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 than good. If you are unsure where to begin, here are nine simple ways 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 on your path of consistent exercise. If you want to go to the gym five days a week, start 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 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: aerobic, flexibility, and strength. If you only have a short time, do 15 minutes of cardiovascular activity, 20 minutes of resistance training, and 10 minutes of stretching. Depending on how many days you will work out, 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 lighter and ease your way back in. You do not want to overdo it your first day out and feel defeated. It is okay 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 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 learning the difference between discomfort and pain is essential. Don’t push yourself past your limits. If you find that you have pushed yourself to the 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:
|Type of discomfort:||Tender when touching muscles, tired or burning feeling while exercising, minimal dull, tight, and achy feeling at rest||Ache, sharp pain at rest or when exercising|
|Onset:||During exercise or 24-72 hours after the activity||During exercise or within 24 hours of activity|
|Duration:||2-3 days||It may linger if not addressed|
|Location:||Muscles||Muscles or joints|
|Improves with:||Stretching, following movement, and/or more movement, with appropriate rest and recovery||Ice, rest, and more movement, except in cases of significant injury|
|Worsens with:||Sitting still||Continued activity after appropriate rest and recovery|
|Appropriate action:||Get moving again after appropriate rest and recovery, but consider a different activity before resuming the movement that led to soreness||Consult with a medical professional if the pain is extreme or lasts >1-2 weeks|
Rest Days Are Important
Rest 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 exercise. 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 allow 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 correctly repair the stress from your workout. Our bodies do some of their best work while we sleep, including muscle growth and repair. You will be more exhausted than usual because you’re amping your activity up. 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 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 activity change by warming up before and cooling down after by stretching. You will inevitably be sore from the uptick in activity, but stretching reduces the recovery time.
Focus on Your Form
Again, you 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 quickly? 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 correctly. Be patient. You will eventually get where you were but right now, quality matters. The 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 aligns with your goals. You might want to clean up your diet even before considering going back to the gym. You will have the energy needed to properly continue with a routine and see results quicker with a better diet. Nutrition and regular 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.