Exercise is a struggle right now, and there’s more to blame than the winter weather. Here’s what’s really going on, and how to feel good about training again.
Hands up if you’re feeling weird about working out right now? Rest assured, everyone feels the same: a bit bleugh, a bit discontented, a bit over it. Perhaps this is just the usual winter spiral of not wanting to leave your warm cosy flat for a run or a walk to the gym in the freezing weather. But it does feel like there’s something more going on than just coldness and darkness.
In fact, there are five things that personal trainers and research suggest could be causing your funk, from post-lockdown fears to burnout. Which one is ruining your workout routine?
1. Reinstated Covid anxiety
Unfortunately, the C-word is back. We don’t mean Christmas – we mean Covid. Of course, it never really went away, but until this week it wasn’t so glaring or intrusively on our minds. Thanks to the huge surge in cases of the Omricon variant, we’re back to having to question everything we do – and it’s exhausting. After weighing up the risks involved in socialising and working, it’s no surprise that we don’t have the headspace left to think about our training.
But coronavirus fatigue isn’t the only reason our workout schedules feel thrown; what with gyms being the crowded, sweaty spaces that they are, we are also questioning whether we should enter them. It will probably take a minute for you to get your home workout or winter running groove back, so don’t try to rush it.
2. The novelty has worn off
A report by the Global Health & Fitness Association found that 50% of all new gym members quit within the first six months. A 2020 paper looking into new year’s resolutions also found that after six months, only 40% of people were still on track. With those figures in mind, is it any surprise that you’re struggling right now?
The gyms re-opened in April 2021. It’s now the end of November. That’s over seven months since you threw yourself back into your workout routine. While we tend to think that starting a new training programme is the hardest thing, the reality is that we really struggle with keeping it up. Right now is probably the time when you’re most tested – that isn’t a solution, but it might give you the comfort you need to push through. If you can make it through the next few weeks, the chances are you’ll feel more comfortable with your routine.
3. You’re being impatient
For personal trainer Veowna Charles, the key reason we’re feeling a bit meh about our workouts is because we are expecting too much, too soon. “After having so much time off, people had to rebuild their aerobic capacity as well as their strength,” she says. “I know that a lot of people are now feeling like they should have advanced further than where they are now, but they’re not considering the fact that they actually needed to retrain their body for the first few months.”
Stylist’s news writer Amy Beecham knows that not meeting her expectations has led her to feel unmotivated to train: “My favourite body part split always used to be upper body as the feeling of lifting weight over my head was so empowering to me, but I find myself zoning out when I’m completing my military presses and feeling unbothered by barbell rows.
“It’s hard to put my finger on why – I know that I’ve found it increasingly hard to make steady progress with my lifting now that some of the “beginner gains” that I experienced when I returned to the gym after the lockdown hiatus are wearing off.”
The only way to work through that is to be humble. While adding numbers to the bar is great for your ego, it’s not the only way to progress. Frequency, variation and enjoyment of your routine could be better ways to monitor your gym success until you get back to where you were.
4. You’re burned out
Perhaps you weren’t one of the people who took time off in lockdown and lost fitness. Plenty of people actually kept up or increased their exercise to compensate for their otherwise sedentary lives. If you moved from daily HIIT workouts at home straight back into a strength-based gym routine, or you loved running so much over lockdown that you’ve maintained a huge weekly mileage, is it any wonder your body is screaming for rest?
“I think a lot of the bleugh is tied up with to two years of living through a pandemic,” agrees strength and nutrition coach Pennie Varvarides. “Two years of emergency high alert whilst also still working, not having holidays, and not getting to fully relax because of the uncertainty, is catching up to us all and we are all just tired and burnt out. We all picked up extra plates in lockdown to start spinning because we had some extra time and slowly we’ve been dropping them because it’s too much under the pressure of the regular day-to-day tasks.”
Pre-Covid, we had ebbs and flows of fitness in our diaries. Holidays in summer were often taken as downtime, or the Christmas season was too jam-packed to train. For the past couple of years, we haven’t really had those natural breaks in routine. That means many of us have just trained at the same standard for years on end. That’s exhausting. Maybe now is the time to take a pause, rather than fight through.
5. You’re lacking confidence
“Lots of people are feeling nervous about going back to classes after time off – whether that’s an extended break since Covid or just since a restriction-free summer. They feel like they won’t be able to keep up with other people and the longer they leave it, the lower their confidence gets,” says Charles. “Really classes are there to be enjoyable and everyone should be turning up with their own individual goals. Your push-up may not look like her push-up, but you’re still doing a push-up.”
How you tackle this depends on your willingness to get back to your training routine. Immersion therapy is probably the fastest way to get into it – diving straight in with a class so you realise that there’s nothing to fear. The other option is slowly building your fitness back up with home workouts until you feel ready to get back out in front of other people.
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).