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How to Stick to a Workout Routine

by ThatWriterWoman 9 months ago in how to
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A personal account of a new technique that has been a breakthrough for my physical health after suffering from mental health issues for 10 years.

Step 1: The Folder

As someone who suffers from contamination-based OCD, this last year has been a little more than difficult. Ritualistic behaviours and dissociation episodes were happening more often than not and, before I knew it, I had neglected my physical and mental wellbeing. I was living day-to-day, trying to get through the next 24h without any major panic attacks.

During June, I had attempted to start a small workout routine: 10 squats a day – Simple right? Unfortunately, I was unable to stick to it for more than two days at a time. Some days I was over-achieving and pushing my workouts further, and other days I didn’t do anything. It left me sore and demotivated. Once July arrived I had one simple plan; write down my workout plan. I did but ran into the same issue as before, an inability to stick to the plan because I was avoiding working out instead of attempting even a small amount. The truth was made clear. I could not make an appropriate workout plan without first considering my mental health. Thus began a deep dive into my mind. Throughout this process, I placed all notes and pages into a self-help folder. This folder has everything to help me, whether I am in distress or simply reminding myself what I’m working towards. Everything inside is ordered by urgency.

The first page of the folder is a ‘crisis’ page, reminding me to call UK’s non-emergency line ‘111’ if I am in mental distress. This is essential for me as, when I am in the midst of a panic attack, I do not always think straight and need to know exactly what to do and what is going to happen when I do it.

Credit: Trafalgar Medical Group Practice

One of the main things bothering me was my lack of organisation. So I printed a total of 3 calendars to place in the folder. Each has an assigned purpose. One is to keep track of each day, another is to keep track of my working days so I may mentally prepare for them and the last, and most important, is to tick off each day I manage to work out. This calendar is already helping me understand patterns in my demotivation and behaviour, namely, issues exercising at key points in my menstrual cycle. I find working out before my period an impossibility, but if I work out a few days before, it helps with cramps. As for after, I find stretching and yoga to be manageable.

Step 2: The refining

Refining my workout plan has been a large part of this process. As such, I have tailor-made a few routines based on how I am feeling that day. The better I feel, the more I do. My 'okay day' workouts are a baseline, with 'great day' workouts having around 10% extra exercises. Below those are 'rough day' and 'awful day' workouts, which have a decrease of 25% and 50%.

The exercises (an 'okay day' workout) are as follows:

  • Sidesteps x30
  • Arm Circles x25 (Clockwise and anticlockwise)
  • Tiptoes x10
  • Torso Rotations x20
  • Hip Rotations x10 (Out and in)
  • Squats x25
  • Weighted Arm Curls x50
  • Weighted Squats x10
  • Weighted Shoulder Lifts x10

And for the days where mental health is good, and physical health is bad, I have a ‘rest workout’ planned. All workouts, no matter how small, get ticked off on the calendar. And this is a key factor to sticking with the plan with mental health struggles. Despite less physical effort being put in on bad days, the same amount of mental energy has been spent. I have swapped feeling guilty about doing less to feeling good for doing something. This, in turn, motivates me to push harder - and seeing that calendar full up with ticks is a great feeling.

It has taken me 2 months to figure out what works for me and understanding the difference between false excuses and motivation fluctuations occurring from mental state and hormones. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been fighting off old eating disorder habits, depression, and gender dysphoria on a daily basis and there have been many tears. So, if you are taking any advice from this article, please take this:

‘It will take a while to understand what is right for you, and your body - prioritise your mental wellbeing during this process’.

Step 3: Switch it up!

One less desirable effect of the workouts is bloat. It can be disappointing to see your abdomen pop out after working out so hard for a few weeks. But after some research, I have concluded that the cause is my body reacting to the new regime during these initial weeks and retaining water. To lessen these effects, I have taken to rotating which muscle groups are being exercised each day so that a different muscle group gets a rest, and a chance to stop bloating, every night.

As I only introduced this method a week ago, I haven't really felt any difference yet. Nevertheless, I will trust the process and hold out in hope for the bloating to go away. Any updates will be posted on my twitter.

Step 4: Enjoy it

It’s been just over three weeks of consistently working out, and I am already beginning to feel benefits. The physical benefits include Sleeping easier, waking up earlier, harder leg muscles, better neck posture and well, the workouts are getting easier. Going from being able to do 5 squats at a time to 25 has been a huge confidence boost! - Which is where the mental benefits begin. I trust myself (and my promises) more, I notice my bad days and make better suitable allowances for them in all aspects of my life and my mood swings are less present.

As such, the workouts have become increasingly exciting. I look forward to my routine and I have started to enjoy the post-workout 'burn' that all the fitness gurus rave about. I am looking forward to introducing more exercises and feeling fitter in the future.

But remember: Mental Health First!

Side Note: Don't be afraid to rest!

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About the author


An aspiring female writer from the UK, 23. Twitter:

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