Many of us have experienced a period of time where we were not able to exercise. Maybe it was an injury that sidelined us, or a holiday, or it was purely a lifestyle choice (I got a new job and can’t possibly fit it in!). Or in my case, a high-risk pregnancy.
I am returning to fitness this month after having taken much of the past 11 months off. I tried to stay active with walking and low-impact exercises, but was put on limited activity and eventually home rest for the last month and a half of the pregnancy. Over the years I have made a couple of comebacks into fitness (pregnancy, injury, and lifestyle related) and have learned a thing or two about mentally preparing to get back into the swing of things. I’m sharing my best tips below to help you start working out again after a break.
You aren’t as out of shape as you think
First of all, if you may be surprised at how much fitness you retained during your period of inactivity. If you’ve been an athlete for years, you do retain much of the benefits of exercise for a long time to come. According to the Journal of Applied Physiology, runners experienced the following decrease in VO2max (how quickly you get out of breath during a workout):
- 2 weeks off = slight drop
- 2 months off = loss of 15%
- 3 months off = still better than someone who never worked out
- 1 year off = your heart and lungs will still have a greater capacity than before you started
When I was in the recovery room twenty minutes after giving birth this past February, my nurse asked me if I was a runner. I said “I used to be” as I hadn’t seriously trained since 2013 when I got pregnant with my first son and had only ran recreationally for a few months in between them. My last run was June 2015. She said she could tell by my heart rate on the monitor and how slow it was beating that I was a runner. Her observation made me feel better about the months of inactivity I had just spent on home rest.
Another positive fact to consider is that strength doesn’t decline as quickly as VO2max. Even after a year off, you retain about half your strength.
So my first tip is to not despair and think you are starting from scratch. Muscle memory is an amazing thing and all the time you spent training before your break has made you more fit than you realize. Now onto the rest:
Prepare for Hard Work
Returning to training or a fitness routine will be hard. You are adding something to your day that wasn’t there before. I’ve coached many women who didn’t know where they were going to find 30 minutes in their busy day to add exercise. I encourage them to look at their day and see how they are really spending their time. Could they get up 30 minutes earlier? Could they replace that evening sitcom with a workout? Often it takes trial and error to find what works, so give it time.
You may have a tendency to jump right back in where you left off. But that could be a recipe for injury and disappointment. Although I just reassured you that you are not as bad off physically as you think, you still have lost some fitness. Depending on how long your break was, you will likely not be able to perform at the level you remember. You may be out of breath, have to decrease the weight you are lifting, and modify the moves. Do not go all gang-busters at the start and aim for 3 to 5 times a week instead of committing to 6 or 7. As well, make sure you have addressed the reason why you took your break. If it was because of an injury, have you fully healed and know how to avoid reinjuring it?
It will take a bit of time for you to feel and see results. If you have gained weight during your hiatus, it won’t come off overnight. Tune into non-scale changes like energy levels, quality of sleep, and how your clothes are fitting. Often others will see changes in us first, so don’t obsess over the number on the scale. It also takes time for exercise to become a new habit. After a few weeks, clients often tell me they look forward to working out and can’t imagine their day without exercise. But that won’t happen in week one.
The best way to stick to something and make it a habit is to trigger feelings of pleasure and reward. Choose an activity or workout that you are going to enjoying doing and you’ll be more likely to follow through. Think about what your preferences are — cardio, strength, agility, group classes, indoor, outdoor — and start with what you like.
I’m in week two of my own comeback to fitness and am feeling better already. I’ve lost that bloated, lethargic feeling that has been plaguing me for months (yes, pregnancy did have a little to do with it!) and I have more energy during the day. I’m also feeling more confident and happier that I am doing something good for my body. I’m currently doing a program that is brand new to me (22 Minute Hard Corps) and have a great group of women supporting me. If I had a 6th tip it would be accountability — have a partner, coach, or group who is cheering you on and supporting you every step of the way.
What is your main struggle when returning to fitness after a break? I’d love to hear it in the comments.
If you are interested in getting back into fitness and need help getting started, my next group may be the perfect fit. Click here to find out more or shoot me an email.