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  • Writer's pictureAsh Radford

Why you need to & how to be adaptable to stick with fitness

In truth success with getting and staying fit comes down to consistency i.e. habit. Intensity and a brilliant program are useless without it.

Structure and a plan matter too. However, life throws up curve balls that can derail the best laid plans. Sickness, injury, travel, weather and work are a few things bound to threaten your exercise routine.

If you’re into exercise for the long haul (is there any option?) you need to be adaptable.

As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself”

Your ability to stay on course and get your workout tally session up will largely depend on how you deal with inevitable challenges.

Here's some ways of adapting to common obstacles to sticking with fitness.

* Have options if niggling injury comes up & use them immediately

Last week, I had a strain in my right hip flexor (top of front of thigh). I knew the squats and lunges in my strength workout would irritate it. Rather than give the whole workout a miss I substituted skipping for those 2 movements.

While skipping doesn’t strengthen the thigh muscles, it does burn calories and elevate the heart rate (contributing to metabolic rate and cardio fitness). By skipping while recovering from upper body exercises it also meant I maintained workout momentum. Most importantly skipping doesn’t involve a lot of movement at the hip, so the problematic area wasn’t taxed.

The niggle has now passed, so yesterday I was able to squat and lunge again. Had I pushed through the niggle it might have been a different story- often from little injuries, chronic ones develop. That’s a lesson learnt from experience.

It can be tricky when really motivated and committed to bypass an exercise or 2. If you can though, it’ll pay off in the mid to long term. Accumulating many workouts over months will yield better results than rigid, stubborn commitment to each and every aspect of your program.

If running is your thing it’d be worth considering an impact free option. A stationary or conventional bike can keep you going if injury puts a halt to running.

A shoulder niggle will probably worsen through pushing type strength training exercises. Opting for more pulling movements and exercises where hands stay below shoulder level may be best for maintaining upper body strength. Boxing is also likely worth avoiding. Rowing, running and cycling are options that will help maintain condition while a minor shoulder complaint improves.

Reacting quickly to aches or pains will help in keeping exercise habit. It'll ensure a small, temporary pain doesn't become a big, chronic one. Plus, by getting straight on with substitute exercise (s) you can prevent a short break in routine from morphing into a long one. That matters, because as you know, habits can be deceptively difficult to restart.

* Think of ways of abbreviating workouts which keep them effective

Lack of time’s a big reason for not exercising. Even if you’ve a consistent schedule and manage time well, there’ll be occasions when you’ve got to compromise on workout time.

If you typically exercise for an hour but circumstances mean you’ve only 10-15 minutes you’ve 2 obvious choices- Give it a miss or do your best with 10 or 15 minutes.

As studies into the growingly popular HIIT have shown, you can achieve a lot in under 15 minutes. Besides which, being pushed for time can work in your favour through increased urgency and efficiency.

To keep a short workout impactful you need to make up for lack of duration with intensity. You can do this by shortening the warmup, going 20% harder or faster than usual or challenging yourself to go as far as possible within the time available.

All of which not only ups the intensity but adds variety.

If you can’t, don’t or won’t go harder it’s still worthwhile doing less at your usual intensity. A 10 minute walk contributes to total number of steps and calories burnt for the day/week. As well as allowing you to get some fresh air and reset concentration. Critically it further ingrains the habit of exercising, particularly the habit of doing it when there's reason not to.

Remember something is almost always better than nothing.

Another way of overcoming a lack of time is exercising at home. This'll obviously eliminate travel time. Have a quick look at YouTube and you’ll find infinite short workouts which need no equipment.

Adapt, adapt, adapt!

*Have a plan to exercise when you travel

Whether travelling for work or pleasure, you can maintain and even gain fitness if you’re prepared. This goes beyond a general intention to exercise, I’m talking about an actual plan.

If staying in a hotel, find out if there’s a gym. Try and get a sense as to whether it’ll allow you to do something similar to your regular routine and plan accordingly.

No gym where you're going? Look to adapt by googling outdoor gyms in the area. A local park may have bars and benches enabling a range of strength exercises. With some lateral thinking, a playground can turn into a handy gym too.

A resistance band in your suitcase, together with some motivation, can make for a highly effective workout in the smallest of rooms. Again though, there’s planning needed, making up an entire workout on the spot won’t lend itself to efficiency.

Remember to pack your running shoes and you can explore a new place while also getting your exercise done.

Being away from your usual exercise location and routine doesn’t have to mean no exercise. Unless of course, you fail to adapt.

*Be prepared to exercise when it’s hot or wet

Heat and rain are the 2 things that tend to disrupt personal training sessions.

I think people talk themselves out of a lot of outdoor workouts when rain is just a possibility. Plus, it often seems like it’s raining harder than it is. Get going with exercise in spite of dark skies and you'll be surprised how many times it just works out.

Obviously you can simply choose to get a bit wet, after all you probably get sweaty anyway, and typically you’ll have a shower and change of clothes straight after. So, does it really matter?

If you prefer to stay dry give a little thought to a covered option.

It may seem harsh but letting some rain stand in the way of exercise is not being very adaptable. Find a way- be prepared to get your feet wet! Alternatively get on with something inside. A few taps of the keyboard and you can be underway with a YouTube video.

The great thing about getting it done despite rain is the sense of achievement. It’s beyond the usual post workout satisfaction as you’ve forged ahead when it would’ve been easy not to.

Hot weather however, is a slightly different story.

There’s genuine effects on performance and potential health issues. Dehydration and heat stress/stroke can be serious problems.

Once again thought you can use some initiative and adapt.

If possible shift your training time to the end or start of the day. Find a shaded or air conditioned spot.

If you’ve little choice but to carry on in spite of the heat, wearing a hat, drinking lots of water and even ice on the back of the neck will help. Most critical though is modifying the intensity. It’s the smart thing to do, the heat can affect physical capabilities to a deceptive extent.

* Make the most of what equipment you’ve got

Group exercising outdoors with basic equipment
Photo by Kirill on Unsplash

You can do so much with so little.

Benches, and steps of various heights, are great for dips and step up variations. Lunges with the back foot up on a bench can really test the thighs and butt.

One set of dumbbells gives you literally an infinite number of strength training options.

If you’re willing to get inventive filling bottles or jerry can’s with water or sand gives you some weights.

There are many other ways of innovating. Former training clients of mine even used house bricks as weights. Hanging a towel over a bar or beam that’s too thick or difficult to hold provides a way to do pull ups or chin ups.

I also often use exercise gear in ways other than what it’s meant for. If I don’t have boxing gear I’ll use small weights plates for shadow (air boxing). A skipping rope strategically placed on the ground can be used to hop or step over to sharpen footwork, improve balance and boost cardio fitness.

In most neighbourhoods you’ll find a long set of stairs or a hill. Go up and down purposely a few times and you’ve got yourself a challenging cardio workout.

If you exercise for long enough and often enough you’ll need to be adaptive with equipment. Inevitably things break, wear out, get lost, get forgotten and breakdown. Gyms have power cuts, floods and (all too often) go out of business suddenly.

Adapt to the environment and maintain the rage!

* Ultimately it’s about attitude

All I’ve suggested and covered may seem a lot to consider given you probably simply want to get some regular exercise. Many of the suggestions may not even be relevant to you.

What though certainly is relevant is attitude. Looking to find a way to get exercise done, rather than finding excuses not to, is paramount if you want to make substantial change to your body and fitness.

There’s almost always a solution, and a way of adapting, when challenges to your routine come up.

I know a triathlon coach who has clients run on the spot for 45 minutes. Mind numbingly boring and it’s not even because of an equipment issue or weather. The idea is to build mental toughness.

Whatever you think of that pretty extreme idea, it demonstrates just what can be done with almost nothing- if you’re willing.

Adopt the mindset of ‘finding a way’ and you’ll go a long way to reaching your fitness and exercise goals.


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