Guidelines for Returning to Exercise After a Break

The following article was taken from the Cathe weekly newsletter:

Even if you make working out a priority, there are times when you have to take a break from exercise due to illness, injury or a family or work-related problem. When you return to the gym or start working out again at home, it’s tempting to jump back in full force, but that’s not necessarily a good idea if you’ve taken a long break from exercise.

Exercise Breaks: How Long Does It Take to Lose the Benefits of Exercise?

If you’re a seasoned athlete, you’ll lose your exercise gains more slowly than someone who’s only been working a few weeks. In one study, a group of exercisers who had been working out for eight weeks, lost all of their gains after only a 2 month break. Participants who had trained for a year or more only lost half of their fitness gains after 3 months of not working out.

When you stop weight training, you’ll start to see some decrease in strength after only 14 days. In one study, men who lifted heavy lost 12% of their strength after 2 weeks away from the gym.

How to Return to Weight Training after a Break

If you’ve only taken a week off, you probably won’t experience a significant decrease in strength when you return to the gym. In fact, a break of a few days gives your muscles extended time to rest and recover, and you’ll probably come back stronger than ever. But if you stop weight training for longer periods of time, your risk of injury is higher if you jump back in and try to lift what you did before.

If you’ve taken a long exercise break, it’s safest to restart your strength training workout almost from “scratch.” This means using lighter weights and more reps until you give your muscles a chance to adapt to training again. A weight that’s about 60% of your maximum works well. Plan on gradually increasing the load over a 4 week period until you’re back to what you were lifting before your break. If you experience significant soreness, don’t increase the weight again for another few workouts.

It’s also a good idea to cut the number of sets you do in half the first week you return to weight training. Then add additional sets during week 2 and week 3 while increasing the weight. It should take about 3 weeks to get back to where you were before your break from exercise.

It’s Easier the Second Time Around

The good news is this. Even if you have to take several months away from weight training and have to start over, it won’t be as hard the second time around. That’s because the neural circuitry has already been built, and there’s a certain degree of muscle memory. This means your muscles will respond more quickly to training the second time around.

It’s always best to take it slow when you’ve had a long break from exercise. Why risk an injury that’ll keep you out of the gym even longer? Take your time, and enjoy the process of rebuilding your strength again. You did it once, and you can do it again.

References:

Exercise Physiology. Fifth edition. 2001.

Source

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