A woman on a spin bike laughing in gym activewear.

How to get back into fitness after a long break for illness, injury or poor mental health

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New stats show 1 in 3 women are on an exercise break. Here’s how to get back to training with confidence. 

One in three of us is on a fitness break right now. According to This Girl Can and Strava, one of the main reasons people have pressed pause on chasing their squatting and running PBs is that poor mental health makes getting up to work out extremely hard. Other reasons include illness (including never-ending Covid infections) and a simple lack of workout motivation

There’s nothing wrong with a break — sometimes, we simply need to prioritise other parts of our life. But the stats also show that nine in 10 who have paused their workout routines believe that there are going to be obstacles to getting back into exercise, and it means their breaks are extending to around 13 months. The most common challenges women face are poor confidence and body image, a lack of focus and fear of judgment from others. 

Hannah Lewin, a personal trainer specialising in female training and non-aesthetic fitness, knows the barriers many women face when it comes to starting and sustaining a workout routine. She’s shared her tips on how to get back to training, whether you’re finding the practicalities of working out tricky, or are dealing with more psychological worries about heading back to the gym

How to find time to train

“I have to physically block out time in my diary for my own workouts. That sounds a bit extreme, but you need to make it an appointment so you don’t cancel. It’s about committing to that time as you would, say, a dentist appointment. 

The place I think a lot of people go wrong is that they try to cram everything into one day. By mapping it out in your diary, you can work out where you have the time for stress-free, non-rushed sessions. Otherwise, you end up going for a run and getting home at 9:25 when you have to be on a call at 9:30 and it feels too overwhelming. You should be trying to take as much pressure and stress away from exercise as you can. 

That’s also why planning five sessions just isn’t going to happen. Be realistic and plan two great workouts a week, rather than cramming in unplanned, uneffective sessions.”

A woman with boxing gloves and activewear laughing in a gym.
Finding confidence in exercise after a break means stopping comparison.

How to re-gain confidence

“First, ask where that lack of confidence is coming from. Usually, I find it comes from comparison. Working against that is about learning to trust your body, which I think comes from understanding about what your body is actually doing,” says Lewin.

“If you’re doing a squat, for example, understand that the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and core are the muscles that are there supporting you. Learning the right anatomy helps you think of your body and movement in a different way, rather than just focusing on energy expenditure. It also builds better mind-muscle connection during difficult sessions, which will actually help improve your performance. When you’re fighting against your body all the time, a bit of recognition and appreciation makes a huge difference.” 

The Make Your Comeback campaign by Strava and This Girl Can also support women in finding confidence through communities. They’ve launched a virtual club that promises a safe and judgment-free space to support women to get back to exercise, with data showing that those who join a club on Strava upload 300% more activities than those who don’t. 

How to deal with fitness losses

“Again, comparison is the thief of joy, right? We all know that if you start comparing where you are now to where you were pre-lockdown or before you took time off, it’s just going to end in a negative spiral and even hinder your own progress because you’ll be less inclined to train. 

Rather than seeing yourself as a beginner again, look at it as just going back to basics. It’s easy to look back with rose tinted glasses – it may be true that you used to lift heavier or run faster but perhaps you weren’t doing so with the best form or maybe you didn’t love your workouts. Stripping it back gives you space to build back up properly and improve. Stop thinking of your training as being about getting back to where you were and recognise that you have the ability to get beyond that place.”

Ready to get started? Join one of the SWTC training plans for workout videos, training tips and exclusive articles. 

Images: This Girl Can 

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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