Getting back to the gym after an extended break is largely a matter of willpower. But once you get up off your duff, you'll have an instant advantage: muscle memory. It'll take you less time to get back in shape than it would a comparable newbie. Movements patterns are relearned faster. Finding your groove takes just weeks instead of months.
Here's a compilation of 17 essential tips created just for people like you who are starting back, whether you've renewed your gym membership or train at home. The brain and body power at Dymatize Nutrition helped compile the list, which should help fast track you to gym regular in no time.
1. Adjust Your Mind and Follow Your Body
"Starting over again is often the hardest part," says Dymatize coach, nutritionist, and bikini model Amber Dawn Orton. "We're all human, and we all encounter bumps in the road. The main thing is to be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge that you 'fell off the workout wagon,' get back into a positive mindset, and start again. Don't feel guilty about having stopped; get back up, dust yourself off, and start your program again!"
As you do, keep your expectations real. "If you haven't been consistent with your diet and training, don't expect to hop back in at 110 percent," says Mike Hildebrandt, a Dymatize coach and physique competitor. "Set realistic goals to gradually increase your frequency and intensity."
Go too hard, he says, and you just might find yourself out of the gym again—this time due to injury.
2. Set Realistic Goals With Real Rewards
When you set your mind on getting back into your workout routine, set some new goals too, says Dymatize spokesman, actor, fitness model, and trainer Brandan Fokken.
"Give yourself some short-, mid-, and long-term goals to keep you motivated," Fokken says. "Just be sure to keep your goals within reach. Otherwise, you'll get frustrated and be tempted to give up again."
If you're really struggling to stick to your routine, try rewarding yourself when you reach a goal; the bigger the goal, the bigger the reward. "Sometimes, when I'm in a slump, I'll get motivated just by treating myself to a coffee on the way to the gym," Orton says.
Just try and keep these rewards healthy. If you reach a goal in your weight-loss program, don't go out and splurge on a piece of cheesecake.
3. Combine Smart Exercise With Smart Nutrition
"Sometimes, when you fall off the workout wagon, you fall off your nutrition plan, too," says Orton. "The great thing about staying on your program is that the better you feel from exercising, the better you'll want to eat—and vice versa."
A big part of staying on track nutritionally is taking the time to prepare your meals beforehand. "When you take the time to prep food for the week, you'll be less likely to skip training, if only because you spent so much time preparing your meals," says Dymatize coach and motivational speaker Brooke Erickson. "If your meals are ready to grab and go, it'll be a lot easier to squeeze in some gym time."
4. Realize There's No Such Thing as a Stupid Question
When people return to the gym, they tend to keep to themselves instead of reaching out to all the experienced people around them.
"The people you admire in the gym got that way with hours upon hours of training, hard work, educating themselves, and asking questions," says Fokken. "Their knowledge can be invaluable to your progress. Reach out to them!"
5. Buy Some New Workout Gear. Yeah, Baby!
This might seem trivial, but one of the best ways to get motivated again is simply to buy some new workout apparel. "When you wear some cool new gear, you want to work out," Orton says, "and that makes it easier to get back into the gym."
Choose clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about yourself. A positive self-image can be a great motivator.
6. Get Enough Sleep, Mr. and Mrs. Type A
"Let's face it," says Erickson. "When you're always tired, it's just a lot harder to hit the gym regularly, either in the morning or after work—or to hit it as hard."
Lack of sleep can lower your motivation to work out, but that's only one of many problems it can cause or exacerbate. For example, it actually can increase the hunger signals your brain emits, causing you to eat more calories over the course of the following day.
7. Do More With Less
One reason many people stop working out is lack of time. You can resolve this by learning how to train more efficiently. Hildebrandt says full-body workouts and HIIT cardio can cut your gym time way down.
"If you train properly and without unnecessary exercises, you can easily get in and out of the gym in 30 minutes or less," Hildebrandt says. "Train right, and you'll only need 2-3 full body weight lifting workouts per week and 1-2 cardio sessions."
8. Learn From the Best
Whether you've spent 10 years or 10 minutes in a gym, you can always learn new things. "A lot of top athletes have books, articles, blogs, and podcasts filled with details on how they eat, how they train, and their philosophy on fitness," says Fokken. Bodybuilding.com alone houses more than 30,000 such articles from experts and athletes, and it's all free.
As Fokken says, the more you know, the smarter and more efficient your workouts and meals will become, and the more you will understand the intricate body processes that work together to help you get and stay fit.
Just keep in mind that not everything you read or view will be applicable to you, and choose teachers who have the same general body type as yours.
9. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
If you really want to get fit again, sometimes a little outside motivation is just what you need. Find something that attracts your attention, and go for it! It could be a fitness contest, a 10K, a "mud run" or a survival-course event—anything that catches your eye.
"When you've put your money down and have an event posted on your calendar, it can motivate you to get in good shape so you can do well," says Erickson.
Short on cash? Bodybuilding.com offers free transformation challenges.
10. Write It all Down
"If someone asked you which exercises you did three days ago, or how many reps you did, or what you ate, could you give an exact account?" asks Fokken. "Without writing down the details of your workout and your diet, how can you know what changes to make going forward?"
Track everything, Fokken says. Write down the calories you consume; the macros, your meal timing, and the foods you ate. Track your supplements: which products you use, what doses you take. and when you take them. Track your weights lifted, your sets and reps, your rest breaks, and the exercises you complete.
The only way to move forward is to know where you've been.
11. Aim for Whole-Body Balance
One big mistake lifters often make when returning to the gym is doing their favorite exercise or training their best muscle over and over again.
"Some people will do chest exercises 3-4 times a week, because they believe it indicates how strong they are," says Fokken. "You never want to do this. A balanced training program builds a balanced physique, helps prevent injury, and helps you reach your overall goals."
12. Share Your Workouts Socially
It seems like everyone is using social media channels these days to learn about and share workouts.
"Posting on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter lets other people know that training is a priority for you," says Hildebrandt. "Once you start posting regularly, you might be surprised at all the support you get."
Social media is a great way to follow your favorite athletes, too. While you may not get to communicate with them directly, you can learn about what they do in the gym day by day—and sometimes even moment by moment.
13. Avoid Boring Workouts
Nothing can kill the drive to work out quite like doing the same routine over and over and over again. If your workout bores you, it's time to mix it up.
Sometimes, the best workouts happen outside of the traditional gym setting. "If you're sick of staring out the window on the cardio machine, maybe it's time to invest in an outdoor bicycle and recruit a friend to ride the bike paths with you," says Orton. "Just don't let yourself get stuck in the same old routine."
14. Set Targets, but Be Flexible
Just as with your new workouts themselves, you need to create a nutrition plan that doesn't make you feel like you've chained yourself to eating the same old boring foods.
"Don't start off by restricting yourself to a meal plan that dictates every single thing you eat," says Hildebrandt. "Set a good target for calories and macros, but give yourself plenty of flexibly in terms of what goes on your plate."
15. Partner Up
Working out alone can get boring at times. Plus, a training partner helps keep you accountable. "The guilt you might feel from letting your partner down by not showing up can be a motivator too!" says Erickson.
To get the most benefit from a partner, try to find someone who is at about the same fitness level as you, is available for workouts at your preferred time of the day, and shares the same approach to working out. If you like to work hard without talking between sets, don't partner with someone who loves to chat.
16. Use Supplements to Set the Tone
"Help yourself develop a more consistent gym and nutrition routine by developing a consistent supplement routine," says Hildebrandt. "Taking your supplements consistently can help you really get into the fitness mindset. By aligning your training and your diet with your supplements, you can get the most out of your workouts."
And for those times when you're low on energy and want to avoid the gym like you would the plague, many pre-workout products can give you the boost you need to stick to your program.
17. Treat Recovery Like Part of Your Fitness Plan
"If you ask people whether they build muscle in the gym or at home, most will say it happens in the gym," says Fokken. "The fact is that when you're working out, you're breaking down muscle. It is when you rest that you build muscle. That's why well-designed programs always include rest days."
And don't feel like you have to limit your rest to your night's sleep. If you can, try to fit in the occasional catnap during the day. 10-15 minutes can revive you and fill you with energy and focus.
We all start off a new year with lots of promises to ourselves, some of which we inevitably break. It's all about accepting the fact that we're not perfect, learning from our mistakes, and getting back to it.