It happens to all of us: Something comes up—an injury, an illness, a life change, a busy schedule, or just, you know, a lack of motivation—and we fall out of our regular workout routine.
The first few days after stopping, you might be anxious that you’re losing fitness and eager to get back to it. But over time, it can become the norm to not be exercising. And then it becomes intimidating to start back up again when you’re no longer in the shape you once were.
How do you restart a fitness routine safely?
The best approach to working out after a long break
How fast you lose your fitness during a break will vary from person to person. So when you’re returning to the gym, Hannah Daugherty, an NASM- and ACE-certified personal trainer and health coach, says you will want to progress appropriately and modify whenever necessary.
“For example, [if] you could do squat jumps for 60 seconds before you took time off from working out, this time, you can start with 30 seconds or modify the movement and practice squats before adding in the jump,” she says.
The exact type of workout you should do will depend on factors like your health history and fitness goals. “But beginning with gentle workouts such as walking, cycling, mobility work, and bodyweight training are all excellent places to start,” Daugherty says.
How do you make sure you don’t overdo it right off the bat?
“Start at a lighter intensity instead of jumping right back into what you were doing previously,” Daugherty recommends. “Dialing back the intensity a bit, decreasing the rep scheme, or modifying the exercises can all be beneficial.” (And make sure you’re doing everything with proper form and technique to reduce your risk of injury.)
From a practical standpoint, this means putting your ego aside and taking an honest appraisal of your current fitness level. Just because you were previously running five miles a day or doing 30-minute HIIT workouts doesn’t mean you should be doing that just yet. Pull it back for now until you get a better sense of what you can handle.
Listen to your body and err on the side of being overly conservative rather than risk injury. You have plenty of time to get back in shape!
How long does it take to get your fitness back?
If you’ve taken off more than a couple of weeks, you can expect to have lost cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. But the good news is that fitness typically returns faster than it took to build in the first place.
“You will notice fitness gains reasonably quickly—typically within a span of a couple of weeks,” Daugherty says. Of course, that will vary based on your health, your body, and your new routine.
If it’s taking longer than you’d like to get back to your previous baseline, don’t fret.
“Keep in mind that it’s never too late! Staying consistent is critical, even if your workouts start at a lower intensity,” Daugherty shares. “Gradually, you will begin to notice improvements, and your fitness level will increase. Take it one day at a time, and stick with it.”