10 Sep 2019

Returning to exercise after a long break

We all have periods of time where we need to stop exercising. Personal Trainer Lauren Aizen talks us through how to carefully and safely increase your activity levels.

Whether it's due to illness, injury, a change in routine or a lack of motivation, we all have periods in our life when we are less active or not exercising.

For some people it may be a few weeks, for others months or even years. And when the time comes to return to exercise after this period of inactivity it can be really hard to know where to start and/or to find the motivation to begin.

Even as a personal trainer, I am not immune needing to take a break and then having to carefully plan my return. In my own circumstances, exercising is my escape mechanism to help me manage the symptoms of long term Crohn's disease, so I hate every minute of not being active.

Related: Returning to exercise after surgery

However, due to my disease, I know that sometimes I need to accept my body needs a rest and that I am sadly not superwoman. I have been so frustrated by long episodes of having to go cold turkey from the gym though and the thought of having to build my muscles up again after total inactivity.

Getting active again after a break

When I restart exercise, I have had to be a little clever about how I have returned to my routines and training. It's been really important to consider the changes that have occurred in my body since my break from exercise.

There are a number of changes that happen in your body when you take a break. Your strength and endurance levels may have become significantly lower. Your muscles will have lost strength too - and the larger muscles may not be able to react and provide stability like they used to. This can mean you place yourself at risk of injury if you try to exercise at the intensity you are used to. Your weaker muscles will be forced to work harder and become overstrained, and your risk of injury is elevated.

So here are my top tips to help you slowly return to exercise, after a period of inactivity.

Do

  • Start off at a lower intensity
  • Keep training sessions short to begin with
  • Take lots of time to warm up and down
  • Dedicate as much time to improving your nutrition as you do to your physical fitness
  • Take time to concentrate on your breathing
  • Really enjoy (without overdoing it) stretches and extending those muscles

Don’t

  • Copy workouts from the internet unless they are specifically aimed at beginners
  • Try to recreate a workout you did months or years ago
  • Participate in high-impact activities, like HIIT workouts or ones which involve jumping.

Where to start

After my own operation due to my Crohn's disease, when I was ready, I began with walking.

First to the end of my road, then to the high street and shops. At first I had to stop, rest, then restart – working in intervals.

Once I was ready to increase my activity I used weights to build strength. I don’t really use resistance machines, as I prefer free weights and kettlebells. However, I have found fixed-weight machines (like you find in the gym) useful as they helped my stability.

You can mix both types of exercises into your workout, but remember, you are trying to stimulate your joints, muscles and nervous system. Overloading them in the first few sessions is going to create more stress in your body.

If you are not keen on using a gym or feeling daunted about how to use the gym, then don't worry. You can try other activities, for example I swim as it’s the ultimate low-impact exercise which gives a whole-body workout.

Alternatively, yoga and Pilates are excellent options and will improve your strength, endurance, flexibility and posture.

Related: New to exercise? Here's what type of exercise to do.

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