Ah, March… slush is in the streets, spring is in the air and everybody in the whole, freakin’ world is in the gym. At least for a few more weeks. As New Year’s Resolutions get a little fuzzier and the temperatures get a little warmer, many gymgoers struggle to stay committed. And sometimes, you just have to party… So if you’ve been partying a bit, or feeling under the weather, or sleeping in and missing your step class, or – as in the case of my client, S – you’ve been under doctor’s orders to abstain from exercise for two weeks – you might be wondering how to get yourself started again. Here are some strategies I always recommend to clients as they re-mount the metaphorical wagon after a hiatus.
- Establish a goal. When you’ve been inactive, it can be difficult to get the momentum up to return to regular exercise and you may find yourself unmotivated because it’s harder, you’re more tired than usual and you feel less confident than you would had you been consistently exercising all along. Check out the Canada Running Series to find an upcoming 5K or 10K walk or run, or have a fitness assessment done by a personal trainer and schedule a follow-up in 6-8 weeks. Your personal trainer should help you set healthy, realistic goals based on the results of your original assessment. Generally, 1-2 pounds per week is a healthy rate of weight loss.
- Get to the heart of things. Muscular strength is retained for several weeks up to several months after an exerciser becomes inactive; however, cardiovascular capacity begins to deteriorate virtually with the first missed workout. Strict bedrest, severe illness or injury will cause greater levels of “detraining” than merely falling off the wagon, taking a lazy vacation or catching cold for a week or two. Three cardiovascular workouts per week are required just to maintain cardiovascular capacity; you should take it up to 4-5 cardiovascular workouts of at least 20-30 minutes in the first couple of weeks back. If you’re focusing on building your cardio back up, do the cardio portion of your workouts before the strength portion.
- Start a new program. There’s nothing more discouraging than returning to your regular workouts to realize just how out of shape you’ve become. Instead, begin a new program when you head back to the gym. We expect to struggle a bit with new exercises or routines and to have sore muscles and fatigue in the day or two after. You’ll be more interested in mastering a new routine than you would be in “retraining” yourself to get back to the same level you were at before your break. Aim for 2-3 full-body strength training workouts per week.
- Stretch it out. It’s going to hurt. Laying in bed, laying on the couch, or laying on a beach chair in the tropics, you’re probably not working your muscles strenuously or with a variety of movements. Lift tea, drink tea, lift tea, drink tea does not a workout make. Be sure to stretch your chest, back, legs and hips after your workouts. Have a comfortable, hot bath or shower (or a sauna, if you have access to one) for 10-15 minutes after your workouts. You’ll still be stiff, but you may be lucky enough to be stiff for only one day instead of two after those first workouts.
In a couple of weeks, you’ll barely remember that you ever left the gym in the first place. A break from exercise can be a great opportunity to revitalize your program and reset your goals. Take advantage and enjoy those aches and pains – if your body didn’t punish you, you might never learn your lesson…