It’s not just children who experience that back-to-school feeling – we all do. Even if you last packed a pencil case decades ago, September still feels like the start of new beginnings. And that’s something we could all do with this year.
So September is the perfect time to restart your fitness regime (far better than January, when we habitually try to flog ourselves into shape when its cold and dark outside). In the words of Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, former Olympian and founder of the fitness app, Jennis: “It’s an opportunity to take back some control in areas where we have all felt a bit powerless, set goals and create healthy routines that are focused on ourselves.”
Added to this, the Government’s medical officers are recommending that we all up our fitness in the battle to fight coronavirus – as the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been recently photographed doing. So how do you restart your commitment to fitness?
While a gentle jog a few times a week might be enough of a challenge at first, the key to keeping it up long term is setting yourself a goal. “It’s incredibly difficult just to exercise for the sake of it,” Professor Greg Whyte, former Olympian and director of the Centre for Health and Human Performance, says. “The reason that Couch to 5k is so effective is because you’re driving toward that end goal.”
Some good news here: New research has concluded that outdoor sports events can be delivered without significantly increasing the Covid-19 risk, boosting the prospect of activities like parkrun returning soon. Fingers crossed, you can start working up to an actual, physical, real-life 5k run with others.
If that’s not for you – maybe you consider yourself Covid wary; or you’re keen to run longer distances and that half marathon you’d signed up for is still off the cards – there are plenty of free virtual challenges to keep you motivated. Virtual apps like Strava offer a range of distances, such as the September 5k for cyclists and runners, while Charge running, give runners the opportunity to compete in virtual marathons, such as the New York, Boston and Chicago Marathons as well as cancelled charity runs.
You don’t have to sign up to a race, however. Another option is to commit to working out in a given time frame: Ennis-Hill says the 30-day challenge on her app has been “especially popular over lockdown”.
Choose the right exercise for you
There is a bewildering array of fitness options out there, but “the most important exercise is the one you enjoy, not the one you think you should be doing,” Prof Whyte says. “That way it becomes self-motivating.” So, don’t punish yourself with a running programme when you hate to jog; studies show that getting out for a brisk walk can be just as beneficial.
He suggests trying out different types of workouts using the myriad of free online apps and classes to “find what you like.”
If you lose interest further down the line, “don’t be afraid to change,” Prof Whyte adds. “Some people think that they should stick with it, no matter what, but variety is important to motivation.”
Plan your schedule
“Don’t be vague about when you’ll do your workouts as you’re less likely to do them,” says Dr Steve Ingham, sports physiologist and performance scientist who has worked with Ennis-Hill. “Instead, plan a specific time into your calendar that will actually work for your timetable and also your body clock.”
That also includes being prepared: if you’ve got an early morning workout planned, lay your kit out the night before. “It will remind you that you are committed to that decision to exercise,” Dr Ingham adds.
There are lots of reasons to exercise with a friend – not least because we’ve been starved of companionship this year. But also, it will improve your performance. A study by the University of Aberdeen found that exercising with a friend increases the amount of exercise we do; Ennis-Hill says she trains with her husband.
It also adds a social pressure, according to Prof Whyte: “On the days you can’t be bothered to do it, your friend could encourage you.” Even if you’re doing it virtually, such as checking out how far a friend has run on Strava, just knowing that your friend has done a longer workout encourages you to exercise for longer as you push each other on, according to the Aberdeen researchers.
There’s still plenty 2020 could throw at us – future lockdowns as well as all the regular trip hazards of sickness, caring responsibilities and unexpected work deadlines – so it’s important to be realistic.
“I encourage clients to start off with fewer weekly sessions than they feel they can manage so that they have a buffer in the event of illness, extra work stress and lulls in motivation,” personal trainer Elizabeth Davies says. “We can always add more sessions in but planning to do five and then not managing may lead to feeling deflated and giving up.”
It’s also important, she adds, not to feel the pressure of the new school term. “I’m all for encouraging more physical activity but if now is not the right time for you, that’s totally OK. Settling kids into school, dealing with big emotions, catching up on work and admin that you haven’t done since March because of the global pandemic is a lot, so make sure you do whatever is right for you.”
Sort your kit out
Make sure you’ve got the right gear to deal with the increasingly autumnal weather: waterproof and reflective clothes will become increasingly important. Here’s an edit of some of my favourites…
Trainers: New Balance Fresh Foam 860v11, £120
Running jacket: Nike AeroShield, £97.77
Exercise top: Lululemon Scuba hoodie, £98
All-purpose leggings: Bold Move Leggings, £75
For the pool or sea: Blasius Swimsuit, £95
Exercise headphones: Beoplay E8 Sport, £300