Professional Advice for Getting Back into a Regular Exercise Routine

By Lainey Havertape, PT, DPT

spring-workoutSpringtime is finally here! This is typically the time of year when many people start wanting to be more active. If you are one of those people and are looking for some motivation towards participating in a regular exercise routine, I have a few tips that may be helpful!

As a physical therapist, former personal trainer, and U.S. Navy Fitness Leader, I have seen many people try and fail at integrating exercise as a long-term lifestyle change. One thing that I often see is that people set their goals too high. In our culture, we seem to hold running as the ultimate form of fitness. However, if you are jumping into an exercise regimen from a relatively inactive lifestyle, is it realistic that running will be comfortable (or even fun)?

It is not uncommon to see born-again exercisers making it a goal to tired-runnerstart running again. They start out attempting to run 1-2 miles, and realize that they are too winded to finish (not to mention the pain and soreness that follows, which usually prevents new runners from exercising again the following day). These patients now see running an unpleasant experience and feel like they failed because they could not complete their goal.

When working with clients, I try my best to set an attainable goal for them. I will tell someone to ride a recumbent or upright bike for 10 to 15 minutes, three days per week. Sound easy? That’s the point! If you find yourself reluctant to get to the gym or dust off the stationary bike in the basement, simply say to yourself, “All I have to do is 10 minutes. I can do that and it doesn’t sound like torture.” Clients will often return to me and say they started doing 20 minutes three times per week because when they got to 15 minutes, they felt like doing a little more. In addition, you not only reached your goal, you surpassed it and you started fitting exercise into your routine!

Finding the right time of day for yourself is also important. I often tell people to not worry about when they do it. Fitness magazines sometimes report that exercising in the morning is better. My opinion is that you just need to exercise. Fit it into the most convenient time of day for yourself to help set you up for success. The other piece of advice I have is to pick an exercise that you actually enjoy, or at the very least, something you don’t mind doing. That way motivation is even less of an issue to get yourself moving regularly.

Here are some other ideas to help you get going:

  • Don’t like to run? The stair stepper/climber is an excellent way to get your heart rate up. Beware,

    ‘Get Running’ app

    though, as exercisers often avoid this machine because of how intense it is! Try just three to five minutes to start. Get your heart rate up then walk on a treadmill or hop on an elliptical for another 20-25 minutes.

  • If you do want to get into running, start out doing some interval programs (alternating walking and running). Get Running (Couch to 5K) is an app for your phone that has structured interval workouts to help slowly build you up to running for 30 minutes.
  • Hill walking on a treadmill is also an excellent workout. You can use the programs on the treadmill or you can make up your own. Here is an example of what I like to do: 0% incline for 2 minutes, 3% incline for 2 minutes, 6% incline for 2 minutes, 9% incline for 2 minutes then back down to 0% incline and repeat the cycle. You only have to do this cycle 3 times, and then you’ve already gotten 24 minutes of cardio in! If you have knee or lower back problems, use lower incline settings. Adjust your speed to what is comfortable for you (a speed at which you are able to still maintain good upright posture).
  • boaredatthegymDo you find yourself getting bored at the gym easily? Start exploring new machines! Try 10 minutes on the upright bike, 2-5 minutes on the stair stepper or VersaClimber (the tall machine where you step like on a stair stepper while using your arms as well), 10 minutes on the elliptical, and 5 minutes on the rowing machine. Time will fly! Don’t be intimidated to ask fitness center personnel how to use a piece of equipment. That’s what they are there for!


  • Are you more of an outdoorsy type? Ride bikes with your kids, partner, or friend to the tennis courts and hit a ball around (substitute basketball, throwing a baseball, etc). Even if you’re not the best athlete, it can still be fun! Added bonus if you ride your bike to the activity!
  • Check out your local walking/hiking trails. It’s a bit flat in this part of the Midwest, so I like to find a trail with at least one good hill and go up and down it a few times before continuing on my hike to boost my heart rate.
  • If you don’t have a gym membership, putting on music and dancing at home is really fun! Put on your favorite Pandora station and shake it! You can combine this with doing a few free-weight exercises or core exercises. You can do intervals of dancing for 5 minutes, do a few core and free-weight exercises (or your physical therapy exercises if you have some), then dance again for 5 minutes. Repeat this cycle until you reach your desired workout time.
  • The internet has a wealth of free exercise videos that range around all levels of experience. Take a minute to Google some fitness blogs to find one that suits your lifestyle or fitness level.

You can check out the American College of Sports Medicine website for the most current exercise recommendations (duration, frequency, and heart rate). Variety is key for staying active long-term. Variety helps to keep you engaged in staying active and it also helps prevent overuse injuries. Once you have been regularly exercising for a couple of months, you will start to feel better than ever. The goal is to get to a point in life where you actually feel worse when you don’t exercise. Set yourself up for success, be realistic when starting out, and be creative! Good luck!


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