After taking a long break from physical activity, you most likely will not be able to perform at the same level you once did. It is very important at this point to manage expectations and set realistic goals when easing back into your exercise after a break.
Varying your workouts and including strength training in your fitness routine will help you increase your endurance and reduce the risk of injury.
If you took a long break from exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. The stress and uncertainty of the past year, along with the closure of many gyms and need for physical distancing, have thrown off many people’s workout routines.
However, there are some things you should be mindful of while restarting your fitness routines to avoid injury and get the most out of returning to exercise.
Manage your expectations
People who have taken a long break from exercise are likely to find that they may not be able to do the things they once could.
Whether this is running a 5K or holding a yoga pose, experts say not being able to perform at the same level is to be expected. Still, this may be difficult for some to accept.
“As we age or when significant long-term events happen in our lives (like the pandemic), our fitness can also be negatively impacted. When that happens there is cognitive dissonance between our fitness-based identity and the reality of the situation,” – Christina Frederick, PhD Psychologist.
Common reactions people may have to this are frustration and anger. But these feelings won’t help you if you’re trying to get back into fitness as angry or frustrated people can set unrealistic goals or jump into routines that are too hard or intense.
Getting back to exercise safely
The key to returning to exercise safely after a long break is to take small steps and frequently change up your routine, said Dr. Melissa Leber, FACEP, director of emergency department sports medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
The way our bodies work is that we really do need to gradually ease back into the training regimen. Your training regimen needs to be varied in terms of intensity, frequency, and the type of workout you do.
For example, for someone who used to run frequently before a long break, Leber recommends introducing interval training or jogging two or three times a week along with low-impact workouts like yoga or Pilates on other days of the week.
Strength training is also an important part of getting back to exercise safely, as weakened muscles can lead to joint pain.
Tips to stay motivated
If you don’t see results from your new workout routine right away, it can get frustrating, and you may be tempted to give up. But remember, it will only get easier with time.
- Make exercise a routine
“Once you make exercise a habit and a routine, your endorphins and your own brain are actually able to motivate you,” Leber said. “But making it a habit and making it a routine is the hardest first step.”
- Choose activities you enjoy.
To make exercise an enjoyable habit, it’s important to choose activities you like to do, Frederick said.
“For instance, I love cardio-type activities, but I hate to run,” she said. “If I want to get in shape, it makes little motivational sense for me to choose running. It makes more sense for someone to examine what they enjoy doing for health and fitness, and what options they have locally to engage in those things.”
Additionally, if you enjoy activities that are more social in nature, you may want to look into taking an outdoor fitness class or finding a workout partner to stay engaged and motivated.
- Set a realistic fitness goal
Finally, to stay on track, experts recommend setting goals and using a fitness device or mobile app to track your progress.
Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound. Maybe you can only do 3 days of walking per week for 30 minutes at a time and you will try to get your heart rate to 60 percent of max. That’s great! Articulate it and track it.”
- Keep at it even if you can’t attain your goals right away.
“We don’t graduate college after a few months,” Frederick said. “Why should we think we will be fit after a couple tries? Once you attain your goal and sustain it, then increase the challenge.