Regular exercise is well-known for preventing and reducing the impact of disease. While people may start exercising for health, that’s not what keeps us going. We’re not thinking about how exercise will prevent diabetes in 10-20 years. Most of us keep at it because of the immediate effects it has. It’s enjoyable, makes you feel better and gives you more energy. But it’s possible the enjoyment may fade. If this is the case, you may find yourself stuck in an exercise rut.
A rut is defined as “a habit or pattern of behaviour that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.” For example, you could be bored walking the same route everyday. A rut doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unhealthy, just that the behaviour no longer provides the stimulation, or the outcomes, it once did. And while it’s a challenge to form a new habit, such as regular exercise, it’s much harder to keep it going. Especially if you’re in a rut.
How do you know when you’re in an exercise rut?
We’re creatures of habit. Whatever we’re used to doing, we like to stick with that. Even our physiology fights change. If you decide to eat less calories, your body may shift its metabolism in such a way to resist that change. And while being in a rut can make it hard to change, it can often lead to people stopping their exercise. This is common and can happen to all of us.
If you find you’re no longer enjoying your exercise sessions, you may be in a rut. Of course, there may be times when you’re less motivated to exercise (such as in bad weather). This happens to all of us. But a rut is a more consistent feeling of lack of enjoyment and motivation. And it can easily creep up on you. It may feel like you’re just going through the motions or wanting to quit your exercise session early (or miss it altogether) for no apparent reason. Or you find yourself counting down the time until it’s done.
A common cause of a rut is feeling you’ve hit a plateau. You’re still exercising but not getting the same results as before. You might not be achieving your goals. It’s common when starting an exercise routine to see quick and frequent improvements. Your fitness quickly increases and you have more stamina. The time it takes to walk/bike/swim a certain distance goes down. But after the first few months or year, you find you’re not seeing the same gains. This is especially true if your exercise routine hasn’t changed.
Once you’re in a rut, it can spill over to other aspects of your life. Especially with exercise, as we generally do it to feel better and reduce stress. If exercise isn’t providing that same enjoyment, you’re not getting that stress release, making the rest of the day harder to get through. You might even find having to exercise becomes its own source of stress.
Getting Out of a Rut
The first thing to getting out of a rut is to identify that you’re in one. Once you’ve realized this, try to identify the cause. Is it boredom, a lack of progress or not having a goal? Or a combination of those and other causes? Knowing why you’re in a rut, can help you plan to get out of it.
Getting out of a rut requires changing your routine. If you’re bored with going to the gym, try doing something outside. Or vice versa. Join an exercise class or take a lesson in your favourite sport. It can add some social aspect to your routine and variety to what you’re doing (as you won’t be in charge of the workout plan). If you’re bored of the same walking, cycling or running route, try a different route. Drive to another neighbourhood and start there. Or do the same route but in the opposite direction.
If you feel you’ve plateaued, it likely means your body has adapted as much as it can to your current workout routine. Again, this is common whether you’re running, playing a team sport or resistance training. It happens to elite athletes and recreational exercisers alike. The way to get out of it is to alter the stress of your exercise session. If you usually do your exercise at a constant effort and/or duration, mix it up. Go for a shorter time and increase your speed, add in hills or add in interval training. For resistance training, you can work different muscles or different exercises for the same muscles.
Being in a rut is common. Mixing up what you do and adding variety to your workout routine can help prevent, or get you out of, a rut.
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