Having a consistent exercise routine is crucial for staying fit. But, in the hubbub of college life, it’s hard to maintain stable routines. For a couple months, a combination of birthday-related indulgences and a midterm-heavy schedule left me out of shape, with no time to exercise.
Everyone knows it’s important to rebuild solid exercise habits, but oftentimes the efforts we make fail to get us back to previous levels.
Fortunately, this hiatus wasn’t the first time I’ve had to restart following an excursion away from healthy living — be it from sickness or travel. Recently, through trial and error, my friends and I have figured out the best plan to not only jumpstart the body back into its old exercise routine, but also to provide challenging workouts along the way.
The most important thing, above all else, is to have a plan. Last week I took five days to exercise, leaving two in the middle for rest. Gradual adjustment rarely works; the key is to retrain all aspects of physical performance.
Each new workout should be designed to achieve a higher level of exertion. The key is to exercise at a tougher pace than you did in your old routine. Bruce Lee once said, “There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
Run farther or do one more set — aim for something more so your new record doesn’t become a new plateau you’re struggling to break past.
With strength training, which I did two times during the week, one gets a full-body workout. Some will say to train the arms and chest one day and core and legs the next. But working the whole body is a great way to jumpstart muscles and train the body for complex movements in every muscle group.
One of the best ways to revamp your fitness regimen is to follow a circuit-training workout, where each circuit involves one core, one lower body and one upper body exercise. Squats, incline presses, a number of sit-ups and a finishing circuit of plyometrics not only target each muscle group but simultaneously increase muscle strength with muscle mass (while connected, there are different training methods for building both).
It’s essential to work on endurance while working on strength. This can be cycling or running, but the goal is to rebuild cardiovascular strength, which can fall faster than muscle strength when an exercise habit falters. Aim to go a quarter more or longer than you usually do. If your average run is two miles, run two and a half. Get the blood flowing and work on breathing. Aim for longevity and sustainability, rather than speed. Endurance training benefits the heart more than a quick dash.
Endurance is useful, but training the body to move more efficiently makes new endurance practical. Strength training builds muscle and running or cycling helps with endurance, but coordination and balance are essential to make these aspects effective. Find an activity that focuses on balance and the control of movement. I do parkour; my friend tried yoga. The result is the same. Being fast or able to run a long distance is good, but whatever you do needs to be coupled with redirecting motion.
Then there’s the skill aspect. All of these workouts aim to rebuild essential components of a fit body, but they still need to be put to work to build precision. In this case, sports are the best, and the most enjoyable, solution.
For example, boxing, either sparring with a partner or hitting the punching bag, requires twisting and turning the entire body to strike a specific spot at a rapid-fire rate. The repetition and speed of boxing not only train hand-eye coordination, but also sharpen reflexes that often dull through inactivity. Find a sport that requires repetitive and accurate actions to direct your regained strength. Do this on the same day as the movement workout to hone the precision aspects of physical training.
Ideally, these four components complement each other. Completed in the course of a week, these workouts help energize the body and get every muscle working again. The longer it takes to get back to exercising, the harder it is to get back into it, and the more likely you are to only do small sets, such as only working the arms, or a lapse back into inactivity. But by having a strict plan for concentrated exercise, the risk is negated.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed and let fitness suffer in the face of other tasks. But it’s just as hard to restart a workout regime. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible; it just requires concentration and effort.
Nicholas Slayton is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column “Way of the Body” runs Tuesdays.