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Keeping at it

Don't be discouraged if you've strayed from your routine. It happens. Here's how to get back on track.

By Josef Brandenburg, McClatchy Newspapers

7:53 PM EDT, September 11, 2013

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All of us have started an exercise plan before, and all of us (even the most successful in terms of fitness) have also fallen off an exercise plan before: Why do we yo-yo, how do we recover from a lapse in fitness, and how do we stay on track over the long haul?

There are three main reasons people fall off the exercise bandwagon.

The first is life. Unexpected things happen, schedules change, people move, and we get knocked out of our routine. Or the realities of our schedules change so much that the old routine can't possibly work anymore. This is real. Life is often inconvenient and unpredictable.

Just remember that the busier you are and the more demands you have on your time, body and mind, the more you can't afford to neglect your fitness — you need the energy, health and peace of mind to really be there at work and at home. If you run yourself into the ground, or let yourself get stressed out and snippy with people, what good are you?

The second is injury or sickness. We'll talk about injury prevention below. In terms of staying well, one of the biggest things to keep in mind is that exercising or working yourself into the ground will massively suppress your immune system. Working at 80 percent to 90 percent will get the same results as pushing to your actual limits, but when you go to your limits you are way more likely to hurt and get sick.

The third is frustration. A person isn't experiencing progress, or progress isn't happening at the desired pace. One of the big things too look out for here is your perception of your progress — we have folks who will drop two sizes, but don't really lose much weight; if they focus on the scale, which only tells you what you weigh not how good you look, then they can get frustrated. However, if they focus on the fact that every time they go to a family event people tell them, "Wow, you look great. What have you been doing?" or how good their clothes fit, then they're happy.

How to get back on

Here's the real secret: Manage your expectations, and watch the labels you use. Don't ever expect to be totally on top of everything for very long. If you get into a nice rhythm and tell yourself that you'll stay totally on top of it this time, then you're just setting yourself up for major disappointment and you'll spend a lot of time and energy being upset instead of adapting to life. Expect challenges to your schedule, and focus on adapting better.

In terms of labels, many people think they've "failed" or "done it again" when they notice they've missed a few days or a few weeks. Yes, you have failed to be perfect, but perfection isn't the goal.

First: The No. 1 most important thing to do to get back into fitness (and feeling awesome) is to do something — anything — today. This is very easy advice to read but not so easy to act on. Be mindful of how out of shape you can get in a few weeks, and also of how much psychological momentum you've lost. Getting back on the horse is a chance to restart. It is not the day to have the best workout of your life.

For the two weeks before the birth of my first child, I missed almost all of my workouts due to false labors and hosting family. The day after my daughter was born, we were in a tiny hospital room with too many people, up for most of two days, and some of the care left a lot to be desired. I could feel myself getting short with people, so I left to go work out instead of taking the nap I wanted to take.

It was the most pathetic workout of my life. After warming up, I had to lie down for five minutes. After doing some planks and medicine ball work, I had to lie down for 10 minutes. It was the worst in terms of performance but the best workout in terms of how I felt. That one workout (way scaled back) helped me get my momentum back, and it helped me show up at the hospital as a more patient and kind husband and father.

Second: The next most important part of your comeback is to make a written plan for what you will do this week. (Don't go overboard on detail here.) Where will you do it? What days and times? This brief plan will greatly increase the odds of follow-through.

Last: The final thing to remember as you're getting back into exercising is that you do not need motivation. Motivation is a feeling — feelings are unpredictable and not dependable. If you've fallen off your exercise routine, you may not feel like exercising, and that doesn't matter one bit. Just show up, and get your body moving; the motivation will take care of itself in time.

7 out of 10: Americans do not get the recommended amount of exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Josef Brandenburg is a Washington, D.C.-area certified fitness expert with 14 years of experience.