We all fall off the wagon now and then. With our exercise, diets, routines, sleep habits, and what not. We try to get back on to it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes we fall off again. And as Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So, what do we need to watch out for when returning to exercise after a break?

When we stop exercising or playing a sport for even a couple of weeks, a reverse syndrome called deconditioning sets in. Essentially it refers to the changes that happen in our body due to inactivity, like muscle loss, or loss of strength. Our body operates on the general rule of ‘use it or lose it’. And we lose muscle strength at the rate of 1% – 3% a day; more so after three weeks. It is worse with our cardiovascular strength. Our heart gradually loses its ability to handle extra blood flow, up to 5% in 24 hours. A month of inactivity undoes most of the progress made to our cardiovascular health.

You can’t start where you stopped last

Given the deconditioning and depending on our general physical health/ strength, some of us have to start from scratch. We can’t just go from weeks of no workout to running 5k in a day. Scaffolding is necessary. So, start small. Instead of going for the 1-hour mark, aim for 15 to 30 mins. Says athletic trainer Jason Cruickshank, ATC, CSCS, “Trying to lift too much weight, or forcing your body into a stretch or a range of motion that it’s not ready for yet can result in micro trauma to the muscles. It is best to start at a low level to build endurance and to retrain your muscles.”

Here’s more. During exercise, our muscle fibers pull against one another, which is why we experience aches. Torn fibers repair themselves to become thicker and stronger, and thus denser. However, rest causes these fibers to weaken. When we start exercising again post injury/ rest, it can lead to more micro-tears in the muscle fibers. In essence, that is more harm than good as muscle flexibility is low, as is the range of motion.

Where do we go from here?

  • It is essential to feel successful when you restart exercising. Focus on what you already know – familiar exercises that have worked for you previously. Be it static stretches, jogging, or gentle strength training.
  • Stretch before and after a workout to prevent injuries. Especially overuse injuries which occur when micro-stress is placed on a particular region over a long period. Factors contributing to overuse injuries include inadequate recovery, poor technique, or poor exercise selection.
  • Keep moving and stay active. Don’t just take to the couch even on rest days. Walk and stretch to help the muscles heal.

Research suggests regular sports and exercise can reduce your risk of death by 20 to 40%. That’s a lucrative enough benefit, besides a range of health advantages. So, no matter where you are on your break, get back to the workout. It awaits you.


Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash