How To Start Exercising Again: 7 Helpful Tips To Get Back On Track

We all generally try to do our best when it comes to being consistent with our workout routines. Whether you are a runner, cyclist, group fitness enthusiast, weight lifter, or general fitness dabbler who tries to do a little bit of everything, we all aim to fit in our workouts several, if not most, days of the week.

However, sometimes life happens, and something causes us to fall out of our fitness routine, whether out of necessity (such as with an illness or injury) or because we lost motivation or other priorities took the helm.

Eventually, the desire to get back into working out kicks in, and the challenge becomes how to start exercising again both from a physical and motivational/mental standpoint.

It may seem simple enough to say that in order to get back into working out, you just have to get back to going to the gym or lace up your running shoes and hit the road, but the reality is it is often more complicated and difficult than that.

In this article, we will discuss how to get back into working out after time off and tips for getting back in shape.

We will cover: 

  • How to Start Exercising Again
  • How Long Does It Take to Get Back In Shape?
  • 7 Tips for Getting Back In Shape

Let’s dive in! 

A person breathing heavily, hands on knees.

How to Start Exercising Again

Given the many reasons that people may fall out of their workout routine, such as injury, illness, moving house, welcoming a new baby, grief or loss, a new job, lack of motivation, etc., it’s no surprise that how to start exercising again after time off is one of the most common queries among recreational and more serious athletes alike. 

Therefore, if you’ve fallen out of your fitness routine for one reason or another, you are certainly not alone, so make sure to give yourself grace.

You will get back into shape simply by doing what got you there in the first place—gradually increasing the frequency, duration, and intensity of your workouts and making your fitness routine a consistent habit.

How Long Does It Take to Get Back In Shape?

Most people who fall out of their fitness routine for a few weeks or after months or more notice subtle changes in their body, such as a loss of muscle definition, a softer, roundness to their shape, and perhaps an increased breathlessness when climbing stairs.

The common fear becomes: “How long will it take to get back in shape?”

How long it will take you to get back in shape after time off from working out will really depend on quite a number of factors, such as how long you were inactive, the reason you stopped exercising, how fit you were before taking time off, your experience level, and your age.

A person on a track, hands on knees.

Let’s look at each of these main factors that affect how long it takes to get back in shape after time off:

How Long You Were Inactive

The longer you were not working out, the longer it will take to return to your prior level of fitness. 

For example, studies show that cardiovascular detraining, or loss of aerobic fitness, starts to set in after about two weeks of inactivity and continues to drop steadily over 8-12 weeks but then levels off. An appreciable loss of muscular strength doesn’t really start to set in until at least three weeks of inactivity.

Therefore, if you’ve only been out of the gym for a few weeks or a month, you probably have not taken as many steps back as you might assume, and you might be back at your previous fitness level in just a week or two.

However, if you’ve been out of your routine for several months, you should essentially proceed with the mindset that you’re sort of starting fresh.

The Reason You Stopped Working Out

The reason you stopped exercising can affect how long it will take you to get back in shape.

If you had a bad illness, your body may be weaker overall, so it will take longer to regain your fitness compared to someone that just got a new job and no longer had time to work out consistently.

A person bent over, hands on knees.

Your Previous Level of Fitness

The fitter you were before you stopped working out, the faster you will get back in shape.

Your Experience Level

People with more training years under their belt tend to get back in shape faster than beginners who had only been performing their fitness routine for a few months before stopping.

Your Age

As we get older, gains in fitness and strength made through training are often lost more quickly, and regaining fitness can take longer, so it might be a slower process to get back in shape.

Three people doing a lunge.

7 Tips for Getting Back In Shape

The following are some tips for how to get back into working out after time off:

#1: Set Your Expectations 

The purpose of delineating the various factors that affect how long it may take to get back in shape was to help set your expectations so that you approach getting back into shape with a hopeful but reasonable mindset.

It takes time to get out of shape when you stop exercising, but it also takes time to get back to shape.

As a general rule of thumb, if you were inactive for a month or less, it will probably take about 1-2 weeks to get back in shape, depending on your age, fitness level, experience level, and why you stopped exercising.

If you were inactive for 1-2 months, it will probably take 3-4 weeks to get back in shape again, based on those factors.

If you were inactive for 2-3 months, it will probably take 6 weeks to get back in shape.

Beyond that, you should be prepared to essentially be starting from square one.

Tennis shoes, a weight and a mat.

#2: Ease Back Into It

The single best piece of advice for how to start exercising again is to ease back into your routine slowly.

Don’t go gangbusters the first day back, and try to run 5 miles (8 km) or set PRs on your squats and deadlifts.

Treat your body like you’re stepping back from where you were previously, just as you are. 

Do walking and running intervals, lift 60-70% of your previous loads, and cut your sets and reps down, or the length and intensity of your cardio workouts.

Gradually build back up in accordance with the tolerance of your body.

#3: Take Rest Days

Some people recommend exercising every other day at first when you are trying to get back in shape.

This can be a great approach to prevent excessive soreness, but if it’s really important for you to re-establish consistency by working out more often, do active recovery workouts (walking, light cardio, dynamic stretching) every other day as you get back into shape.

With that said, you still need to have at least one rest day per week, if not more, to give your body time to recover and build back stronger. 

The majority of the improvements in your fitness and strength occur during the rest and recovery, so don’t skimp on this vital component of training. 

A person smiling doing a lunge.

#4: Focus On Form

Using proper form and technique is always important, but it becomes even more so when you are working out in a body that is weaker than you were previously accustomed to.

You can’t rely on having a certain level of strength or fitness to compensate for poor technique, as you might’ve gotten away with in the past.

Additionally, you can use the time during this “reset” to improve your form and technique beyond where it was before you took time off as you build back your strength.

#5: Set Goals

Goal setting is an important tool to increase motivation and accountability.

Set a goal that excites you, challenges you, and inspires you to push through the tough days and get back into working out.

A group class at the gym with an instructor showing them how to stretch.

#6: Motivate Yourself

If you stopped working out because of a lack of motivation or shifting priorities, try to build in a safety net to prevent this from happening again by motivating yourself with rewards such as new workout gear or finding a workout buddy for companionship and accountability.

#7: Try a 30-Day Fitness Challenge

A 30-day fitness challenge is a great way to get back into working out because fitness challenges increase motivation and accountability and take the planning out of the equation—the fitness challenge tells you exactly what workouts to do.

Check out tons of awesome 30-day fitness challenges here.

Stay positive and give yourself grace when you are getting back into working out after time off. You will get back in shape, and it is all part of the journey!

Two people sitting on the grass, slapping hands.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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