How To Get Back Into Exercise After A Break!

I was inspired to write this week’s article as a response to one reader’s question about running, motivation and getting back into healthy habits.

So I’ve decided that I need to start running again, I was hitting the gym 5 days a week last year for about 6 months and then I went travelling for 3 ½ months, I got back in April and haven’t exercised since! –

Basically I’m not going to join the gym because I’m saving for a house and I figured that I can pay for swimming every now and again and go for a run after work…

What can you advise for running i.e. warming up and getting back into the habit?

Has The Hard Work Been Lost After A Break?

Yes, sadly it’s true; you can lose fitness so to speak.

You put in all that hard work but like most things, it is a case of “use it or lose it”.

Cardiorespiratory fitness for example, could start to decline if you fail to maintain the same level of training intensity for a period of longer than 2-3 weeks.

It’s hard to give a rule of thumb here because we all adapt differently and train at different intensities but there’s no doubting the fact that a complete break in any type of training will see your previous gains fade away.

That said, I’ve always found my body to be quick to remember when I get back to training, be it resistance training or cardio training – muscle memory is a powerful thing (and not to forget that the heart is a muscle!)

As a side point – overtraining can also cause similar reversibility to lack of training as the overall effect is to prevent the body from recovering fully.

You may recognise the symptoms – moodiness, lethargic when not exercising, extended DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) as waste products are not removed from the muscles, continuing illness, and in the worst case, injury.

So in Tom’s case, his hard work prior to travelling should still benefit him when he starts running in terms of general fitness and making quicker progress than he would if he had started from scratch!

Making time to train – it’s all about forming habits…

Most of us have hectic lifestyles but that doesn’t mean fitness cannot play an important role.

Work, family, socialising – these are common ‘barriers’ to fitness.

  • Training on the commute – Can you find a way to train on the way to/from work?
  • Training at high intensity – serious fitness gains can be made by working hard and fast!
  • Train first thing in the morning/last thing at night – less likely that you will miss a session!

I honestly struggle to remember a workout where I have come out feeling worse (mentally and sometimes physically) than when I went in – once you have got that first session under your belt, the powerful draw of exercise will pull you back for more.

You need only remind yourself of one of the positive feelings you had after the last workout to be motivated enough to lace up your trainers again!

Keeping a really brief training diary is a great way of reminding yourself of why you should not skip your next session. Remember to record how you feel as well as the usual measurable records such as time/distance/weight.

Reading about other people’s workouts through social media gets me excited about exercise, so you could tweet your sessions too!

Should finance impact our fitness?

This is perfectly valid and a gym is not a requirement for getting fit. In fact, you don’t need any equipment apart from yourself to have an effective training session!

People are always amazed at how effective bodyweight exercises can be at fat burning – running leads the way of course, but lunges, burpees and other circuit-type moves are not to be overlooked.

There are plenty of gym bunnies out there who can nail the bench-press or resistance machines but do not have total command of their own bodyweight (in a true gymnastic sense).

A sense of direction – you MUST set definite goals

Ever been to the gym without a planned session in mind or on paper?

Probably, but I bet it wasn’t your most effective session ever.

I certainly find that I can move randomly between gym equipment to piece together a workout if I have not planned a session in advance – sometimes this works but more than likely I will lose time from not knowing what comes next.

Setting your goals is one of the first things you need to do. These should be:

1. Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Realistic; and Time specific (S.M.A.R.T goals)

To come back to the question question – in running terms, I would set my goals on a monthly basis to start with and have one ‘benchmark’ session every 2 weeks.

A benchmark session should represent a level playing field – ideally: carried out at the same time of day, same route/distance with the only variable being your result (hopefully improving upon your last benchmark).


2. Progressive

Our bodies only adapt if we force them to adapt – this theory of progression means that to improve, you must increase the ‘workout load’.

For Tom’s benefit, this will mean increasing any or all of: distance; time; or speed.

If you run the same old loop day in day out (which can be very boring!), you will be the same runner unless you progress the run by altering one of these factors. Remember the rule: ‘Train the same, stay the same’.

Starting to run again

So far this article applies in relation to all types of exercise.

In getting back to Tom’s query, I have a few running specific pointers when you are thinking about getting back into a running regime.

Mechanics: Your muscle memory can be deeply embedded but your muscles have probably not remained in the same physical state as when you were running – most of us spend many hours sitting and this can shorten/tighten our muscles, especially the hip flexors.

Try taking shorter strides in your first few runs to allow your body to loosen up gradually and for those muscles to elongate again.

Warming up: Trainers on and out the door that works fine for many regular runners. For those coming back from being out of routine, a quick dynamic warm-up will help to prepare your body and gradually work your aerobic system into gear – ankle rolls, standing tuck jumps, single leg swings and good old jog-sprints on the spot will be helpful. It is generally best to avoid static stretching for cold muscles.

Warming down: Bring yourself down gradually – to help flush out some of those waste products from your muscles (e.g. lactic acid), try ending your run at a slower pace which allows your heart rate and breathing to come down. It is then sensible to carry out your static stretches (held for 10-20 seconds each). Lower leg stretches, which loosen the quads, hamstrings and calfs, are all relevant.

So there you have it, a few pointers on getting you back into the habit of exercise (and more specifically running).

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