There are some things in life that turn out to be worse than expected. Changing diapers, for instance. Also, if you’re thinking of refinishing your grandfather’s beloved antique canoe, I strongly advise against it.

On the other hand, some things turn out to be easier than expected. And for me, hitting the gym again after a pandemic-long break was one of those things. My kids recently restarted swimming lessons at a local gym, so I figured I might as well hit the treadmill for a bit while I’m waiting. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad! Now I’m up to 45 minutes twice a week on the treadmill, plus I go swimming with the kids after lessons. 

Here’s what my recent experiences have taught me about easing back into a fitness routine after taking a long break:    

Don’t blow your budget on expensive gear  

The first thing I did was find a comfortable pair of track pants and a sweatshirt, which was easy because it’s pretty much all I’ve been wearing for the past two years. Then I bought a cheap pair of sneakers. They were on sale for $30, and they’re great. 

Fact is, you don’t need to spend a ton of money to get gym-ready when you’re just starting out. The basics will do just fine. If you’re worried about what the bodybuilder on the bench press might think of your sensibly-priced kicks and prehistoric sweatshirt, remember: You are far less important to everybody else in the gym than you think you are. Nobody is going to talk about you 5 minutes after you leave or 2 minutes after you show up. We’re more important in our own minds than we are to anybody else.

Don’t start where you left off; start where you’re at now

Like many Canadian guys, my fitness tailed off quite a bit after the COVID-19 pandemic began. So I didn’t restart by jumping on the treadmill and pressing the “Olympic Decathlon” button right off the bat. I set the thing to “walk,” then slowly increased the speed as my fitness improved.

Gunning for your personal best in anything after an extended break can lead to disappointment, and disappointment isn’t fun (more on fun in a bit). Pushing yourself a little bit more with each workout gives you a better chance of eventually getting there. As Grandpa likes to say: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Lower your expectations 

Toby Hargrave

As great as it would be to go from having a rustic sort of shape to a stacked commando simply by snapping my fingers, I know it isn’t going to happen. At this point, having a slightly fitter, slimmer rustic shape seems more realistic. 

I didn’t start with this overwhelming need to change my entire life because if I did, the task would seem impossible, and I would give up. When you don’t meet the expectations that you’ve set, you wander into dangerous territory. Just be honest with yourself and be okay with what your reality is. I personally like to under-promise and over-deliver. This is what helps me sleep at night. That way, every time I make it into the gym to walk on the treadmill for 45 minutes–even if it’s just one day a week–I still feel like I am winning.

Have fun with it

One goal that should always be part of a workout: Have some fun! Slap on some headphones and rock out while you jog. Watch the hockey highlights on those gym machines that come with screens. Convince a buddy to join you and trade jokes while you sweat. Or do what I do and cannonball into the pool post-workout and let your kids use you as a floatie. BE THE POOL NOODLE!

Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day

Life happens. The toilet clogs, the car won’t start, and you gotta deal with it. Get the toilet working, get the car running, and THEN get back to your new fitness routine. A lot of what happens in our lives is beyond our control, so deal with it and then get back to something you CAN control: Getting active on YOUR terms!

How to know if you’re pushing yourself too hard

Your body will tell you when you’ve done too much exercise. Listen to that feedback, especially the next day. If you’re super-sore, ease up a little bit. You’re gonna get sore. You’re moving for the first time in a long time. That’s okay because it’s your body asking you, “What the BLEEP did you just do to me?!?” After all, there’s a big difference between a little soreness, which can start to feel good after a while and will go away over time, and spending an entire day walking like Frankenstein’s monster.

Expert tips for getting active again

I’m no fitness guru. I’m just sharing my own positive experiences. Tim Kelly, on the other hand, helps guys get active every day as the Director of Personal Training for Club 16 Trevor Linden Fitness. Click here to check out what Tim recommends when you’re just getting started. 

If you’re still reading this, it goes to show that even a blog post can turn out better than expected. Toby 1, Universe 0! 

What works best for YOU at the gym? Share your easy exercise tips in the comments below!

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