Your Fittest Year Starts Here!

This customizable new-year-new-you shape-up guide will ensure you make a head-turning comeback—no matter what got you off track

By: Lesley Rotchford 

Get Fit for Good

Photo Credit: Tom Schirmacher

Unlike other vacations, exercise breaks generally last longer than you'd like—and the mementos they come with are ones you'd rather not hang on to. You know how it goes: Two missed workouts snowball into two months of missed workouts, and suddenly you can't button your jeans or do a pushup to save your life. In fact, research shows that body fat, weight, and waist size can rise—and fitness levels can dip—after just a five-week hiatus. (Want to slip back into your skinny jeans? Try these 4 Lower-Body Exercises.)

But 'tis the season of clean slates (appropriately following the season of full plates), so it's the perfect time to make your comeback. Whatever's been keeping you on the sidelines—a hectic holiday season, a hot-and-heavy relationship, an injury, a new baby, or a crazy work schedule—this customizable plan will help you bust your rut and then some. "After falling out of their routine, a lot of people make the mistake of going right back to their previous workout, and then they wake up the next day and can't so much as brush their teeth without a lot of pain," says Joe Dowdell, owner of Peak Performance in New York City. He created a program that has varying break-in periods before escalating the intensity.(Video: Stay on track while at work with these simple tips)

But we know it's not just physical roadblocks; there are psychological and logistical challenges, as well. That's why we also asked experts how to tackle tricky setbacks (see the "Comeback Conundrums.") No matter where you are now, this plan is your road map to a hotter, healthier body.

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Comeback Conundrum: You recently had a baby

Intense exercise is usually off-limits for six weeks postpartum. After that, sheer exhaustion can keep moms couched.

Training Tip: Even if you're wiped, pop in a DVD or slip your baby in the stroller for a brisk walk. It will boost your energy and help you sleep better, says Michael Mantell, Ph.D., senior fitness consultant for behavioral sciences for the American Council on Exercise. "And in the long term, exercising will fend off postpartum depression."

Mental Trick: Mentally commit to just five to 10 minutes of exercise. If you don't feel energized after that time period has elapsed, try again later or take the day off and try again tomorrow. (Are you looking for a fast workout? Here’s how to Tone Your Arms in 15 Minutes.)

Comeback Conundrum: You work insane hours

Twelve-hour workdays don't leave much time for boot camps or long runs in the park (or even short runs in the park!)

Training Tip: Plan workouts when you have the fewest conflicts, which for most people is first thing in the a.m. Not an early riser? Inch your alarm back a little every few days; it will gradually reset your body's clock, so you'll have more energy, says Ken Baum, author of The Mental Edge. If you love (or need) to hit the gym at night, get changed before you leave work. That initial step will help you follow through. (A great way to start your day? This Energizing Yoga Routine.)

Mental Trick: Keep this in mind: not only can daily exercise help your mental sharpness, learning, and memory, but a recent study found that working out three or more times a week leads to higher pay.

Comeback Conundrum: You're in the new-love bubble

Morning exercisers find it tough to get out of bed when there's a guy lying next to them; evening exercisers have a hard time passing up romantic dinners in favor of workouts.

Training Tip: Work out when he's not around—say, during your lunch break or built into girls' night (hit up a Pilates class and then head to dinner). Even better, get him to do it with you. "Working out together fosters good communication and mutual support," says Mantell. "It also gives you a shared interest."

Mental Trick: Turns out, exercise can do more to boost your sex life than sharing a bottle of wine: Research shows that frequent exercisers have more feelings of sexual desirability. And yes, spending time with your man is important, but one study found that women who do their own thing have happier marriages. (Is your boyfriend making you fat? Learn How to Beat Relationship Weight Gain.)

Comeback Conundrum: You were sidelined by injury

People either rush into their former workouts, which puts them at risk for another injury, or are so afraid of getting hurt again they put it off altogether.

Training Tip: After your doctor clears you, scale back your routine by at least 50 percent for two weeks, says exercise physiologist Jonathan Cane. (Or pick our "Out of Shape" routine.) Back off a bit if you begin nursing the area: Favoring a sore spot throws off your form, which can cause new injuries. (Nourish your body back to health with these 15 Superfoods You Should Be Eating.)

Mental Trick: "Challenge those negative, 'poor me' thoughts," says Mantell. "Staying positive may sound like psychobabble, but it really works." And while it's normal to be nervous, you can trust your doctor's orders when he gives you the A-OK, says Trent Petrie, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sport Psychology at the University of North Texas.

Comeback Conundrum: You partied too hard over the holidays

Weeks of eating, drinking, and partying (and not exercising) have left you feeling overwhelmed by the idea of having to undo the damage.

Training Tip: Hitting the gym hard in January can quickly lead to burnout. Rather than double your sessions or hours of cardio, choose manageable activities, like yoga or short strength circuits. (Tone your body calm your mind with this At-Home Yoga Routine.)

Mental Trick: There's this feeling of, Oh, what the hell, it's too late now. But keep in mind, it's easier to drop two pounds than 10, which could happen if you delay your comeback. You don't have to give up all indulgences cold turkey, either. Make one healthy swap or change each day to ease back on track.

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