Summer vacations are nearly at an end, and people are returning to their regular life of work, chores, family and friends. While returning to work is one thing most cannot avoid, going back to the gym or rejoining boot camps or running clubs is something people tend to put off for as long as they can. Why? Because this is the universal truth about working out and exercise is that restarting after a break is extremely difficult.
There are multiple reasons as to why people find it difficult to restart. One of the commonly cited is that people remember how much pain and soreness they feel after the first workout upon resuming training.
“The most difficult part of getting back to exercise is acknowledging it will be a slow grind back, you cannot simply pick up where you left off,” says Rishabh Telang, a Cult.fit fitness expert. Bengaluru-based coach and founder of Namma CrossFit. Abhinav A.K. adds that neuromuscular fatigue peaks when one returns to exercise after a break. This, in turn, increases the post-workout recovery time, often leaving one feeling listless for a large part of the day.
These two rather painful realities linger on in people’s minds, leading them to put off exercising till as long as they can. Many people I know, yours truly included, avoid a leg workout for the first two weeks after restarting, because they can feel it in every step for close to three days after leg day.
There can be several other reasons why people may face difficulties as they resume their fitness journey. With more and more people returning to office now, many might find it difficult to add workouts to their daily schedules, notes Telang. “People often fear they might not be able to reach their previous fitness levels and are frustrated by the slow progress. There is no magic pill to fitness. It will be a grind to the top,” he adds.
The first thing you need for re-embracing your active life is motivation and discipline, say fitness experts and coaches. Also, there needs to be an acceptance of the fact that it will be painful and tough for a couple of weeks. This acceptance works wonders and those who do so return to their training routine quicker and more efficiently than those who don’t. Having goals helps too. “Set achievable goals and, most importantly, trust the process,” says Telang.
Start small. That’s key. Expecting to hit and sustain the same pace on a training run as you did pre-break is likely to end in disappointment. It’s the same with attempting to lift the same weight as you did before you stopped. “It is important to start small and then scale up. A daily trip to the gym is not mandatory, people can include fitness in their daily lives by just moving around, taking up a sport and staying active as much as possible,” says Telang.
Stick to simple movements that don’t load the spine, suggests Abhinav. “Instead of weights, begin with body weight exercises. Add dumbbells to your routine next and only then progress to heavy barbell work, which loads the spine and fatigues the nervous system,” he adds. Once you have restarted and been regular for a week or two, gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts, focus on your form and mix it up by adding different workouts. “Don’t forget to add plenty of rest as overuse results in serious injuries,” warns Telang.
Both Telang and Abhinav suggest getting yourself a training partner. “It is helpful to find a workout buddy to stay motivated and accountable,” says Telang. “Remember, consistency is key. Celebrate small victories along the way, and be patient with yourself as you regain your strength and stamina.”
How long it takes you to return to peak fitness, and how painful that process is depends entirely on the length of the break, and what you have done during that period of time. “A break of no more than a week means it might take merely three to four days to get back to the same levels of fitness. However, returning to training after over six months is almost like starting afresh. But due to muscle memory, the body is able to cope faster than that of a beginner,” says Telang. In case of illness or injury, you should expect extreme muscle soreness but it will be short-lived.
The capacity to lift weights or run, depends almost entirely on your activities and diet during the break. If it has taken several weeks to lose your stamina or muscle weight, it will take a few weeks to get back to those levels again. “There is no point in pushing oneself beyond what is possible… it is important to understand your body and improve at a pace you are comfortable with,” advises Telang.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.