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  • Writer's pictureLisa Stephenson

It's OK If Your Fitness Level is Not Where it Once Was!

Lately, I’ve been seeing a number of people lamenting, “I’ve lost fitness. I let myself go. I’m so far behind where I once was." Rather than commenting every time a friend posts something like this on social media, I’m saying it here to everyone. You are not behind! You are where you are and that's OK!

Life happens! We only have a finite amount of energy. Sometimes we can put more of that energy into fitness than we can at other times. There are times in life when every bit of energy is needed to just get through the damn day. Even things that take a lot of mental or emotional energy can distract from the energy you have for working out. That’s life! Fitness comes and goes and takes different forms at different phases of our lives.

I LOVE fitness! I love lifting, I love training for endurance events, and I spend countless hours reading and thinking about training and coaching and biomechanics and sports performance, etc. But, in all the years that I have loved fitness, I’ve been fast, slow, jacked and lean, overweight, strong, and weak at different points in time. Why? Because sometimes other shit is going on in my life that I have to deal with or my priorities are in a different place. I’m not a superwoman that can do all the things all the time and I’ve learned that it’s OK not to expect that I can.

If you are “not where you once were”, well guess what? You’re a normal person with stuff going on in your life. Congratulations on being human!

Who cares where you once were? How is it going to benefit you to compare a level of fitness that you once had with where you are now if you’ve taken a break or reduced your focus on fitness? It’s not! And looking back isn’t going to change a thing about where you are today anyway.

So, be where you are today. No looking back! There’s so much to look forward to!

Here’s my advice if you’re looking to get back into fitness or renew your focus on it:

1. Focus on making progress from today on forward!

Pick an activity and do it consistently. I don’t care if it’s lifting, rucking, going for a 10-minute walk after dinner, or dancing in your living room. Does it feel easier to do after a few weeks? Can you do it for longer or faster after a few weeks? Do you look forward to it more than you did when you started? If you’re lifting, do you feel more coordinated, can you do a few more reps, can you lift a little more? Any or all of that is awesome progress!

2. Erase your prior numbers and PRs from your brain!

It doesn't matter whether you used to run a 5-minute mile; ruck a 12-miler in 2 hours or deadlift 500 pounds! Being stuck in the past isn’t any fun! What is fun is making progress from today forward.

3. Don’t create overly rigid goals for your progress!

If you just deadlifted for the first time in a while and you lifted 150 pounds, do not say “I want to lift 175 in 3 weeks”. If you just ran a mile for the first time in years, don’t expect yourself to run a minute a mile faster by X date.” Any progress is great progress. Even if you aren’t just getting back to fitness, goals like this oftentimes are not helpful because there’s too much that we can’t control in training and in life that could get in the way of reaching a certain goal by a certain date. Just see what the actual progress is that you make over time and celebrate it.

4. Don’t expect progress every day!

Training or exercising doesn't work like this. Progress is not linear! Some days you will be faster or slower, stronger or less strong. There are a lot of factors (sleep, nutrition, stress, total randomness) that can impact an individual workout. If you have one or a few in a row that are less good than prior ones, just move on and keep going. Those workouts are still going to contribute to your long-term progress. We’re looking for indicators such as, feeling better, being more consistent, and making progress (speed, strength, etc) over time as an average of the workouts we do, not the results of a single workout.

5. Don’t go balls to the wall!

Many of us want to jump in and go too hard too soon. I challenge you to start easy and just build on it. Work on consistency first and then slowly increase effort or intensity. This will help you maintain that consistency and 99.99% of the time, will allow you to build a greater level of fitness over time than will going out too hard. That said, if you have a day where you are feeling extra good, put some extra effort into your workout. That’s a great time to “see what you got”. Conversely, it’s totally ok to have a chill, easy workout on days when you’re not feeling it.

6. Go to recess!

Remember when you were a kid and it was time for recess and you were excited to just go out and do things that were fun for you and just play? Do that! If you’re in the “I have to work out” headspace and it doesn’t feel inspiring, think about it as recess time and just go do something that’s fun. No expectations, no forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

7. Do some outdoor stuff!

Even if you choose to focus on a fitness activity that’s indoor-based, just go outside sometimes. Get some vitamin D and fresh air. Look at some trees. It’s so good for your body and mind!

8. Celebrate the hell out of everything!

Did you start out walking a mile a day and now you can jog a little bit of it? Hell yeah! Were you able to do one more rep of a lift at the same weight than you could a week before? Yes, girl (or guy)! Did you go for a ruck and the weight didn’t feel as heavy? Awwww yyyeeaaahh! Did you simply move your body for 10 minutes every day this week when you weren’t doing that before? You’re crushing that consistency thing!

Every time you do a little bit more, SEE the progress and enjoy it! Have fun with it! Every little bit of that will add up as you keep it up and you’ll be surprised to see how far you go over time.

9. Don’t do stuff you hate!

So many people think things like, “I need to start exercising so that means I have to start running.”, but then they hate running and stop exercising altogether. Or people think, “I used to ruck so now I have to start rucking again.”, but they don’t enjoy it anymore. Whatever you do, if you do it for a few weeks and you realize you don’t like it, try something else. Explore movement and have fun! Maybe try a variety of things and see what you like. The great thing about fitness is that there are millions of ways to improve it so you don’t have to slug through something that’s not enjoyable.

10. Fit fitness into your life!

Think about how much time you have to work out and don’t choose to do things or train for things that are unrealistic and then overload yourself.

For example, when I first started doing triathlons in 2017, I jumped right into training for a full Ironman, which is 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running. As a single mom of an elementary school child, I didn’t have time to do 15+ hours of training each week during peak season. Trying to make it work made me hate it. It was impossible to try to fit all that training in around work, parenting, and life. On top of that, it gave me horrible mom guilt, feeling that I wasn’t spending enough time with my son. Don’t do this to yourself! Find something that works into your current life, not something that throws the whole thing out of whack.

In 2018, I took a break from triathlons and just started lifting weights 3 times a week. I spent about 4 hours in the gym a week and didn’t do anything else. I just had fun and lifted and ended up being jacked and strong as hell. It was a way better choice than what I was doing before. Be realistic about the time and energy you have for fitness and choose activities that work for you now!

So get out there, in whatever form and at whatever level that is, and have fun! Leave the past behind. It’s time for a new fitness adventure!


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