Shifting Gears vs. Taking a Break

Shifting Gears vs. Taking a Break

Shifting Gears vs. Taking a Break

How to Handle Vacations, Injuries, Illness, and More

It often happens with brand new clients. During the consultation, the client commits to 2-3 sessions a week, claiming that they “hardly ever travel,” and that they can stick to a very consistent schedule.

But then they have the 9-day vacation that they “hardly ever do.” Like, “really never.”

Then they have a small surgery and have to take a break from more intense exercise. “I’ll start up again once I’m totally recovered!”

Then the flu takes over their house and they spend the better part of a week puking, when they’re not taking care of puking kids. “Ugh, I’ll catch up once the kids are back in school!”

Then, they spend part of the month on a work trip that was totally out of the blue. “I can’t plan my work dinners, but I’ll be back on track as soon as I’m home!”

By the end of the second or third month, the client says, “This is so weird! My life is never like this!”

Also frequently heard:

“Next month it will settle down.”

However, I’ve had enough clients at this point to shake my head sadly and say, “Actually, it’s always been like this, and it will always be like this. You just never noticed.”

Mindset is Everything

We have a perception that our lives are smooth, unbroken, sailing paths, with infrequent but major changes in direction, like marriage, career promotions, childbirth, or geographical moves.

However, our lives are often more like a sailing boat “tacking” – constantly course-correcting, making small adjustments, dealing with a continuous stream of interruptions, obstacles, and challenges.

Life is always like that. We’re always taking weekends away, dealing with small (or large) inconveniences, handling illness both for ourselves and family members, recovering from minor (or major) surgical procedures, taking pets to the vet, attending programs at the kids’ school, or going to a family wedding.

However, we often don’t notice it, because we’re not making an effort to have a continuous thread of growth. But once someone starts personal training and nutrition coaching, that quality of life – the constant state of flux and minor emergencies – becomes glaringly apparent.

And once that happens, there’s two ways to deal with it.

Taking a Break

When someone adopts a “take a break” mentality, I know that they’re going to struggle to see results.


Someone who puts things on hold every time there’s a minor lifestyle interruption has a lack of personal agency. They see life as happening to them, and have a fixed idea of what ideal conditions would allow them to consistently apply healthier lifestyle strategies.

And when reality doesn’t line up with that ideal world, they “take a break,” put the program on pause, and wait for things to settle down.

Why is this such a problem?

Things only “settle down” a few times a year, for most people! Which means that you’re “on a break” most of the time!

Shifting Gears

The way to handle lifestyle challenges that will result in long-term fitness and health success is just a very small adjustment in thinking: translate “taking a break” into “shifting gears.” 

If you’re driving a car and the traffic starts to slow, you wouldn’t pull the car over to the side of the road, turn off the ignition, and wait for the traffic to pass.

You downshift, and keep going at a slower speed until the traffic loosens up.


But it’s not so obvious in lifestyle issues.

Your mindset dictates how you will respond to the challenges of life. And if you are constantly pulling your car over and going into a full stop, you will never get to your destination.

You will only get to your destination in a timely manner if you understand how to downshift.

Examples of Shifting Gears

My clients who have developed a growth-oriented mindset know how to downshift. They have honed their ability to confront life as a series of interruptions and constantly-changing standards. They have crafted a healthy relationship with ambiguity and uncertainty. It doesn’t mean they’re perfect (because no one is), but they are able to maintain a continuous thread of fitness and smart nutrition that spans changes, challenges, and obstacles.

Here are some real-life examples from actual clients:

  • I have had four clients in boots (for broken feet, broken toes, etc.). These clients continue training, and focus on core work, upper body, low-impact lower body moves, and nutrition. One of these clients in particular went on to train for a half marathon, completed three more, and is now training for the NYC Marathon.  Downshifting allowed her to accomplish this goal, because she didn’t totally lose her fitness during her months in the boot.
  • I have had multiple clients continue their training on vacation using Skype, photos, e-mails, and texts. I have a Skype session with one of my clients on vacation 15 minutes from now, actually! My other client who is on vacation sends me videos and pictures of her workouts from her cruise ship gym. Downshifting is allowing these clients to continue pursuing physique goals even though vacation is typically a no-holds-barred time of “cheating” on your regular way of eating.
  • I have had multiple clients who have high-pressure, intense jobs, and they meal prep and pack snacks nonetheless. They find other ways to network besides a daily lunch out with co-workers. They fit in their workouts around their tight schedules. They develop a healthier relationship with work deadlines and angry bosses, knowing that handing in a report a day early is not a life-or-death issue, whereas staying healthy really is.
  • I have had multiple clients with back injuries and disc issues, and they absolutely must take a break from running and other high-impact activities. However, it’s  great opportunity to focus more on low-impact exercise, strength, and gaps in their fitness. Sometimes their overall fitness improves during the gear shift from cardio to strength.
You Can Change Your Mindset

Please notice: never, ever in this post did I say, “There are two types of clients.”

I don’t believe that, because I am firmly convinced that everyone can learn new skills and adopt new mindsets.

Some people already have a growth-oriented mindset when they start training, because they have developed this life skill in other situations, and have a knack for turning lemons into lemonade. But for many people, training is the first time that they start focusing on building a continuous, unbroken habit, and the learning curves can be unsettling.

What about you?

Do you put the car in park, or do you downshift? Do you frequently say the following statements?

  • I’ll be really good when I get back from vacation.
  • I’m starting again on Monday. Day 1!
  • I’m so busy this week, I simply don’t have time to work out. Next week will be better.
  • Things will settle down next month.

If the answer is yes, then the best thing you can do for your fitness and health is to change your mindset from this:

“Life is generally smooth sailing, with infrequent interruptions that are exceptional.”

…To this:

“Life is constantly changing and presenting new challenges, and the smooth sailing periods are exceptional.” 

If you can manage to make peace with the fact that life is constantly throwing curve balls at you, you can empower yourself to rise above the circumstances of every day life. You won’t be a victim of your car breaking down. You won’t be limited by injury or illness. Your health and wellbeing won’t be captive to your kids’ inevitably chaotic schedules. You won’t need to “start over” again every time there’s a vacation or holiday.

What will life be like when you don’t have to start over, over, over, over, and over again?

It’s pretty great.

You will be in the driver’s seat, with the ability to downshift to the appropriate level of intensity when life is particularly tough, and kick it into high gear when you have the open road!