These past three years have been very unhealthy for me. I spent my time at university drinking too much, smoking, eating huge meals of junk food, and not exercising at all.
Before university, I played rugby at least three times a week (twice at school and once on the weekends at a club) and I went to the gym 3-4 times a week. When I was 18, I was much fitter and stronger than I am now, but it was only this past week that I realised how much strength and fitness I had lost.
After three years of little to no exercise and a very unhealthy lifestyle, I decided to begin my journey to get back into shape. Here’s what happened.
When I started exercising seven days ago, I knew that I needed to take it slowly. I’ve had enough days at school where putting on my shirt hurt like hell to know that!
I did a simple bodyweight, full-body workout. It was a circuit of 30 second exercises with a 20 second rest between them. I did calf-raises, squats, sit-ups, planks, and press-ups.
I thought the circuit would be easy enough, especially if I took it slowly, but it turned out that I was a lot weaker and more unfit than I had thought.
My legs were alright. The calf-raises burned a little towards the end of the 3 seconds but not much, and the squats were the same. It turns out that not having a car and having to walk everywhere for three years keeps your legs reasonably strong.
Sit-ups were hard. I had never done sit-ups with a stomach large enough to get in the way before! I managed to do them though, but I had to push myself quite hard to manage it. The plank, however, lasted 20 seconds before I couldn’t hold it any more. Having to hold all of my weight like that was difficult, and I was surprised by how difficult! I never did have the strongest abs, but I used to be able to hold it for over 60 seconds at least, three years ago.
And then we come to the press-ups. I used to have strong arms and a strong chest. My bench-press (the best I could do for 3 sets of 10 reps) used to be at 105-110kg, so my press-ups were solid. I used to do 3 sets of 10 reps on decline press-ups! On Day 1, however, I collapsed trying to do one. Just one! I had to work my way down the progressions to incline, kneeling press-ups. Even then I was struggling, but at least I could do up to 15.
On Day 1, I realised that I had made a huge mistake in not keeping fit. My workout had been pathetic, but it only made me want to work harder.
I woke up feeling very sore! I spent the day stretching out my chest, arms, and legs. Sometimes, if I hadn’t stretched in a short while, I would seize up and have to gently force my chest or arms out again to loosen them up.
I didn’t think I had worked hard enough for that sort of muscle soreness! Obviously, I knew I had a long way to go.
I spend 90 minutes on my exercise bike on day 2. The only part of my body that wasn’t screaming at me was my legs, so I thought some cardio was a good idea. It went well and I was drenched in sweat by the end of it.
I put several episodes of TV on as I cycled, pulling my exercise bike in front of my desk. This worked really well so I knew I would be able to do this regularly. What’s the point in sitting still when I could be making the most of that time by building my cardio?
On the third day of the week, my arms and chest still hurt. I had often found in the past that the second day after a hard workout was when the muscles hurt the most.
I stretched them out and did a bicep and forearm workout. I wanted to keep it simple – I wanted to get by body used to working out again so in the weeks to follow I would be able to do more without my muscles being so exhausted!
I used to be able to bicep-curl 18kg on each arm for three sets of 6-8 reps. Now, I struggled to lift around 8kg. I did 4 sets of 10 reps, but on the final set I went to failure at 9 reps. My arms have lost all of their strength!
Again, this only made me want to work harder to get back to where I once was.
I did more cycling – this time I did 100 minutes because I wanted to push myself a little more.
I feel like my strongest area right now is in the strength of my legs. I decided to do a leg workout afterwards and that went well too. Standard squats were too easy, so I began working up the progressions. My goal was to get to a pistol-squat.
I did 3 sets of 8 reps of Bulgarian split squats (on each leg).
I was so happy that I could begin progressing in one area of my body! That slither of hope really helped motivate me. Because of that, I wrote a programme for myself with the goal of strengthening my core, chest, and arms, so that I might be able to begin progressing back to regular press-ups again.
My goals are simple right now, but that allows me to focus more effectively.
This was a rest day. I went for a walk but for the most part I just gave my body the day to recover.
This was the first day of a more organised programme. I did cardio for 30 minutes on my exercise bike and then worked on my chest and arms with press-ups and dips (4 sets of 8-10 reps – three rounds of this).
This was the hardest I had pushed myself in a long time, so by the end I was breathing heavily and it took a long time to get my heartrate down enough so I didn’t feel sick.
I was happy with that workout. I felt like I had worked hard, but I did another 60 minutes of cardio a few hours later while I watched some TV.
It had been a week of working out. This was the second day of a more structured programme so it was leg day. I warmed up on the exercise bike, did a few sets of mountain climbers, and then worked on Bulgarian split squats before getting into my harder workout.
My workout was a circuit of 45 second exercises, with a 15 second rest between them. I did lunges, deep squats, calf-raises, and finished the circuit with a wall-sit. I completed this circuit three times before my legs gave in 20 seconds into the final wall-sit!
My legs were certainly better off than my arms after three years away from the rugby pitch and the gym.
I wanted to share my first week here because I know that there are a lot of other people in my position, even if they have never done regular exercise before.
No matter how you begin, whether that be with very low weights or with the easiest press-ups, there is always a way to strengthen your muscles in order to progress onto the next, harder exercise.
Today marks the second week of my exercise routine and it’s going so well! I have progressed from incline box-press-ups to incline regular press-ups. I’m struggling with every rep, but I can do them and I can feel the exercises becoming easier.
These small advances in strength are what keep me going. I think the biggest tip I can give anyone who is starting their journey is to start small. Give yourself small goals. Maybe not easy, but simple. I want to be able to do at least one regular press-up by Christmas. I am doing everything I can to try and achieve that as soon as possible, but because it’s such a simple goal, I am not overwhelmed so it’s easy to keep motivated.
I have the advantage of training for three years at school, so I know a lot of the exercises and routines. I know how to put together a simple programme for building strength, because I did it for so long and I had a very experienced trainer at my school gym too. If you don’t have this kind of training, then I would suggest looking for simple bodyweight exercise routines online. If you find the wealth of information a little overwhelming, just focus on the basics: squats, press-ups, and dips. Look up the progressions for those exercises and start where you can do at least 8 reps of the movement.
I will write another update after a month to show my progression from this week, but if anyone has any questions or would like to see more about my exercise routines, please let me know in the comments!
Join me on social media for updates on posts and for all the random thoughts I choose to share to the world! See you there!
Featured Image by ZOE-Animation-Studio