During the early off-season, I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between momentum and behavior change.
First, some background...
For the first couple weeks of off-season, I found myself feeling very sluggish and tired. I was out of my normal exercise routine, and realized I had taken the mood & energy boosting benefits of morning training for granted.
I'm very used to training in the morning- that's not the issue. However, it's a lot more challenging to drag yourself out of bed for a gym, bike, or treadmill session when you don't have any upcoming events, and it's up to you (and only you) to hold yourself accountable.
When I find myself in these situations, whether it's on vacation, or in between training phases, I think the most important thing you can do is to simply take one small step in the right direction. If you can do this again, the following day, you'll start to gain some momentum.
A lot of the time when we're in a rut, we feel like we need to make a drastic change or attack several things at once, like nutrition, training intensity, and training volume. However, this initial burst of intensity relies far too heavily on motivation. Consequently, when you do inevitably lose steam, it's really hard to keep that momentum, because there are too many things to keep up with!
Once you've built up and you've ingrained those habits, you can certainly do them all at once, but at the beginning stages of establishing a routine, that's a tough ask.
Here's how this all came about...
Today after I got off the treadmill, I came up with three things that personally helped me to get back on track (so to speak), and regain momentum.
Habit #1: Log your Nutrition
The first thing that helps me get back on track is to improve my nutrition, by logging all my food in the notes app on my phone. It's super simple. All I do is write down what I've had and how much. I'm not necessarily trying to reduce or cut out any foods, but it does help me check myself and regain awareness, which is most important. Especially right now in the beginning of the off season where I'm not training quite as much, I could easily tend to eat the same size meals or snack more purely out of habit. This isn't a massive issue, but I'm going away on vacation next week, and I'll feel a lot more comfortable in a swimsuit if I'm not bloated!
Habit #2: Stick to the same workout (kind of).
This may sound a little weird and monotonous, but my second tip is to prioritize the same kind of workout every single day for about a week or two.
Why? It cuts out the decision making, and it builds mental toughness.
I re-discovered the power of this habit during the beginning of COVID in 2020. Shortly after the country (and world) locked down, I was lacking routine. I drank (a little) wine every night, slept in, and put off my workout until the afternoon. The problem with this procrastination, was that my motivation and energy were lower later on in the day. Rather than "attacking" the session, it felt like a task I needed to check off my to-do list.
After a couple weeks of this relaxed schedule, I told myself that I needed to re-establish a routine. I would be on the spin bike by 9:00 AM. I did a 30-75 minute spin workout every morning for about three to four weeks, before I let myself change it up. Only once I'd comfortably re-established a consistent morning training routine did I mix it up with running or weights. Often times I would end up doing a second session that day, but doing a workout in the morning did wonders for my fitness, my mental health, and my productivity.
This week, I've adopted the same habit, but I've turned to running instead of biking. Every morning, I'll do at least 30 minutes of running- either outside, or on the treadmill- with the goal of improving my 5k time every week.
Whatever activity you choose, the aim is to opt for something challenging, but doable, such that achieving this task every day feels rewarding. In fact, in a weird way, I find that I actually start to look forward to it the night before- not because of the session itself (you know, it's going to suck!), but because of how accomplished you'll feel afterwards.
A pro tip:
Whenever you're dreading a session because you feel lethargic, tell yourself that THIS is what will make you feel better. Yes, it's counterintuitive because if you don't have energy, naturally your brain is going to tell you not to expend even more energy. However, I've learned over time that unless I'm over-trained and I genuinely just need a nap or to rest instead of doing a session, simply sitting around is not going to energize me. When you feel tired and are resisting the session, it's imperative you do a good warmup for at least 10 minutes and start to sweat. If you can get past that point, you'll feel so much better, and you're well on your way to having a cracking session.
Habit #3: Get your workout done ASAP.
The third habit that helps me get back on track is prioritizing my workout in the morning. If I have early clients or meetings, then I might not get it done first thing, but I plan to do it straight afterwards. Getting my workout done before lunchtime is crucial for my productivity and my mindset. If I put it off, then somehow all of a sudden 1:00 PM becomes 4:00 PM, and I don't know where the day has gone!
Furthermore, I also find that if I start working on the computer before exercising, my brain is partly preoccupied by this impending workout that I need to do. Taking initiative to train before sitting down at the computer means it's one less thing that's hanging over my head, and is part of the reason that my brain feels much clearer after training.
Plus, an added benefit of ticking off a workout first thing is that it helps me feel more excited about a second training session later that day. I'm more energized, and I feel like I'm already ahead of the game.
Ultimately all goes back to that theme of momentum. If you can take that first step, then the second one becomes a lot easier.
A final word
Getting back on track often seems daunting because we feel that we need to make a ton of massive changes in order to make progress. However, if you can just start to move the needle in the right direction, and you have one task to focus on each day, you'll soon start to notice a bit of progress. Once you start to notice that progress, use that as the further motivation to keep going.
Oftentimes we get started on a fitness, training, or nutrition journey because we're frustrated about our current state. The initial motivation comes from a negative place, whether that's losing a match cause a fitness or not fitting into a pair of jeans. However, as soon as you start to make progress, try to shift away from that negative motivation that got you started and instead focus on the progress you're making and where you want to end up.
For more actionable training tips, and programs & workouts to help your squash fitness, check out Squashletic!