If you have taken an extended amount of time off from training or exercise, it can be daunting to pick it back up again. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the “big picture” — thoughts of events you want to compete in or what you used to be able to do in workouts. As it was the first time you got in shape (or the last time you got into race shape), don’t forget it’s a process that evolves over time. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you head out for your first workout:
It Might be Easier Than You Think
There is a growing body of research that shows that once you reach a certain athletic benchmark, it’s much easier to achieve that level again than it is to continue advancing. This means that when you’re out of shape, it’s much easier to get back in shape than it is to continue improving towards your next PR.
We often think about our return to the sport in the context of how hard a level was to achieve the first time. Chances are your return will be both quicker and easier than you anticipate, as long as you focus on the little things associated with rebuilding habits. Just try to let that PR stay on the horizon for now, and focus on carving out space in your schedule for those daily workouts.
There’s No Shame in Starting Slow
Remember, you are starting from nothing, so any workout is a step forward. Consistency and frequency are key in the beginning. Don’t worry about the duration or intensity of those first workouts. Think of them as small building blocks — a 15- to 20-minute run done a few times a week can be the start of a solid foundation, while a few 15- to 30-second pickups can help stimulate leg speed without leaving you extremely sore.
Consistency is the secret to a successful return. No single long or hard workout will help all that much in this stage, especially if it decreases your motivation to get out the next day. It’s easy to get caught up in the “I need to do more” mentality. Remind yourself each day that you’re getting stronger. Building slightly week to week will help sustain your progress while preventing injury. Your muscles will adapt quickly, but you also need to allow your ligaments, tendons, and bones enough time to re-adjust to the load of training.
Remember to Have Fun
As you are getting back into shape, go with what is fun. One of the key components of getting back in shape is building an aerobic base, and fortunately much of this is transferable between disciplines. If you enjoying swimming, cycling, or running more at this time, do more workouts in that discipline.
There will be plenty of time to work on weaknesses later, but if you’re a former swimmer and want to hit the pool four times a week, that’s fine. If you have friends who belong to a spin class or running group, you could join them for a little extra motivation. In the early stages you are simply gaining a lot of general aerobic fitness, so it doesn’t matter much where you get it from.
These guidelines can help you through the first few weeks once you start training again. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling more fit and ready to build on those gains!