After time away from the gym or an exercise routine, your body needs time to adjust. There is such a thing as muscle memory, but this does not happen immediately. If you do not ease yourself back into a routine, you may cause more harm then good. If you are not sure where to begin, here are some tips to ease back into the gym.

Set a Goal

It is easier to be consistent with something if you have a goal to work towards. Setting goals sets you up for success toward your path of consistent exercise. If you want to go to the gym 5 days a week, start off with being consistent on one day, and then build from there. Make sure the goal is attainable, so you don’t set yourself up for failure.

Have a plan

When you first step foot in a gym have a plan of action. It is easy to get lost in all of the equipment and feel overwhelmed. Plan your workout ahead of time, so you’re not wasting your time. It is best to incorporate the three components of fitness. If you only have a short period of time do 15 minutes of cardiovascular activity, 20 minutes of resistance training, and 10 minutes of stretching. Depending on how many days you will workout, break up your routine into different areas of the body.

Take it Slow

If you used to lift a certain amount before you stopped working out, start off lighter and ease your way back in. You do not want to overdo it your first day out and feel defeated. It is fine if you were not where you were before. Because your body is not used to that level of activity, trying to pick up where you left off will lead to injuries. Start off at a low intensity and build your way up. Increase the intensity and duration after your body feels like it can handle more. After a few weeks, you will be close to where you were.

Listen to Your Body

Returning to the gym will cause some discomfort, but it is important to learn the difference between discomfort and pain. Don’t push yourself past your limits. If you find that you have pushed yourself to a point of pain, it is okay to take a rest.

Check out this table from Choose PT to help you know the difference between pain and soreness:

 Muscle SorenessPain
Type of discomfort:Tender when touching muscles, tired or burning feeling while exercising, minimal dull, tight and achy feeling at restAche, sharp pain at rest or when exercising
Onset:During exercise or 24-72 hours after activityDuring exercise or within 24 hours of activity
Duration:2-3 daysMay linger if not addressed
Location:MusclesMuscles or joints
Improves with:Stretching, following movement, and/or more movement, with appropriate rest and recoveryIce, rest, and more movement, except in cases of significant injury
Worsens with:Sitting stillContinued activity after appropriate rest and recovery
Appropriate action:Get moving again, after appropriate rest and recovery, but consider a different activity before resuming the activity that led to sorenessConsult with medical professional if pain is extreme or lasts >1-2 weeks

Rest Days Are Important

This goes hand in hand with listening to your body. Yes, you have been away and feel you need to be consistent but resting is just as important. When we rest in between workouts, we allow our bodies to rest and repair the damage we did during the workout. Yes, building muscle causes mini tears in your muscle and we are building back on top of that. This is what causes them to grow. When we rest, we are allowing our bodies to repair and grow the muscle.

Get Some Sleep

The importance of sleep cannot be overlooked. We know lack of sleep can cause weight gain but it also inhibits your ability to properly repair the stress from your workout. Our bodies do some of its best work while we sleep, and that includes muscle growth and repair. Because you’re amping your activity up, you will be more exhausted than usual. Do yourself a favor and make time to sleep.

Prepare Your Body Properly

Flexibility is an essential component of fitness and it needs to be part of your back to the gym routine. Not only does stretching help reduce the soreness from your workout, but it helps you move better in that workout. Prep your muscles for the change of activity by warming up before and cooling down after by stretching. It is inevitable that you will be sore from the uptick of activity, but stretching reduces the recovery time.

Focus on Your Form

Again, you just can’t pick up where you left off. Your body is not used to the activity you have previously done. Connect your mind and body when easing back into exercise. Focus on your breathing and the placement of your body. Have you ever seen people in the gym throwing on crazy weight and seemingly pushing it up easily? If you take a closer look, usually their form is out of whack. It is easy to mimic the activity you see others doing, but focus on doing it properly. Be patient. You will eventually get where you were but right now quality matters. Improper form will leave you injured, giving you another reason to be away from the gym.

Make Sure Your Nutrition is on Point

You cannot out-exercise a bad diet. If you are getting back into the gym after time away, make sure your diet is in line with your goals. You might want to clean up your diet even before you consider going back to the gym. With a proper diet, you will have the energy needed to properly continue with a routine, and see results quicker. Nutrition and consistent exercise go hand in hand.

Overall, it is never too late to return to the gym. Take it slow, and do not overdo it. Fitness is a lifelong journey.

Fitness

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