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When to start exercising: the best time to start a new workout programme

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Keep putting off a new workout routine? Here’s the best time to start exercising (and why now is better than later). 

There are so many tips if you’re looking for advice on how to start a new training programme, including how to find motivation for lacing up and how many workouts you should do a week. What’s less discussed is exactly when you should start that new plan.

Many programmes would (unfortunately) lead you to believe that the best time to start training is six weeks before holiday. Others would ask what the hell you’re waiting for, and you need to throw everything you’ve got at a programme starting right now. But is there another way?  

The time is now

There’s the old adage that there’s ‘no time like the present’. But take that advice with a pinch of salt, as it ultimately comes down to your individual circumstances. For example, if you’re injured, postpartum or going through a particularly stressful time, throwing yourself into the gym for hours on end isn’t advisable.

“I would say the best time to start is usually now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean starting your ideal programme right now – it means starting with something that is suited to where you are right now,” explains personal trainer and Nike Ambassador Tess Glynne-Jones.

For example, if you’ve found a sport or training style you love the look of it, you can start with just one day a week. The idea that exercising requires your life’s focus in order to be beneficial is problematic, says Glynne-Jones: “It can be hard to let go of the ego and be realistic about where we’re currently at, but starting where you are is important. Don’t feel like you have to sign up to a programme that’s going to ask you to train five times a week to start off with if you only really have the space for three times a week,” she says. 

A diary with exercise plans written on the days held down by a blue dumbbell
The best time to start a new training programme is when you feel comitted.

Sometimes though, it might actually be better to wait until Monday. Glynne-Jones recommends starting a new exercise plan in line with your menstrual cycle to set you up for optimum success.

“For women, a good time to start is when you come on your period, or maybe a couple of days after. During this time you’ll generally feel more motivated and energetic,” Glynne-Jones explains. It might also work better in the long term: “You tend to feel lowest in energy during your late luteal phase, just before your period. If you’re starting a structured programme, you’ll usually have a deload every four weeks. Aligning that natural rest period with your late luteal phase will work wonders because that’s when your body’s supposed to recover most anyway.”

Should you wait until you have a goal?

You can just wait until your 16-week marathon training plan begins to start running, right? Wrong. Not having a set-in-stone goal doesn’t mean you should put off starting. “It’s good to have goals, and they can definitely help you start or continue when things get difficult. But you don’t need an end destination before you begin,” adds Glynne-Jones. In fact, the stop-start of only training towards an event or an end goal can be pretty demotivating for many, and won’t help you maintain good levels of activity through the year or your life.

Instead, Glynne-Jones suggests setting goals that are process-centric to keep you motivated. “I actually find them better than deadlines like a deadlift PB or a marathon because if that end result doesn’t fulfil your happiness, you’re going to feel disappointed. It could just be that you want to feel better and can tick off a daily workout and a good night’s sleep – the small wins along the way should count as your goals.” 

Is it too late?

Let’s get one thing straight: there’s no upper limit on when you can start training. “It’s potentially even more important that people who are slightly older start strength training to prevent things like osteoporosis,” reminds Glynne-Jones.

However, the sooner the better, as it’s easier to “grow your confidence and train your body before you might start going through hormonal changes, such as the menopause,” Glynne-Jones explains. “It’s easier to manage these things and keep up your training if you’re already consistent and know your body well.” 

So, when’s the best time to start?

Now really might be the best time to start. But that doesn’t mean walking away from your desk and going for a 5k run right this second. It means you should start putting the structures in place so you don’t keep putting off your training for weeks, months or years.

It might mean just starting to think about where you’ll find the time to train, what type of sport you want to take up, how tired or stressed you are currently. Or it might mean working your way up to certain exercises or running smaller distances to start with.

“The best time to start is when you feel ready to start,” reminds Glynne-Jones. “There’s not a hard and fast rule as to when is best, but I think it comes back to the fact that the best training programme you’re going to do is a one you’re going to stick to. There’s no point starting something you’ll never commit to.”

5 ways you know it’s time to start training

1. You have the time. This requires brutal honesty. It’s not just about whether you can be bothered to set an early alarm, but can you physically do it? If you’re in a busy period at work, in the middle of a house move or are barely back on your feet post-lockdown, it’s OK to admit that starting a new workout routine on top of all of that might be a little too much. 

2. You’re well. Suffering an illness or injury? Probably not the best time to jump into a new workout routine. Wait until you feel physically and mentally ready before upping your training.

3. You’re excited. Starting something new can be daunting, and while you might feel nervous, you shouldn’t dread your training. If you are, you might want to think about trying a different sport or exercise or taking baby steps that will keep you motivated rather than one huge leap.  

4. You’ve done the prep. Don’t dive in without knowing what’s expected of you. Whether it’s the kit you need to support your training or the warm-ups you should do to get ready for your workout, doing some research beforehand can be game changing. 

5. You’ve set mini goals. Remember, being ready for the process is just as important as smashing any potential end goals. Make a list of small changes you want to make now you’ve started training so you can feel accomplished. 

Want to start a new training programme? Sign up to the Strong Women Training Club for two new workouts a week. 

Images: Pexels / Getty

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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).