According to research by Strava, most of us have caved on our New Year’s resolutions by (wait for it)… January 12.
To which we say, “shrug.”
We’re not huge fans of NY resolutions around here, preferring instead to help women achieve their best health all year long. But if you want to get back on track, or if you’re struggling to stay resolved, our awesome DPTs (Doctors of Physical Therapy) have some tips that might help you in your efforts.
Here’s what we learned from Dr. Meagan Peeters-Gebler of Orthopedic & Spine Therapy and Dr. Brianna Droessler-Aschliman from Missoula Bone & Joint about staying motivated and safe when you start or ramp up your better-health routine.
Our reasons for not sticking with our health goals are probably as varied as we are, but Bri and Meagan do note some trends. Since forewarned is forearmed…
We all know exercise can hurt, but what we may not expect is how much it can ache and how long the hurt can last. If you go all-out on January 2, you may be surprised how lousy you feel on January 4.
Solution: Bri suggests you work with a coach, PT, or trainer at your gym to ramp up your efforts slowly and appropriately. Know and be honest with yourself – if hurting is likely to make you quit, create a plan that will minimize the ache. Even a small improvement to your fitness is vastly better than none at all.
Are you experiencing joint pain or arthritis and not sure what to do? Check out our blog with Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Darcy Foral.
A couple weeks in, poor training is biting us in the backside. At about this mark, says Meagan, if we’ve been doing a daily challenge like an ab workout, the repetitive motion and any poor form is really starting to show up as back pain or another overuse injury.
Solution: Daily challenges don’t take into account our bodies’ needs for rest and varied motion. Anything that has you doing the same pattern of movement day after day is probably not a great idea. Meagan says you can make it safer by (a) checking your form with a health/fitness professional, (b) mixing it up so you’re not doing the same movements every day – maybe alternate with an exercise that targets another part of your body, and (c) taking rest days.
Either we push too hard and hurt ourselves, or we don’t know our body well enough to judge if a pain is normal and OK, so we quit to be on the safe side. Gyms fill up in early January, Bri tells us; physical therapy appointment slots fill up the rest of the month.
Solution: First a caveat: Every body is different, so these are just general guidelines to consider. If you’re hurting and you’re concerned about it, by all means, see a doc or PT for a diagnosis and recovery plan.
According to Meagan, if a pain is so localized that you can trigger it by pushing your finger on a certain spot, and The Spot comes back every time you do an activity, that’s a big red flag. Stop doing the thing that hurts and give your body time to recover or see a doc. If the ache moves around or comes and goes or can be covered by your palm (as opposed to a finger), it’s less likely to be urgent or acute.
Bri adds, sharp pains or pains that cause you to compensate by shifting your form are definitely signs your body wants you to stop. If your Achilles tendon hurts and you start favoring that side, you could set off an unhealthy chain reaction where now your knee hurts, your hip hurts, your IT bands ache, your lower back is sore… you see where we’re going with this. Stop. See a doc. Rest.
One way to know if your form or gait is off is to check in with a work out or running partner, Meagan says. Anyone who’s exercised with a buddy knows you start to recognize your partner’s “natural” form, often without being consciously aware of it. If your gym friend or running buddy asks if you’re hurt or limping or otherwise doing something funny, listen. They may be picking up on cues you’re missing. And if it’s obvious to the non-professional, you really need to pay attention.
If pain starts with the activity and intensifies as you continue, and if it hurts worse at the end than at the start, that’s a clue that tomorrow is a rest day. Pain that is with you at the start and lessens or goes away completely is probably OK to power through, as long as it’s not severe, localized, or changing your form.
Pair crazy expectations with someone who’s just starting to get to know their body’s abilities and limits, and you can be in for some disappointment. As Bri tells us from her experience with clients, your body may hurt more or your performance may improve more slowly than you expected, or you may be plateauing in terms of weight management. Any or all of these can cause us to throw up our hands and head back to the couch.
Solution: It’s OK to re-evaluate your goals, says Meagan. If you decided to run a marathon in 2019, maybe reassess and see if a half-marathon or sprint triathlon is easier to stick with. That’s not to say you couldn’t run a marathon in 2019, just that the lesser pressure of a different goal might make it easier to stay motivated. When we set resolutions, we can get compulsive about staying on track. Allowing yourself permission to reassess may be the difference between healthy achievement of that new goal and “failure” and/or injury with the old.
Blame social media for some of this tendency to be unrealistic, Bri says. Your friend’s Facebook posts about getting fit may make it look like she went from unhealthy to Olympic while hardly breaking a sweat, but you may not be seeing the steps between. In addition, your body is uniquely, wonderfully yours, and your fitness journey will be too. Applaud your friend’s achievements, but don’t compare them with your own.
There’s a tendency among those new to fitness to believe that it’s a constant, steady progression, and each day you’ll be better than the previous day. That’s just not true, but that myth is often why it can be hard for some new athletes to take rest days.
Solution: If you’re new to the fitness thing or just adding a new activity, talk with someone who’s been doing it a while. Ask them about their experience so you get a better idea of what’s involved. We do this for new employees when we “onboard” them, right? No one expects you to know everything your first day at work. Have equal patience with yourself your first day at a new activity. Also, having a buddy to check in with and stay accountable to is a great way to stay motivated.
And rest. “You’ll be a better, stronger, faster athlete and able to perform longer, if you recover between workouts,” Meagan says. “There’s a reason your fitness watch or app has built-in recovery periods of 24 hours or 12 hours or whatever,” Bri says. “Follow it.”
Be patient and understand that bodies are bodies and you’ll have good days and bad days. Don’t let a belief that every workout should be better than the one before be a reason that you quit or push yourself to the point of injury.
This is particularly important for women in midlife. Your body may not respond to changes as quickly or dramatically as it did when you were younger, and energy levels during the perimenopause/menopause years can be really low. Hormone fluctuations, fatigue, interrupted sleep, greater stress can all make exercise really tough. However, most women find that this is temporary (though “temporary” can mean months or years), and it gets easier when hormones level out on the other side.
The numbers on the scale aren’t moving the right direction. The tape measure isn’t showing the anticipated improvement. Your clothes fit the same, no one’s mentioned your change or glow or new found energy. So what’s the point of all this work?
Solution: redefine “rewards.” First, understand that while change may not be happening on the outside, it almost certainly is happening on the inside. Muscles are getting stronger, your heart is getting healthier, maybe blood sugar levels are evening out, your lungs and brain and endurance and immune system are all seeing benefits. The change may be incremental, so small and slow you don’t notice, but suddenly you’re not out of breath from taking the stairs or you’re sleeping a bit better. Appreciate that even if you can’t yet do more reps or lift heavier weights or go to a smaller size pair of jeans
And reward yourself. As Meagan says, celebrate your accomplishments. You’ve made it a month! Buy yourself a new pair of really good socks or a better sports bra or a new swimsuit. Post a note on your mirror congratulating yourself for sticking with it this long.
If you’ve dropped your new fitness routine, no worries. You didn’t “fail.” “Respecting your body isn’t failing or quitting or being lazy,” says Bri. “You took a few days off to rest and re-evaluate, and now you’re ready to start again.”
As Meagan says, the real achievement is in balancing your approach so you can continue staying active for the long term. Staying realistic, seeking help when you need it, and resting when rest is called for can all help you get past January 12 (or Valentine’s Day or spring break or swimsuit season) and on the path to life-long fitness.
How are you doing with your resolutions or your general fitness goals? We’d love to hear your story and solutions, so please share with us by commenting here, or joining the conversation in our community forums. You can also reach out to us on Gennev’s public Facebook page or in our closed Facebook group.