett. You should start upping your hydration the day before a workout, rather than just minutes prior, adds Teragawa. Why? Well, you sweat when you exercise, which means you need to guzzle extra H20 to replenish those lost fluids and prevent dehydration and its accompanying symptoms, as Shape previously reported. Although everybody has different hydration needs, Barrett typically recommends aiming for close to one gallon of water a day (which amounts to about 16 cups) if you're working out.

10. Listen to Your Body

If there's just one piece of advice you should heed when easing back into exercise and movement after the holidays, it's this: "Listen to your body," says Teragawa. "The body will always tell you what it can handle and what it needs, so pay attention to what it's saying." If something doesn't feel good, stop. If you're taking a fitness class at a studio or virtually, for example, "remember that you don't have to do everything your instructor guides," says Teragawa. "If it doesn't work for your body, take a different option."

The bottom line: Be easy on yourself when it comes to getting back into a fitness routine after the holidays. "Life is meant to be lived, so celebrate time with family and friends without the guilt," says Roser. "Get back into your workout routine when it fits your schedule and you're able to take the time you need to reach your goals. Success is never linear — it always looks like hills and valleys."

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