by Dr. Rob Gruttadauria, DPT, OCS

It’s January 1. You’re hungover, you’re exhausted, and now your alarm is going off at 8 a.m. What the heck is going on? Oh, that’s right – you made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Time to workout.

Ugh.

Weight loss and exercise goals are the most common New Year’s resolutions, evidenced by the packed gyms you’ll find in January as everyone rushes to shed the holiday pounds. But these resolutions are also the ones most often broken. By February, most people have abandoned their fitness resolutions and the gym crowds recede.

As you head back to the gym, increase your chances of being successful (and injury-free) this year by following the three guidelines below.

#1 Have Patience

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to have patience. If you want to meet your goals of losing weight, gaining strength or having a healthier lifestyle, you need to be in this for the long haul, and that requires ramping up slowly.

I often see people injure themselves by pushing their body too hard, too fast. In their excitement to reach their goals, they end up with overuse injuries like stress fractures, or pain in their heels, ankles, knees, and hips. These injuries can take weeks or months to heal.

If you’re totally new to the gym, it is a bad idea to ramp up your workouts too quickly. Start by doing less, and gradually increase.

If you’re returning to the gym after some time off, keep this in mind: you shouldn’t start right back where you finished the last time, no matter how ready you think you are. Your mind, heart and lungs might be ready — but that doesn’t mean your musculoskeletal system is.

Whether you’re totally new to the gym or coming back after time off: take it slow, especially in the first few weeks of exercising. Your body will thank you.

#2 Set the Right Goal

You’ll never meet your goal if you don’t set one.

You want to pick a goal that is specific, measurable and easy to track. Some people choose goals that are too vague (“I want to go to the gym more”), difficult to measure (“I want to be healthier”), to tougher to track (“I want to lose 10 pounds).

What do “more” and “healthier” mean in these resolutions? A once-a-month gym visit might be more than you’re doing now, but it may not pay off with results. Eating an apple a day may be “healthier” than your diet now, but won’t mean much if you also keep snacking on soda and chips twice a day.  And while weight is important to your health, it’s an unreliable day-to-day measurement – it fluctuates (sometimes hourly) depending on what and when you’ve eaten and a number of other factors.

The less specific, less measurable, or tougher-to-track a goal is, the less chance you’ll see progress and the more likely you are to quit along the way. Reachable goals are specific, measurable and easy to track on a day-to-day, workout-by-workout basis.

If you’re not sure what goal to set, take the American Heart Association’s recommendation for losing weight: Set a goal to be able to complete 60 minutes of cardio, five times a week, in four months time. For your first week back at the gym, start by walking on the treadmill (or outside!) for 15 minutes, 2 or 3 times a week.

#3 Don’t forget to warm up

Use dynamic stretching to warm up before you work out. Performance Physical Therapy CEO Dr. Michelle Collie explains in this video what dynamic stretches to do.

Dr. Rob Gruttadauria, DPT, OCS, is clinical director at the Seekonk Street, Providence Performance Physical Therapy location. He has clinical expertise in Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA), Functional Movement Screening (FMS), orthopedic, neurological, and post-surgical rehabilitation, sports rehabilitation, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.