If you’ve been hibernating all winter (and who could blame you?), the thought of getting back into a regular fitness routine can seem a bit daunting. And while there’s no way around it—when you’re not in the habit of working out, you lose progress—don’t be deterred from sweating it out. Challenges can be a good thing!
There are some things to think about when you’re easing back into a workout routine whether you’ve been taking a break for the past couple of weeks, months, or even years. Miami-based Barry’s Bootcamp trainer Kellie Sikorskiand physical therapist Karena Wu, DPT, MS, CSCS, know what’s up when it comes to getting adjusted and avoiding injury. Here are 11 things to keep in mind as you kick-start that fitness grind.
1. Don’t overdo it right away. RyanJLane / Getty Images
“Doing too much too soon can overwhelm you mentally,” says Sikorski. “And a rigorous routine may eventually feel like too much to deal with, which in return make you feel defeated.” Understand that you’re probably not going to be as fit as you were, and that’s OK. You can start with just 10 minutes a day, the goal is just to get moving more. “People have a tendency to overdo it initially, and they end up because the body is not prepared for the extra activity,” says Wu. “Low-intensity workouts are a good way to reintroduce the body to activity, frequency, and duration.” After a week or two, you can bump up the intensity, she says, as long as you’re not losing form.
2. And begin with what works for you.
Do you only feel comfortable committing to one day a week initially? Great! Mark it on your calendar and stick with it. Don’t feel like you have to immediately start logging five to six gym workouts per week. “You can’t get to three to four days a week without mastering day one, so just start,” says Sikorski. As you get comfortable, try to work your way up to four days a week. “The body responds to consistency over time, so your results will come much faster if you can keep a regular pattern and frequency,” says Sikorski.
3. Make sure your workouts include three key components.
When you’re getting back into fitness, your exercise plan should include components of cardiovascular endurance, resistance training, and flexibility, says Sikorski. “Combined, all three components will give you the most longevity with your goals,” she says. And always remember to go at your own pace and listen to your body. Here’s what a perfect week of working out looks like.
4. Don’t forget to take those rest days!
Another reason not to jump into a six-days-a-week workout routine: Recovery is part of being active. “When you take a day off, your body isn’t. It’s actually working very hard to repair and replenish itself after all the work you put it through,” says Sikorski. “Rest days are key to long-term wellness. This is a lifestyle you’re creating now, so be realistic about your frequency,” she adds.
5. Start your workout with a good warm-up and end with a good cool-down. Matt Dutile / Getty Images
- How to Get Back to Working Out When You Took a Break from the Gym
- The 5 Best Workouts For Easing Back Into Exercise, According To An Expert
- Safely Easing Back into Fitness
- 7 Tips to Get Back Into Exercise After a Break
How to Get Back to Working Out When You Took a Break from the Gym
Getting back into a workout routine when you’ve taken time off is intimidating, so I’ve outlined a guide to help you ease in without losing motivation or risking injury. Just remember: It’s all about baby steps!
Keep in mind, your level of progression is largely based upon your total time off, the reason for the break (surgery, work, children), and your level of fitness prior to it. (You’ll totally relate to The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Taking a Workout Hiatus.) I advise returning to a workout program in a progressive manner. If you start off by placing too large of a demand on your body, you run the risk of injury and a quick regression backward. Being so sore the next day that you are hobbling down the stairs does not indicate a quality workout.
1. Start with Flexibility Workouts
Your first progressive step forward should be to integrate a couple days of flexibility workouts in order to increase blood flow and circulation while assisting in range of motion and joint mobility. Flexibility is one of the most overlooked protocols of fitness routines, and establishing these protocols early on will allow your body to properly readjust to the new demands that will be placed on it. If you have access to health club or fitness professional, I recommend signing up for a flexibility or beginner yoga class. (Or do it without leaving the house: try this beginner yoga flow video to increase flexibility.) Select 10 to 15 stretches, performing each flexibility movement for up to 1 minute.
2. Add Easy Cardio
Next, depending on your schedule and time commitment, try incorporating light cardiorespiratory workouts after a couple stretching or yoga sessions. If weather permits, a brisk 20-minute outdoor walk will help invigorate your mind and get your body moving again. (Other options: try this low-impact HIIT workout for beginners or walking workout for gentle indoor cardio.) The treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bike are great indoor alternatives. If you had a well-established fitness base prior to a month-long break, your first week may include light jogging as opposed to walking.
3. Start Strength Training
After the first week of flexibility and light cardio, start to incorporate strength workouts into your routine. (Try this gentle strength training workout for getting back into the gym.) Your time away from fitness probably involved a lot of sitting, which causes weakness in your posterior chain. These muscles are important for basic everyday movement, as well as keeping your spine erect when at your desk. That is why is at this point one must look to incorporate exercises that improve posture, develop core strength, and activate muscles throughout your gluteus and hamstring regions.
Exercises like squats, lunges, bridges, TRX hamstring curls, stability ball mobility, and core work will help to activate these areas. TRX workouts and bodyweight workouts are ideal for working these muscles and create a safe transition back into your fitness regimen because you can work within your own fitness level. Try these:
- Total-Body TRX Workout
- TRX Workout: 7 Moves to Build Muscle
- The 9-Minute Power Plank Workout
- The Easy Way to Amazing Abs
The 5 Best Workouts For Easing Back Into Exercise, According To An Expert
Getting back into exercise after you haven’t done it in a while can be rough, which is why it’s important to know exactly how to ease back into working out, the right way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten super excited for a new exercise regiment, only to totally overdo it the first few days and end up right back on the couch.
In an interview over email with Bustle, running enthusiast and certified personal trainer Kyanna Buchanan says, “The most common mistake I see people make when trying to ease into working out again is doing too much, too quickly. Often times we want to “get fit quick,” without having the proper knowledge and tools to achieve our fitness goals in a genuine manner.”
This, Buchanan says, can lead to a vicious cycle of yo-yo exercising, in which we workout intensely and regularly for a short period of time, but then just end up going back to our old ways.
Truth be told, Buchanan described my exact exercise MO But luckily, she also sent along some tips for getting back into exercise the proper way. So if you’re about to hop back on the exercise horse after not having done it in a while, here are five tips for easing back in.
Yoga With Adriene on YouTube
Yoga is the very first exercise Buchanan mentions when I ask her what the best types of workouts are for getting back into things. “Yoga relaxes and loosens the body preparing it for exercise,” she says. And the nice thing about yoga is you can do it at a studio, or for absolutely free at home with guided videos, like the above from YouTube.
If you have access to a pool, Buchanan says that swimming is a great way to add cardio to your workout without putting too much stress on your body. Swimming was even ranked number one on a list of the best exercises you can ever do in an article from Harvard Medical School. So it may be worth trading in you gym membership for a pool membership, or at the very least making sure your gym has swimming facilities.
3. Light Strength Training
Buchanan also recommends combining light strength training with swimming and/or yoga when you first start working out again. But remember, keep it light at first. This means you shouldn’t go to the gym and reach for the amount of weight you lifted or squatted during your pique fitness days in college. You won’t gain anything if you’re so sore the next day that you can’t work out for a week.
OK, full disclosure — this is a personal tip, but I just had to throw it in because biking has seriously revolutionized my daily life. It’s an extremely enjoyable way to get moving that doesn’t leave you with shin splints, sore knees, or pained feet the next day. Plus, if you live in a city like I do, it can genuinely be the fastest and most cost-efficient way to get around. I had friends who raved about their bikes for years, but it wasn’t until I got my own that I fully understood the appeal. And my pro-tip: invest in a cushy bike seat cover — it just makes life better.
5. Take Your Time!
Throughout her advice, Buchanan continually stresses the importance of taking your time when you start working out again. “Often times we would like to jump back into our fitness routine right where we left off,” Buchanan says.” However, “your body changes, becomes weaker and its capabilities have changed. Because of this we become discouraged and start thinking negatively towards our bodies and ourselves,” she added. Easing back into things gradually is the best way to prevent injury, as well as prevent us from becoming discouraged — which will ultimately keep us working out more regularly in the long run.
At the end of the day, most of us already know what we should be doing when it comes to getting back into exercise — we’re often just too impatient for results to actually follow our own good judgement. Keep the above tips in mind when getting back into moving again, and remember — personal fitness is a marathon, not a sprint!
Images: Pexels (5)
Safely Easing Back into Fitness
Daily exercise is important for maintaining a healthy heart. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that daily exercise helps with lowering blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking — all important factors for lowering your risk of heart disease. On top of that, a fitness routine strengthens your muscles, meaning your heart doesn’t need to work as hard to pump blood.
That being said, if you’ve been out of the workout world for a while, it’s important to ease back into your routine with safe exercises. While you may feel a sudden burst of motivation, it’s important to know your limits instead of picking up where you left off. Too much exercise too quickly can lead to burnout, injury and other effects that can keep you from living your best life.
You can get back into your daily exercises without hurting yourself if you ramp it up slowly and listen to your body. These tips can help you create a safe and sustainable exercise routine.
1. Understand the Risks
A growing issue known as rhabdomyolysis — the death of muscle fibers from injury and the release of those fibers into the bloodstream — is common among people who, even if healthy, throw themselves into new exercise routines too quickly. Rhabdomyolysis can cause severe muscle pain and brown urine.
Dr. Todd S. Cutler, a hospitalist and writer of a recent rhabdomyolysis study, said to NBC News, “Essentially, the way that people seem to get exercise-related rhabdomyolysis tends to be when they’re doing first-time activities, especially high-intensity activities, like spinning or multi-modality exercises like CrossFit. The type of patients that we see are pretty young, and in pretty good health.”
A 2016 article in the BC Medical Journal (BCMJ) noted that intense exercise can increase short-term risk of muscle injury and larger health concerns such as heart attack, especially if you’ve had a previous bout of inactivity.
So even with youth and good health on your side, working out strenuously can do more harm than good if it’s not your recent norm.
2. Speak with Your Doctor
You should always speak with your doctor before starting a fitness routine, especially if you have any health conditions. Your doctor can identify any limitations you should be aware of and suggest how to adjust for them in your workouts. Remember, the goal is to incorporate safe exercises that help you live better, not cause injury.
Additionally, your doctor can take measurements that can help you track your progress toward better fitness, such as body mass index (BMI), resting heart rate and cardiorespiratory fitness.
3. Set Benchmarks and Goals
Researchers in the BCMJ article also found that incrementally increasing the time and intensity of your workout helps reduce your risk of chronic disease and early death. You can do this by setting smaller benchmarks.
Recording benchmarks and working toward step goals holds you accountable and helps you notice small progress toward a larger goal, which can help you keep the “slow and steady” mindset.
Start with some current stats. The Mayo Clinic suggests considering your goals, such as weight loss or flexibility, and answering some of the following questions:
- What’s your BMI? (Online calculators can help you determine this measurement based on your height and weight.)
- How long does it take you to walk or jog a mile?
- What’s your pulse rate after walking one mile?
- How far can you reach forward when sitting on the floor with your legs outstretched?
- What is the circumference of your waist?
You can use the answers as your fitness starting point. Sometimes it can seem hard to see progress, especially when you’re easing into exercise safely and slowly, so it’s good to take a variety of measures that you can compare your performance to.
4. Increase in Doses
Everyone has their own “exercise prescription,” especially those who haven’t worked out for a few weeks or longer. The BCMJ study found that for many participants, getting less than half of the weekly recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise was still enough to reap major heart health benefits.
The takeaway? Don’t be concerned about starting slow — it’s helping your health more than you may think.
5. Remember to Stretch
According to Harvard Health Publishing, flexibility is essential to moving safely and with ease, and if you haven’t stretched or exercised in a while, you’ll need to do some work to get that flexibility back. Your muscles shorten and stiffen when you stop stretching them, which means jumping right into a workout could lead to injury.
To stretch on your own, start with a nice warmup such as low-intensity walking or biking to ensure you’re not stretching cold muscles. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, or up to 60 seconds in tighter areas. Resist the urge to bounce, which can tear muscles. If something hurts, ease up a bit, then hold.
Yoga is a great way to make stretching routine, especially as it comes in so many styles and intensities.
6. Walk to Better Heart Health
If you’re unsure where to begin as you ease back into fitness, start with some brisk walking one to two hours per week (or 15 to 20 minutes per day). Even with this you’ll begin to see boosts in your heart health and a lowered risk of stroke and diabetes.
It’s great that you’re getting back into a fitness routine — especially if you want to keep heart disease at bay and help your heart muscle function at its best. To really reap the rewards of exercise, though, it’s important to start small so you don’t hurt yourself or burn out.
7 Tips to Get Back Into Exercise After a Break
Make sure your goal fits the SMART criteria:
- Specific: It’s not enough to say you want to “get fit;” you need to be specific. Choose a specific goal that will get you to your overall goal. For example, training for a half-marathon or triathlon.
- Measurable: Once you identify your specific goal, make sure you’re able to measure your progress. After all, if you’re not assessing, you’re just guessing, Campbell says. If your goal is to run a half-marathon, gauge progress by hitting certain benchmarks throughout your training regimen. Trying to lose weight? Track progress by weighing yourself periodically and/or having body composition measurements taken.
- Attainable: “People set lofty goals but then get discouraged when they can’t attain it, and then they fall off again,” Campbell explains. Whatever your goal, you should feel 90–100% confident you can attain it. If you’re not confident, consider breaking your goal into a smaller goal. For example, instead of aiming to lose 20 pounds in a month, try for eight.
- Relevant: Make sure your goal is consistent with your interests, needs and abilities. If you can’t stand running, for example, training for a marathon may not be the best fit for you.
- Time-bound: Goals like “lose weight” or “get fit” are vague and have no end dates attached to them. Decide when you hope to achieve your goal by and fill in your timeline with milestones you need to hit to keep you on track.
So long as you’re feeling strong and recovered from your training, you can progress every two weeks by increasing sets, reps or weight or decreasing your rest between sets, Campbell says.
This progression principle also applies to cardio workouts. If your treadmill or elliptical session begins to feel easy, bump up the intensity by 10%. You could increase speed or resistance, decrease rest or even add another weekly cardio session.
“Developing physical fitness is in the consistency, and that comes with time,” Campbell says. “People try to speed through, which leads to pain and injury. And then you’re back off the horse.”
WORRY ABOUT YOURSELF
Don’t get down on yourself if your friend can bang out more pushups than you. Or your personal trainer has the six-pack of your dreams. “Their journey is different than yours,” Aguiar says. “When we exercise, we are asking our biology to adapt, and if Darwin taught us anything, it’s that biological adaptations take time.” So, don’t let other people make you feel insecure. Instead, focus on your own goals and abilities. Continue taking consistent steps toward your goals and simply enjoy the journey she adds.
STAY ACTIVE EVEN ON YOUR DAYS OFF
Muscle soreness is normal — even expected — when restarting a fitness routine. But while you may be tempted to use post-workout soreness as an excuse to catch up on Netflix, you’ll be more ready to tackle your next workout if you do a little exercise on your day off. “It doesn’t have to be intense; just doing basic movements will speed up your recovery,” Callaway says. Not to mention, staying active on your recovery days helps maintain consistency with your new exercise habit. Take your pup to the park, do a few yoga flows or stroll around your neighborhood. “Just don’t be sedentary,” Callaway says.
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LEAVE A FEW REPS IN THE TANK
When you jump back into your strength-training routine, resist the urge to lift to your full potential. Instead, stop a few reps short — at least, in the beginning. “It generally keeps you feeling fresher,” Callaway says, “that way, you might not be so sore afterwards, and you’ll be able to maintain consistency.” So, if you can typically lift a weight for 12 reps, stop at 9 or 10, and see how you feel the next day. If you’re recovering well and feeling ready for more, bump it up to your usual rep range for your next workout. Just keep in mind that you should always leave one or two reps in the tank, no matter your fitness level.
HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
You’ll inevitably have days when your planned workout is either unmanageable or unappealing. On these days, you may be tempted to sit on the couch, but it’s always better to do something than nothing — especially when you’re trying to rebuild an exercise habit. “So long as you come in and do something, you’re moving in the right direction,” Campbell says.
Keep a list of possible alternative workouts on your phone so you’ll never be unprepared. You could perform a watered-down version of your planned workout or do something entirely different. Go for a bike ride, swim laps at the community pool or play Ultimate Frisbee with friends.
BE ACCOUNTABLE TO SOMEONE
Often, we need to be accountable to someone (or something) other than ourselves to show up for that dreaded first (or second or third) workout. Increase your odds of success by enlisting help. “No one ever said that fitness had to be a solo journey,” Aguiar says.
Hire a trainer (distance or in-person), book a spot at an expensive boutique studio, join an online fitness challenge or set a weekly run date with a friend. Sometimes, you don’t even need another person to hold you accountable, Campbell says. For some people, logging their workouts and meals in MyFitnessPal is enough to keep them coming back day after day.