‘My weight loss goal has drifted into the background as I’ve felt healthier and stronger’
Rachel Flaherty: Here are my top tips for getting back on track after the summer
Rachel Flaherty in Croke Park, Dublin, over the summer
It has been a good summer with holidays, eating out at restaurants, overindulging here and there, relaxing and nights out.
I don’t regret any of it, and thankfully have stepped away from the times I would be harsh on myself and feel guilt for how much I’ve eaten or exercised, but I’ve noticed my physical strength drop from what it was and my fitness levels decrease so I’m ready to get back to my regular fitness routine.
But I’ve been procrastinating about returning to the gym as it feels daunting after a break. The question that has been occupying my mind in recent weeks is: what is the best way to get my fitness back on track after the summer?
I don’t want to fall back into my old ways of fad diets, detoxes or looking at exercise as a punishment to “balance” the holiday time. In previous years around this time of year I would feel very motivated to follow an extreme programme with an “all or nothing” attitude for a few weeks, I wouldn’t be happy with a workout unless I had doms (delayed onset muscle soreness) with a constant feeling of deprivation from following a quick fix diet with a big drop in calories – then give up after a few weeks and go the other extreme to the diet leading to weight gain and feeling horrible.
I’m more than 60 per cent of the way there in my weight-loss goal of 5st 6lb (34.5kg) goal and I’m enjoying doing it (mostly) and giving myself time to adapt to new habits. Overall, my fitness and strength has been steadily growing over the last year, and the weight-loss goal has drifted into the background as I’ve felt healthier and stronger, replacing my destructive habits step by step.
The more success I’ve had with making new habits part of my daily life, the less effort I’ve had to make to be healthier as it becomes part of my normal routine and lifestyle. As I keep being reminded that Christmas is about three months away, which will be another break, now is good time to learn ways to make it easier to get back to my regular fitness routines after holidays, and make some new fitness and health goals.
Thinking of starting from the beginning with my fitness after a break is demoralising and demotivating, and I want to be realistic about where I can start and realistically what progress I can aim for.
I turn to strength and condition coach Cill O’Connor, who helped me previously keep training through a minor injury, for advice on the best way to get restarted.
“The first few workouts back should be light so that you can develop good lifting technique and not cause any unnecessary soreness,” he says. “You will have lost a lot of your strength and fitness. Don’t expect to be able to lift the same amount of weight you could when you were training consistently.
“However, our bodies can regain prior strength and fitness levels much faster than it took to build them initially. If you train intelligently, it won’t take long to get back to where you were.”
O’Connor explains I am not alone is abandoning much of my normal fitness habits during the summer but says even one workout a week can maintain strength.
“Fitness takes quite a while to build, but it also degrades very quickly if you don’t keep it up. It’s not worth taking a whole summer off when you could just do one workout a week and maintain most of your fitness,” he says. “You definitely don’t have to put in a huge amount of effort to regain your fitness. What’s most important is consistency and training at an intensity that allows you to do a little more each session.
O’Connor says one of his tips would be to set realistic goals and making them more performance-oriented, such like getting a first pull-up or proper push up before the end of the year, can help with motivation.
“Be honest with yourself – if last time didn’t work out perhaps you were either doing something you don’t enjoy, or you did too much too soon,” he says.
“People could save themselves a huge amount of frustration and effort in trying to regain lost fitness if they just implemented maintenance sessions into their holidays. Just once per week can be enough to keep most of your strength and fitness and save you from going back to square one.”
It’s a good reminder for me that even one session a week can make a difference and make my life easier in the long run. Step one for getting back on track for me was getting my weekly food shopping done to return to the habit of making my own meals. Step two was to end my procrastination and get back to working out. I sheepishly walked back into the gym but after a few minutes into the class I’d forgotten about being self-conscious and any worries I had about working out disappeared.
I took O’Connor’s advice and started with light weights, which was a bit frustrating to not be where I was with my fitness, but it felt great to be back and it reminded me how much I enjoy training.
It was my decision to take a break and now I needed to be patient and more compassionate to my body and mind to build myself back up and improve. I need to make regular workouts a priority as they make me feel good and healthier. In just a week back, it had reignited an excitement to push myself out of my comfort zone again in terms of fitness.
I’ve decided to stay away from the weight scales for now. I’m confident weight loss will happen but it’s not my focus. I’ve finally signed up for a 5km run, made new strength and weight-training goals, and will give more focus on flexibility and stretching exercises.
Rachel Flaherty’s column is about getting fitter and healthier