Perhaps you’ve had an injury and resisted putting stress on your back, or maybe the regular workout was the easiest part of your hectic schedule to eliminate. But now you’re ready to head back to the gym. Although the return won’t be effortless, it doesn’t have to be painful. Whether you’ve been on vacation for a week or two off or haven’t walked through those gym doors in a year, there’s no need to jump in hard and fast. The best move is to take an easy first step forward.
A Short Break
If you’ve skipped workouts you should be rested and motivated to get back into the groove. Actually, taking a break of up to two weeks can be beneficial by allowing your body to repair and recover, explains Jolene Goring, celebrity personal trainer and nutritionist in Scottsdale, AZ. Still, it’s best to pick up at less than full strength. “Resume your regular routine, but use 75 percent lighter weights for the first week,” Goring says. “For example, if you normally bench press 200 pounds, go down to 150.”
If you’ve been away from the gym for several weeks or longer, it’s best to ease into the old routine to avoid injury. With weights, Goring advises starting with 50 to 60 percent of the weight you were lifting prior to the break and slowly increase the weight with each successive workout. Use dynamic stretching as a warm up. “Do not do any static stretching before lifting — this can tear the muscle when it’s not warmed up,” Goring notes. “Warm up for five minutes by fast walking, biking or using the elliptical.”
Regardless of your current fitness level, a gradual introduction that incorporates cardio and strength training is a safe way to resume. Concentrate on targeting legs, chest, back, shoulders, arms and abs. “I would start slowly with light cardio of 10 to 15 minutes and some light circuit training with one or two sets of 10 reps of an exercise for each major muscle group,” says Rebecca Kovacs, fitness instructor at Scottsdale Community College. “Finish with some total body stretching.”
Instead of heading straight to the machines and free weights area for a traditional solo workout, consider checking out a group fitness class, like step aerobics, pilates, kickboxing or Zumba. “This will be fun and different and a way to meet new people,” Kovacs advises.
Talk to the Instructor
If this is your first time trying a certain type of exercise class, let the instructor know so that he or she can keep an eye on you to make sure you’re not getting overwhelmed or risking injury. This is good advice even if you’ve participated in the workout before but have been away for a while. “For yoga or group classes, let the instructor know that you have taken time off so they can watch your form,” Goring says.
Ask a Pro
If you lack motivation or consistency, or just don’t feel like you’re getting what you want from your workout, hiring a personal trainer for one or two sessions to give you a kick-start could be the answer, Kovacs suggests. Consulting with a qualified nutritionist may also be helpful. “He or she can go over your current eating plan and possibly make suggestions to help out with adequate nutrition for your workouts.”
Bring a Buddy
It’s easy to skip a morning or evening gym session when you’re the only one affected by the change in plan. But making workout dates with a good friend or significant other can do wonders for motivation and dedication. “It helps to make you more accountable for your workouts and get you back on track,” Kovacs says.
Rest and Recover
In addition to proper stretching and cooling down, giving your body a bit of pampering will help it relax and recuperate from the shock of what is essentially a new schedule. “An Epsom salt bath is a great way to soothe sore muscles after your first time back at the gym,” Goring observes. “Be sure to take at least one day off in between weight sessions to let the muscles recover.”