It happens. Whether your initial day away from the gym is a legit rest day, or you get sick, or “life gets in the way” and you say, “I deserve a day off,” a day turns into days, days into a week, a week into weeks, weeks into a month, and a month into “I can’t remember the last time I made it to the gym.”
But there often comes a day when you gather yourself together, re-ignite your passion, repack your gym bag, and begin rebuilding yourself where you left off.
Except that “where you left off” is a thing of the past. Muscles that were strong before are now weak and unresponsive; those that were limber are now tight, stubborn, and restrictive.
The spirit, the head full of steam you once had seems to have dissipated completely; the gym is no longer where you belong, if you ever did. It is a venue where weakness is displayed, your weakness, to yourself and everyone around you. The gym is not for you anymore; it is for the strong.
Nonsense! If you want to be there, that’s where you belong. You made it back to the gym because that’s where you want to be, or at least you want the rewards that come with being there, and part of you is ready to work for them.
So how do we keep the feelings of slowness and weakness and the regret that often accompanies them from scaring us away for an even longer period? From making us feel like losers, like we “Coulda been a contender?”
Expect it, and own the fact that it is inevitable if time is spent away from exercise and activity. If you don’t challenge your muscles regularly, they get comfortable doing nothing. And then when you come back, they feel weak. They don’t feel up to the challenge.
But you know that they are up to it; they’ve been up to it before, otherwise you wouldn’t know the feeling of having once been strong.
If time is spent away from the gym, for whatever reason, this will happen. Even the act of moving weight plates onto and off of barbells is tiring if you’re not used to it, never mind the lift itself.
But after a week or so of sticking to it, this action becomes habituated. You can set up the exercise without getting tired and initiate the lift with a feeling of “yes I can, and I am, and I will.”
Take your ego out of the equation. You took some time off; it’s behind you, it can’t be undone. Now you’re dealing with it.
Now, you’re just doing what you have to do to get where you want to go. You won’t have to learn the hard way, letting a year or more or a lifetime pass before you make it back again, feeling completely deconditioned as though your original gym habit never happened, as though it was just a phase, a failed venture, a hobby that lost its luster.
You’ve made it back to the gym, and, as it turns out, you’ve learned the easy way. What have you learned?
Stay the course and believe in it. Own your decisions and your fitness. Don’t let it own you, don’t let it scare you, don’t let it intimidate you. It’s just exercise. It’s yours to do with what you will, and you get out of it what you put into it. How many minutes of your life do you intend to spend feeling like a failure? An underachiever? A person who “can’t” because, for a moment, you didn’t?
Put that feeling aside and act on what you know: that you did great things once, and soon will again, for real this time. You know you’ll always be back. It’s part of who you are. Just go and do something, and keep going. Before you know it, you’ll be back to where you were, but better: one failure wiser, one more stumble overcome.