Occasional breaks from exercise are sometimes unavoidable. You may have been ill, on vacation, busy at work, or simply have lost your workout mojo. If the break was just for a few days, you have nothing to worry about and won’t need to take any special action. But, if your break was two weeks or more, it may be a good idea to ease back into exercise rather than jump back in feet first.
After a two or more weak break, your body has started to lose some of your hard-won fitness. It won’t be a lot – just a few percent – but enough that going back to the exact workouts you were doing before your break could be a little too stressful.
DOMS – Delated Onset Muscle Soreness
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, DOMS for short, is not serious but it is uncomfortable and can be temporarily debilitating when severe. You can minimize DOMS (you probably won’t avoid it completely) after a layoff by adjusting your workouts. Here are a few options to consider.
Remember though, the longer the break, the more fitness you will have lost and the slower you need to ease yourself back into exercise. Adjust these recommendations to suit your needs.
Increase exercise volume gradually
Let’s say that, normally, you run five miles per workout. Don’t restart your training regimen by running five miles on your first day back. Instead, run just one mile. Yes, this will be easy but that’s the point!
On day two, run two miles – a little more challenging but still easy. Make day three a rest day and then, on day four, run three miles. Run four miles on day five, rest on day six and then, on day seven, run your first five-miler.
If you are more of a gym person, you can use the same approach but, instead, gradually increase the number of exercises and sets you do. Aim to finish your first few workouts thinking “that way easy” and feeling more rather than less energized when you leave the gym.
Easing yourself in gradually like this will make returning to exercise enjoyable rather than a chore.
Increase exercise intensity gradually
Another way to ease yourself back into exercise is to make your first few workouts considerably easier by lowering the intensity but maintaining volume. For cardio, this means exercising at a slower pace and for strength training, using a lower weight.
Consider halving your normal training intensity for your first workout and then adding 10% each workout thereafter.
Again, the first couple of workouts should feel easy and you should take a week or so to get back to your previous level of performance.
Increase exercise frequency gradually
If, before your break, you exercised four, five or more times a week, consider easting back into training by only working out two or three times per week for the first week. Fewer workouts means more time to recover. On the following week, add another workout and then do the same the week after that. Continue adding a workout per week until you are back to your previous weekly training frequency.
Or – you could just tough it out!
If you don’t mind suffering a little (or a lot!) of DOMS, you could just go right back to your pre-break workouts and accept that you are going to be sore for a week or two. You can minimize this by extending your warm up and cool down and also using alternating hot and cold baths and showers between workouts. Lots of stretching may help too.
DOMS is not a form of injury and you can safely exercise in spite of having sore muscles. However, you may find that your mobility is hampered by DOMS and you’ll need to warm up more to restore your usual range of movement.
While soreness is a given, on the plus side, you will restore your fitness level faster if you just grit your teeth and get on with it. It’s also worth remembering that even easing back into exercise after a break merely reduces soreness and is unlikely to prevent it altogether.
Of course, the most effective way to avoid the problems associated with returning to exercise after a break is to not take a break in the first place. Even if you can’t work out, you should be able to remain active which will help preserve your fitness levels, making the return to exercise much easier.