January 1st (or the first working day of the year); a day when everyone seems to be on a new diet, has joined the gym, become a runner and has a newfound motivation! We dust off our gym kit, or don our new running gear we got for Christmas and crack on with our new year’s resolutions. The start of a new year seems to signify a time when people often want to better their health. As someone who exercises regularly, the first week of January always seems horrendous to me. I know the uphill battle I face after eating way too much cheese and eating out at any given opportunity over the festive period. So I respect anyone who starts their new health kick in January.

After a month of overindulging, going out to meet friends, exercising less than we should have, starting a new routine now seems incredibly tough to me but if not now, then when? However, with these changes, we need to be realistic in what we can achieve. Far too often people set unrealistic goals that are unachievable or not able to be met in the time frame given.


Diet - the big one in January and where I think this blog should start. With a few extra pounds seen on the scales compared to the summer we often see people ‘crash’ dieting. Now, this can be great for weight loss; drop 2000+ calories a day down to 1000. You’ll likely see results quickly! But you’ll probably also be hungry, grumpy, tired, lethargic and maybe ill (sounds great when you want to start a new fitness routine too). This is not sustainable! Yes, you need a calorie deficit (more out than in) to lose weight but it has to be a realistic amount. We also need to consider our nutritional intake if we are starting a new exercise routine. When it comes to nutrition and dieting, I prefer to think of it as lifestyle changes, not a diet as this implies there is an end. Set a realistic weight or body shape you want to achieve; within a suitable time frame. And as said before, make this sustainable. Note, I say body shape, not just weight. If you hit the gym and do weight lifting, you’re like going to increase the weight with the increased muscle mass. So actually, going by body shape rather than weight alone can be a good way for people to assess their progress and to improve their confidence.

Whilst we are looking at our calories, it’s worth doing some homework on what nutrients we need too. This will vary from person to person and depends on various other factors e.g. how sedentary your lifestyle is or what you are training for. This is where you hear people talking about tracking their macros – carbohydrates, proteins and fats. A great way to monitor your nutrition is through apps. The ability to scan a barcode of prepackaged food, have readily available information on the nutrition of meals from a chain restaurants, and simply having to type in the weight of your pasta/chicken/broccoli can be a fantastic way to keep on top of your diet.

Goal setting & Planning – This wouldn’t be a physio blog without some goal setting. Whether your new training regime is for weight loss or you want to run a half marathon, you need to set yourself goals. Realistic goals. Achievable goals. If you can’t reach your goal because it’s unrealistic, your motivation will quickly drop off. You need to set short term and long term goals. Don't expect to run a half marathon in 4 weeks. But a long term goal of 6 months, with short term goals of progressive distance or pace, is certainly achievable. When designing your new exercise plan, make sure it fits your lifestyle as well. If you know Monday is a busy day at work, why not set this as your rest day. a good exercise plan is something you are able to stick to. It should feel like you are battling to find the time to complete it.

Progression – probably the most important tip from a physio perspective in this blog. Overloading and progressing too quickly is often what leads people to see a physio. We see new runners pick up running five times a week, with no other training modalities, and a few weeks into training, they are injured. We see weight lifters, trying to increase their bench press by 10kgs a week and wondering where their shoulder pain has come from. Progression takes time. And it is not all about how many miles you run a week or how much weight you can shift in one rep. Realistically 3-6 months is needed to start to see an obvious change in our strength, pace, muscle size and over perceived levels of exertion. There are countless training plans available online for all sports, abilities and fitness levels, therefore it’s well worth following one. But remember, these are guides, they don’t have to be followed religiously. This is particularly prudent during an injury. Don’t be tempted to continue following your plan if you are injured, you’ll likely end up worse off! We see this time and time again in running programmes, especial people who are new to running and have now started three times a week. There is a general guide/rule of a 10% increase a week in running distance to see progress but avoid injury. However, please remember this is a guide only, listen to your body.

Flexibility - it’s okay to set a semi-rigid plan. How boring would life be if we followed the same routine every day of the week? Take a day off the gym if you're fatigued or worn out from work. Have a cheeky midweek takeaway once in a while. Go for a swim instead of the run stated on your training programme. Don't burn yourself out and don’t get bored. It's a downhill slope from there! When making your new exercise/diet plan, allow rest days and more relaxed days for eating. Cater for unexpected events, both work-related and social. It's okay to miss a session but don't try and play catch up the next session. If you’ve made your own programme, make sure there’s some variety in it. Different exercises, different reps/sets, different paces etc. The same routine becomes boring very quickly! Unless you are a pro athlete who requires a strict routine, variation in our routine is great for the rest of us. Exercise should be fun and make us feel good. It shouldn’t be seen as a chore.

A note on Coronavirus and obesity - Another year, another virus mutation! However, I think it’s worth mentioning covid in the blog. There have been numerous studies published since the pandemic linking obesity with a higher mortality rate in covid patients. The risks of obesity are well documented and have been documented for years, yet the obesity epidemic continues to rise and we are seeing more and more children with obesity. Therefore, maybe this January really is the time to start that new health kick!