Making a Comeback

by Liz Stovall, Fitness & Wellness Division Manager, Department of Human Resources

It happens to so many adults, and likely, it has happened to you: you start working out, you push your body, and start dreaming about six-pack abs and smaller clothing sizes. Suddenly, you see possibilities you never had the courage to dream about. Then WHAM! Something stops you right in your tracks. You get hurt. You get busy. You get tired or burned out. And suddenly the gains in fitness, weight loss and confidence disappear as quickly as they materialized.

So how do you get moving again after being sidelined? The strategies below will help you get going.

Get some perspective. Do you know what happens in your body when you stop working out? There’s a decrease in blood volume and mitochondria (the powerplants in our cells), and your lactate threshold falls. In general, the longer you’ve been training, the more quickly you’ll be able to get back into it after a layoff. In other words, someone who has been working out consistently for 10 years, then has a layoff for a year, will have an easier time of returning to work outs than someone who has been physically active for only a year, then off for a year. Why is that? The longer your exercise history, the bigger the foundation in aerobic strength. You will have built up a much higher level of mitochondria to produce energy, more red blood cells to deliver oxygen to exercising muscles, and more metabolic enzymes than someone who just started working out. Yes, your level of fitness decreases during a layoff, but it won’t drop as low as if you had zero fitness history.

Slow and steady wins the race. Another consequence of taking an extended break from working out is losing conditioning in your muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue. It’s difficult to assess how much conditioning you lose or how quickly you lose it, but it’s the weakness in the musculoskeletal system that causes so many people to get injured when they return to working out. This is why a slow and steady exercise plan allowing rest and recovery days are so important.

Walk before you run. Before jumping into a high intensity workout, you should be able to walk for at least 45 minutes (without pain if returning from an injury).  Walking conditions soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and connective tissue), preparing them for more rigorous demands of jogging and running, for example.

Start where you are. Don’t pick up where you left off, or at a weekly workout schedule that you had in the past. Too many times the desire for quick fitness results creates a situation where the individual is doing more than they ought to too soon after injury, and they end up sidelined even longer.

Don’t over medicate. Over-the-counter painkillers might make you feel better in the short term, but they can mask pain that tells you that you should stop. And for some, they can lead to gastric distress. If you can’t run through pain, don’t run. Walk or rest instead.

Cross-train. Working out every day will help speed up improvements in  your cardiovascular fitness, but that doesn’t mean do the same workout each and every day. Add 2 or 3 days of cross-training to your routine. There are so many modes of exercise – cycling, rowing, swimming, using an elliptical trainer – that don’t worsen a previous injury. Also, Yoga, Pilates, weight training and core exercises can help you get stronger.


The Takeaways:

Practice patience: Rushing back to the routine you maintained before your setback is a surefire way to cause an injury.

Mix it up. Cross-train with other forms of exercise that work other parts of your body and still give a good cardiovascular workout.

Be safe, not sorry. As difficult as it can be to rest when you’d rather workout, remember that the conservative approach you take now will yield many happy and productive workouts down the road.