One of the beauties about life is that it’s an adventure, but when life throws you a curveball, it can disrupt your routine or derail your usual plans. Although we try to be consistent in our workout routines, sometimes, life’s twists and turns force us to take an extended break from exercising regularly.
Whether you’ve had an illness, injury, moved house, welcomed a new baby, took a new job, or had some other circumstance that caused you to step away from your workout routine for several weeks or more, getting back into shape and resuming your fitness plan can be difficult once you have the green light to work out again.
In this guide, we will discuss how to start working out again after an extended break and will share some workouts for getting back into shape safely when you’ve been inactive for a while.
We will look at:
- How To Get Back Into Working Out
- Factors That Affect How To Get Back Into Shape
- How To Start Working Out Again After A Break: 3 Ideas On How To Start Exercising Again
Let’s get started!
How to Get Back Into Working Out
It can be frustrating to see your fitness gains start slipping away when you have to stop working out, so let’s find out how to start working out again when you are good and ready to go!
When you start working out, your body begins to make various physiological adaptations, such as increasing muscle mass, decreasing body fat, strengthening neuromuscular connections, increasing the strength of your heart and lungs, increasing your stroke volume and blood plasma, among others.
These adaptations improve your cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and body composition.
Your body will continue to improve and adapt, so long as you exercise consistently and employ the principle of progressive overload, wherein you gradually increase the intensity, load, duration, or other factors of your workouts to keep your body challenged.
However, these physiological adaptations are reversible; if you stop working out regularly, you will lose this progress and your body can revert back to a less trained state.
Detraining, or a loss of fitness, can include a decrease in aerobic endurance or stamina, a decline in VO2 max, a decrease in muscle mass, muscular strength, and muscular endurance, changes in body composition, and “definition,” and a decrease in power and speed.
So, how do you get back into working out after time off? Ultimately, the how is simple—you have to start working out consistently again—but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. You’ll need to start slow and progress gradually to prevent injuries.
Factors that Affect How to Get Back Into Shape
Once you’re ready to figure out how to start working out again after a break, there are a few things you should consider to help you decide how to get back into shape and how to start working out again.
Factors to consider when returning to a workout routine include the following:
#1: How Long You Were Inactive
How much time you took off from working out has a major impact on how you’ll need to approach getting back into working out. The longer you did not exercise, the longer it may take to regain your fitness, and the more gradual your approach should be.
One study demonstrated that aerobic fitness can drop significantly in just a matter of weeks. The study found that VO2 max dropped 7% after 3 weeks of inactivity. Most studies show that cardio fitness drops after about two weeks and strength starts to decline after three weeks of inactivity.
#2: Why You Stopped Working Out
The reason why you stopped working out in the first place needs to be considered in how to get back into shape and regain fitness after time off.
If you were simply busy or chose to take a break but had no physical issues going on, you can conceivably approach your return to working out more aggressively.
However, if you had a musculoskeletal injury or an illness, your body went through a healing process and it’s prudent to take a more conservative approach to getting back into exercising.
If you’ve been sick with COVID-19, a respiratory illness, or some other long-term illness, for example, your body may be weaker, and you may have some residual symptoms that will make breathing during exercise more challenging when you go to do your first few workouts.
In the case of returning from an injury, it’s important to consider the cause of the injury. If your injury was a result of the sport or exercise you’re returning to, you’ll want to be especially mindful of how the area feels when you decide how to start working out again.
For example, if you had a tibial stress fracture from running, once you are cleared to run, you’ll want to increase your volume slowly and gradually, gauging how your shin feels during each run and in the 24 hours following each workout. Back off if you feel discomfort that doesn’t subside.
#3: Your Experience and General Fitness Level
In general, the fitter you were prior to stopping working out, the faster your fitness will return, and the more aggressive you can be in terms of getting back into shape.
If you were working out 5-6 days per week before you stopped, start back with three days the first week, four days the second week, five days the third week, and 5-6 days per week the fourth week provided you feel well and are recovering between workouts.
Alternatively, you can start back with more frequent, but shorter workouts.
If you were working out 5-6 days per week for 45-60 minutes before you stopped, start back with four days the first week for 20-25 minutes, five days the second week for 30 minutes, five days per week the third week for 40 minutes, and 5-6 days per week the fourth week for 45-50 minutes provided you feel well and are recovering between workouts.
#4: What Type of Exercise and Workouts You Were Doing Before You Stopped Working Out
There’s evidence to suggest that cardio fitness is lost faster than strength, so the type of exercise you were doing before you stopped and the type you’re returning to can affect how long it will take to get back in shape and the best workouts to do.
The intensity of your workouts also matters. One study found that not only does higher-intensity interval training (HIIT) induce greater gains in strength, anaerobic power, and fitness, but these gains seem better preserved during prolonged periods of time off from exercise relative to fitness gains achieved by moderate- or low-intensity continuous exercise.
Start with steady-state workouts for the first week and then build back up to interval training.
#5: Your Fitness Goals
Your fitness goals will influence how to get back in shape after a break to some degree. If you are a competitive athlete working with time constraints in terms of when you need to be prepared for an event, your approach to returning to exercising will probably be more aggressive than a recreational athlete.
How To Start Working Out Again After A Break: 3 Ideas To Get Going
So, if you are wondering how to start working out again after time off and what workouts should you do, it is highly variable based on all of the aforementioned factors, but here we have a few workout ideas for getting back into shape:
Total-Body Strength Training Workout
It’s a good idea to start with bodyweight exercises when you start working out again after a break. You can gauge how your body feels without external resistance and then increase the resistance if everything feels okay in a day or two following the first workout back.
For exercises with weights, use lighter weights than you used before you stopped working out. Focus on using good form.
Here is an example of a workout for how to get back in shape:
Complete two rounds of the following :
- 20 bodyweight squats
- 15 push-ups
- 12 step-ups per leg
- 30-second plank
- 10 bent-over rows per side
- 10 single-leg bridges per side
- 12 biceps curls
- 12 resistance band reverse flys
- 12 stability ball hamstring curls
- 15 reverse crunches
- Warm-up 5 minutes (Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of 5 on a scale of 1-10)
- 5 minutes at RPE 6-7
- 5 minutes at RPE 7-8
- Either stop and do a cooldown of 5 minutes at RPE 5 or do one more section at RPE 6-7 before the cooldown if you feel good.
Here’s a good walk/run workout if you are returning to running after time off.
- Warm-up with 5 minutes of walking
- 8-10 x run 1 minute walk 30 seconds
- Cool down with 5 minutes of walking
Above all, when you have decided how to start exercising again after a break, listen to your body and err on the side of caution. Be patient and positive. You’ll get there!
If you are looking to set a specific running goal such as a Couch to 5k or marathon, check out our training plans and resources for guidance!