Whether it be a new job, a new baby, a holiday, an injury, life happens and sometimes we have to take a long break from exercise. When we finally begin working out again, our body just doesn’t feel right – our lungs burn, muscles are sluggish and it feels like something is going to break! So when we are trying to get back into shape, should we ease into it or should we dive in headfirst and shock our system? Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution, an uncooperative wardrobe or an unfriendly bathroom mirror, knowing how to get back into exercise without injuring oneself is what this blog is all about. Keep the following tips in mind and you’ll be back on track before you know it! There’s no reason to let getting back in shape intimidate you.
Firstly, What Happens When We Get Out Of Shape?
When we quit working out for 2-3 months, we lose at least half our aerobic fitness as our lungs lose elasticity, blood vessels shrink, blood volume decreases, we use oxygen less efficiently and our heart pumps less blood per beat… AARGH!!!
Even more annoying is the fact that our muscles begin to significantly lose strength after just 72 hours of no exercise.
Turn the intensity down by 20%
- cardio fitness starts to diminish within 3 days, but it’s also the fastest fitness parameter to regain relatively quickly
- after a break of a week or longer, reduce your previous workout intensity by at least 20%
- break up your typical routine and give yourself some rest during your workout that you may not have needed when you were exercising regularly
- try doing 10 to 15 minutes, grab some water and then add on another 5 to 10. Don’t jump back in doing 30 minutes straight at your typical pace!
- with a moderate cardio workout three times a week, allow at least 1 day between each session
- if you play a team sport or attend a fitness class where there isn’t an opportunity to take rest breaks, try building your fitness level back up again doing a mini pre-season, eg 3-4 weeks before returning to the team or class
- strength gains stick around a little longer than cardio fitness does, with muscle loss occurring within 3 to 4 weeks
- you can expect weaker bones, ligaments, and tendons, which is when your risk of injury especially increases – reduce your load, reps, and sets by 20% and increase your rest periods and then pay attention to how you feel
- the best way to monitor if your workout is safe is to be mindful of the quality of your reps
- stop when you become weak, your repetitions become slow, or your form begins to break
- with resistance training twice a week, allowing 2 days for a muscle group to recover
Be choosy about what moves you do
- you should build your base. Use total-body exercises (rather than ones that focus on one muscle at a time) that move multiple joints at once—think squats and push-ups over biceps curls and calf raises
- avoid workout routines that have a lot of jumping, plyometrics, twisting, and fast movements until you’re up to speed with your strength and cardio
Have a realistic time frame in mind
- the longer your break, the more time you need to give yourself for your comeback
- the average person who works out three to four times per week, it should take about 4 to 8 weeks to return to full strength
- remember that exercise is physical stress and too much too quickly can cause injury and really set you back
- make small increments in progress — like lifting an extra 5kg or running for 5 more mins
- even if you don’t get injured, going whole hog can lead to serious muscle soreness and uncomfortable recovery periods between workouts
- try breaking up your sessions into smaller increments e.g. brisk walking for 15 mins in the morning and again at night instead of your usual 30 min walk/jog
Don’t focus on how fit you used to be
- focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past. Getting back into shape can be discouraging, especially if you clearly remember how fit you used to be
- track your performance measurements e.g. kgs lifted or distance ran. Enjoy watching them increase from week to week
- use an exercise diary or app like My Fitness Pal to track not only your performance but your dietary intake
- reward yourself for getting back into it and meeting your short-term goals
Take Home Message
Use the first 2-4 weeks to ease your body back into shape. Then begin increasing intensity and by the 6-week mark, you will be feeling fit – instead of nursing sore and injured joints!