Most people find it tough to get back on the "workout wagon" after they have fallen off. I am often asked, "Yuri, what is the best way for me to restart my workouts after taking a long break?"
Let's say you usually run three or four times per week but then you get injured or your schedule gets really hectic and you can't run for a month. The best way to get back into your normal running schedule is to ease yourself back into it.
The easiest and safest way to do this is to take the level of your last run and aim to do about 75 percent of that effort. In other words, take the duration, distance and intensity of the last run you did prior to your break and reduce them by 25 percent. This will give you some room to work your way back up to the level you were at before taking time off.
[Read: How to Run With Good Form.]
Now, let's say on your first week back that you want to run three times. Use each one of these "first-week-back" runs as a fitness test. By the third run, see if you are able to complete the same distance at the same pace you did prior to your break. If you can, then you know you will be able to surpass this level if you continue to run consistently.
Anytime you take a break from a workout you were doing regularly you can expect to feel a bit more soreness than you did before the break. So yes, it will be more difficult to complete your runs initially, but this will pass after the first week or two – you just have to hang in there!
Fortunately, with running specifically, you should not lose too much of your aerobic capacity after four weeks off. Building up your aerobic fitness takes a long time to build up when compared to other fitness adaptations, but it also takes longer to lose, which is a great thing!
[Read: How to Run in Cold Weather.]
Your anaerobic fitness is a different story. This is the system you use during high-intensity, short-duration activity like speed drills and sprints. Anaerobic adaptations occur very quickly but they also dissipate very quickly. So after a break, you will probably notice a change in how fast you can go during your high-intensity intervals. You might also find you have to take more recovery breaks than you did before. But just like the soreness, this will pass as you build your fitness levels back up.
Basically, when it comes to running, you want to slowly build your way back up to where you were before your break. Just do a couple of slower runs your first week back to see where you are physically. After that, throw in some interval training to build your anaerobic fitness back up.
What you don't want to do is go out on your first run as fast and for as long as you did before. Your body won't be accustomed to this level, which can put you at risk for injury. Again, start slow, and work your way back up.
[Read: What to Eat Before Running.]
• Weight Training
If you were consistently weight training and then "fell of the wagon," so to speak, I would recommend you start back up with one or two body-weight workouts. For example, you can do lunges, squats, push-ups, pull-ups and tricep dips using just your body weight to get your muscles primed and back into gear. Doing this first will help to keep you safe from injuries.
Once you are ready to begin weight training again, start with a little bit of a lighter weight than you used before just to make sure you do each exercise with good form and technique. After you do this once or twice, you should be able to go right back to the weight you were using prior to your break.
[Read: How to Overcome a Workout Rut.]
To tell you the truth, when it comes to weight training, I have found that taking some time off actually improved my fitness levels.
For example, I was doing deadlifts two or three times per week, but I wasn't really seeing gains. Once I dropped them down to once per week, I started to see improvements. This is a perfect example of how less can actually be more. Getting enough recovery between weight-training sessions is just as important as doing the workouts.
[Read: 7 Family Fitness Ideas for Winter.]
Just to be clear, when I say recovery time, I don't mean four weeks. That is definitely too much time off! Once you get back into weight training after a long break, you will probably experience more soreness than you did before the break. But this will subside after a week or two of consistent training.
As you can see, getting back on the workout wagon isn't as hard as it seems. Just start slow, and work your way back up from there. The most important thing is don't overthink it – just get out there and do it.
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Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN is a registered holistic nutritionist, fitness expert and highly sought-after high-performance health coach. He's also a former professional soccer player and served as the head strength and conditioning and nutrition coach for men's soccer at the University of Toronto for seven seasons. For more than 13 years, he's empowered more than 86,000 people to greater health with his no-nonsense approach to health, fitness, and nutrition. He's made it his mission to empower at least 10 million people to greater health and fitness by 2018. Get Yuri's free "Y-Factor" at www.yurielkaim.com.