How to Make a Comeback From a Fitness Rut
Used to be a regular at the gym or on the trails until injuries, work, kids, time, life? Whatever the reason, we have all been there at one point. When your exercise routine is derailed for a length of time, it is hard, maybe even daunting, to start again. The intent of this article is to help you safely find your way back, step by step, to your previous fitness level.
You are never too far gone from your fitness goals to get back on track.
Know What You're Up Against
It is important to understand what you (and your body) are up against as you make your comeback. What really happens to your body after a prolonged break? In Paige Waehner’s article, How Long Can I Take a Break From Exercise Without Losing Fitness?, she outlined the basic decline of fitness due to inactivity:
- Aerobic power can decline about five to ten percent in three weeks.
- It takes about two months of inactivity to completely lose the gains you've made.
- Extremely fit exercisers will experience a rapid drop in fitness during the first three weeks of inactivity before it tapers off.
- Muscular strength and endurance lasts longer than aerobic fitness.
- Muscles retain a memory of exercises for weeks or even months.
Start Slow and Be Patient
Exercise is good. Remember this after your first day or two back at it. Chances are, you are not in the same shape as before, and you are going to feel it. In her article How to Get Back Into Shape After No Exercise for a Long Time, Christy Mitchinson offers four practical tips for your successful comeback.
- Consult Your Physician. We hear it, read it, and know it, but too many people do not take this important advice. According to Mitchinson’s article, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests consulting with your doctor before returning to exercise, especially if you have not exercised for three months or more. Likewise, it is especially important to speak to your doctor if you suffer from any chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis.
- Start Slowly. Love to run? You can return to running, but at a lower intensity, such as in a walk/jog program. If you previously did weight training, reduce weights to around half of the weight you lifted before your break. Aim to work out two to three times per week and keep sessions less than 45 minutes for the first two to four weeks. Extend your warm up and cool down to protect your muscles and joints from injury. As your fitness builds, you can add more workouts per week and increase the time spent working out. How do you know when you are ready to progress? When your workout routine is no longer challenging.
- Enjoy It. Choose an activity that you like or that you have always wanted to try. Find a friend to work out with and hold each other accountable. How about catching up on your favorite television shows or reading a good book while on the treadmill or stationary bike? Varying your routine and alternating activities can also keep your workouts fun.
- Be Patient. It will take time to build back up to your previous level of fitness. The good news is your body is adaptive and will usually return to your previous fitness level after six weeks of modified exercise. Resist the urge to push yourself at first. Trust your body’s signals to let you know when you have reached your limit.
Go easy on yourself and take small steps with your fitness to avoid burnout.
How to Put Action Behind Words
That is all great advice, but now - let’s apply it to your comeback in terms of actionable and useful items. Wendy Glauser, a writer for Best Health Magazine, was spot on with her advice for getting back to your workout routine:
- Lay out your clothes the night before. When you wake up and see your workout outfit, shoes, and water bottle ready to go, chances are you will use them. Prefer an end of the day workout? Pack your gym bag, including water and pre-workout snack, the night before. And then don’t forget to bring it with you. Being prepared for a workout leaves less opportunity or excuses for skipping.
- Take a thirty-day challenge. Try challenging yourself to work out every day, or every other day, for a month or longer. Find a gym, online group, or friends who will hold you accountable. If you’re not ready to commit to a long-term challenge, working out on the same days each week will help to make fitness seem like a given, rather than an option.
- Break it down. Exercise seems too daunting? Break it down into achievable steps. If thirty minutes a day is too much to consider, break it down to three sessions of ten minutes of exercise until you get going again.
- Buddy up. Commit to working out with a friend or join a class or group. Having someone hold you accountable, and vice versa, works wonders for keeping you committed to your workouts.
- Plan it ahead of time. Don’t leave your workout to fate. Plan your session, what you are going to do, and when you are going to do it. Otherwise, the nebulous “I’ll work out later” might just turn into the procrastinated “I’ll just workout tomorrow.”
- Lower your expectations. Just because you’re not feeling up to your usual hour-long routine, don’t skip the workout. Even a little exercise, like a twenty-minute bike ride, will keep your brain programmed to your fitness schedule. Whereas, if you don’t exercise at all, it won’t seem like a big deal to skip another workout in the future.
Get ready to wipe the dust off your barbell.
A New Opportunity
Remember, exercise is good. Rather than viewing your comeback as a daunting task, view it as an opportunity. This is your opportunity to learn new activities, try new skills, and surpass your old fitness level. Are you ready to make your comeback?
Check out these related articles:
- What Happened to Movement for Health?
- Take the Power Away From "I Can Only"
- Unexpected Lessons On Training and Happiness - From Wine
- What's New On Breaking Muscle Today
1. Paige Waehner, “How Long Can I Take a Break From Exercise Without Losing Fitness?”, last accessed 24 July 2015.
2.Christy Mitchinson, “How to Get Back Into Shape After No Exercise for a Long Time”,
last accessed July 24, 2015.
3. Wendy Glauser. “Tricks to get back into a workout routine”, last accessed July 24, 2015.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.