Taken time off exercise for illness, injury or a huge life event called lockdown? Here’s how to get back to training with confidence.
The gender gym gap has been longstanding phenomenon. The term is given to explain the fact that the number of men who hit the recommended exercise guidelines outstrips the number of women. Lockdown made this worse: the latest stats from This Girl Can found that 61% of men say the pandemic has given them more time to exercise – only 54% of women say the same.
There are a myriad of reasons for this, from the extra domestic load women shouldered during lockdown to illness or injury. Yet it appears that the re-entry gap also exists. Despite offices, childcare, schools, fitness centres and gyms reopening, women are exercising less in May 2021 than at any other time in the pandemic other than during the winter lockdown – just 23% are exercising for at least 30 minutes, five times a week, the report states.
It’s why This Girl Can have launched a campaign week to encourage women to get back to the training they love. Except, if you’ve taken a break, it can be tricky to know where to start, particularly if you’ve lost confidence or don’t know how to get back into a routine.
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.”
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.
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.”
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“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.”
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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).