Has your rest day turned into a rest month, or even a rest year? We asked James Duigan, Founder of Bodyism: Clean and Lean for his top tips for getting your fitness goals back on track after a break

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Feeling like there’s no point getting back on the fitness wagon after falling off? You’re not alone. Whether it’s work deadlines, family commitments, life circumstances, bad weather or simply the lure of a night in watching Goggle Box proving to be our get-fit pitfall, greeting exercise with open arms after a lengthy pause can feel like seeing an ex for the first time after a messy break up - painful, embarrassing and awkward.

However, they say it’s not how you fall down that matters but how you get back up. So with that in mind, what actually works when it comes to dusting ourselves off and returning to healthier habits? How can you get your fitness levels back on a high when you're feeling decidedly unfit?

We asked James Duigan, Founder of Bodyism: Clean and Lean  and Get The Gloss Expert  for his top fitness tips and how to get back in the saddle (or indeed on the treadmill) when the gym has become all but a distant memory...

How long does it actually take to get out of shape?

Annoyingly, not very long. “Sadly without regular training, anyone can lose their fitness very quickly regardless of age or experience,” says James. “The good news for more experienced exercisers though is that once you start retraining again it is easier, and normally quicker, to get your fitness levels back as your body and muscles ‘remember’ how they used to behave before.”

How much can we rely on muscle memory?

While muscle memory can prove to be the most valuable of gym buddies, it can’t be relied on solely. “Muscle memory is great for keeping your muscles in shape during regular training and for helping your muscles to get back in shape following a fitness break,” explains James. “Unfortunately though, muscle memory alone won’t really help your muscles that much during your break as they need to be used regularly in order to avoid muscle wastage.”

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How can we get fit again?

Three words - GPS - goals, prizes and structure; a sure-fire action plan for finding our way back to our former fitter selves. “Identifying a goal you want to achieve is one of the best types of motivation, so I would definitely recommend deciding what you want to achieve before you start training again,” recommends James.

“Once you know this, then work out a realistic plan that you can build into your routine and stick to it! Give yourself little goals along the way and small rewards when you achieve them to help you stay on track – once you start to see results, you’ll be super motivated to keep going!”

How do we avoid getting disheartened?

Keep expectations positive, but above all realistic in order to give  fitness motivation  levels a boost. “It is definitely important to understand that fitness and building muscle strength is a process and you need to have realistic expectations – you can’t just expect to join the gym and be totally transformed in a month,” says James.

“Muscle training takes time and commitment, so try to find exercises that you enjoy doing to keep you interested in seeing the process through. If possible, try to rope in a friend to train with you, encourage each other on tough days and celebrate your progress together.”

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How do we balance active recovery with complete rest?

As with most things in life, balance is key - a certain level of rest is essential. “Rest days are often overlooked or squeezed out of people’s fitness plans in favour of more exercise, in the belief that the more you train the fitter you will be when actually rest days are very important in any training plan,” explains James. “They allow your body and muscles the time to recover and strengthen ahead of the next session and can also help to keep you motivated mentally, as no one wants to spend all their time in the gym!

“Exactly how many rest days vs active days you should have depends on your training plan, goals and level of fitness, but I advise most of my clients to train for a minimum of 3 days a week – any more is up to them!”

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What should we do if our main focus is weight loss after pregnancy?

When it comes to getting fit after pregnancy, what’s best? Firstly and above all else, be patient with yourself - your body has just done a pretty incredible thing! Next, ease your way back into it slowly. “Getting back into exercise after pregnancy can be daunting for many women but it needn’t be,” says James. “My advice would be to start with gentle exercise such as walking, yoga or swimming. Pilates is also great for building back your core strength. As soon as you feel able to, try to get back to your pre-pregnancy exercise routine.”

How should we go about getting back into fitness after ill health?

Similarly, getting back into fitness after ill health should be approached with caution to begin with. ”If you’ve had a break from exercise due to sickness, do be cautious on returning to your fitness plan until you feel 100% recovered and be aware of any hangovers from your illness such as weakness or low energy,” advises James.

“If you are really concerned and depending on the illness, it is always best to speak with your Doctor just to make sure you are approaching your return to exercise in the right way.”

Where to start

Follow us  @getthegloss , James  @JamesDuigan  and Ayesha  @Ayesha_Muttu .