Why you should try the 'anti-January fitness challenge' this new year

The new year can be the perfect opportunity to revamp your fitness regime.

It can be tempting to hit the gym or get back into your running all guns blazing after a relatively sedentary Christmas period – after all that sitting around watching movies and eating cheese, our bodies want to move.

But going out too hard, too fast can be detrimental to our overall progress. Jumping straight into high-intensity fitness after a big break can put you at risk of injury, it can also impact your motivation if your new routine isn’t actually sustainable.

January is also a time that is laden with pressure to transform your life, your health, your body. It can quickly become toxic when there is an excessive focus on weight-loss and ‘punishing’ yourself for Christmas indulgence. But your relationship with exercise needn’t start this way in 2022.

So, instead of pushing ourselves to the limit the moment we have digested our Boxing Day dinner, why not try the ‘anti-January fitness challenge’ this new year, and focus on doing less, listening to your body, and moving in a way nourishes and protects both your muscles and your mind?

‘January is so often the time that we embark on lifestyle changes which almost always include an exercise routine,’ says personal trainer Karen Preene.

‘We’re pumped up with the motivation of new-year-new-me and go hell for leather. For about two weeks. Maybe three if we’re lucky.

‘What if we tried something new this year? Something a bit kinder and more soothing.

‘Exercise can be an external stressor on the body and we need to give our bodies a chance to adapt. And with so many of us experiencing pandemic burnout, the last thing we probably need is to put more pressure on ourselves or create unnecessary stress from going all-out.’

Fitness trainer Julia Buckley agrees. She says the biggest mistake people make when they’re new to regular exercise is overdoing it.

‘I know exactly how it feels to want to overhaul your body and your lifestyle in the fastest time possible, but the way to get that done is by pacing yourself,’ Julia tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Who finished a marathon faster – the runner who dashes off the start line in a pace they haven’t trained for and ends up hobbling after the first mile? Or the runner who starts out nice and steady at a pace they’re confident they can sustain, only speeding up later when they know they’re ready to up the intensity?’

Julia says enthusiasm is a good thing, but she has seen what happens when people have unrealistic expectations of themselves – it never ends well.

‘So please, for the first couple of weeks just focus on getting into a habit of regular exercise,’ she suggests. ‘Three workouts per week is definitely enough.

‘You can also bring in a few changes to what you eat. But just don’t try to beast yourself into daily workouts or super-strict dieting. You probably already know how that ends, so let’s play this smart.’

How to do the anti-January fitness challenge

‘Sometimes, the last thing we need at the beginning of a new year is the addition of a gruelling new workout regime,’ Karen tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Starting out gentler and slower gives us time to recover from the busy festive season, it gives us a chance to breath and relax and ease our way into a new year, and it also gives us the chance to check in with our bodies and give them what they need whether that be rest, stretching, a gentle jog, or some heavy deadlifts.’

Here are Karen’s top tips for starting a new habit with exercise that doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing:

Why you should try swimming for a low-impact option

It’s beneficial to do less in the new year – such as low impact swimming because it’s an all-over workout.

It’s good for the heart, it’s therapeutic and it’s also a great way to burn calories without knowing you have. An hour of swimming a day is the equivalent to two hours of running. Swimming is also good for mental health, well being. 

Swimming is a gentle way to get a full-body workout (Picture: Getty)

In terms of the physical benefits, swimming keeps your heart rate up but is low impact. It builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness, it helps people to maintain a healthy weight, heart and lungs.

A good way to get started is to set yourself a target every other day, so 30 minutes of swimming with any stroke you’re comfortable with, makes a huge difference.

Swimming has truly changed my life and I want to help others feel the same.
I recommend this as one of the best exercises for the new year. It’s fun being in the water, even if you’re walking up and down using some of the aqua equipment to do stretches, the core and for arms/legs.

Qualified swimming instructor, Minreet Kaur 

What about if you like to have more of a structure to your new year workout plan?

Boutique London gym BLOK has already started to embrace a more sustainable approach to movement – with low-intensity classes such as Pilates, Barre and Yin Yoga proving increasingly popular – and they have launched a gentler programme to ease you in to the new year.

‘Our ethos is all about balanced training and finding that sweet spot to make your body more resilient,’ says Lotti Maddox, head of movement at BLOK.

‘For those drawn to fast-paced or high-intensity classes, it is so important to lay solid foundations in classes like Pilates or BLOKmove, and focus on recovery and the parasympathetic nervous system with the likes of Yin Yoga,’ she adds. 

In line with this thinking, BLOK will be running a sustainable training challenge in January. Rather than overexerting yourself, members are encouraged to rebuild their fitness slowly, combining restorative classes with high-intensity sessions throughout the month and slowly progressing the number of workouts they do per week.

‘Any form of exercise will put a small amount of stress on your body to make it more resilient against greater stress,’ explains Lotti. ‘But too much stress will start to wear you down, rather than build you up.’

They are calling it the anti-January challenge.

‘We want to encourage our members to try new things,’ says Lotti. ‘Remember it’s a process for the mind and body. To be bad at things and to get better at them and maybe even master them is just as important for adults as it is for children. Challenging yourself like that is, sometimes, exactly what your body needs.’

You can sign up any time from 3rd January and before midnight on Jan 29th on their website – you can complete the challenge in studio, on BLOKtv, or combine digital and physical training together.

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