Whether you’re coming out of lockdown, overcoming an injury or illness, or approaching the turn of the new year, many of us – at one point or another – have probably had a time in our lives where we are getting back into exercise.
Today, we’ll be discussing how to best get back into exercise, so that you can sustain this incredible life change for the long term.
Ultimately, effectively and safely getting back into exercise involves:
- Considering why you stopped in the first place
- Gradually building up
- Listening to your body
- Effective warming up & recovery
- Setting some practical goals
At the Artemis Centre, we are dedicated experts in the physical, social, emotional and academic wellbeing of our members, and want to help them to perform at their best.
Let’s dive in.
Getting Back into Exercise after Lockdown
The circumstances of this year have certainly been unique and have had vastly differing ramifications for all of us.
Some have thrived – dedicating their extra time to walking “alongside” friends, balancing on the yoga mat in the living room, or escapading up and down their apartment staircase.
Conversely, we’ve seen many people with increased workloads, be it juggling work, helping their kids learn long division, and dealing with the added financial and mental stresses that the Covid catastrophe has brought. In these cases, many have struggled to prioritise their physical fitness, and some have even stopped exercising altogether.
As gyms, playgrounds and pools begin to re-open, it’s important to take a graduated, strategic approach to your return to exercise, rather than jumping right in.
How to Get Back into Exercise – The 5 Steps
We firmly believe that big aspirations need to be broken down into simple steps. With a step by step, logical plan of attack, we can start to make some serious inroads into achieving these big dreams.
Grab a pen and paper and get ready to take some notes on the following 5 steps:
1. Consider Why you Stopped in the First Place
It’s extremely important to take into consideration why you stopped exercising in the first place, as this will guide your strategy for return and ensure you can sustain exercise for the long term again.
For example, maybe you stopped exercising because you hurt your knee and didn’t know what to do about it? The discomfort was manageable at first, but eventually, it ate away at your exercise enjoyment before you threw in the towel.
In this case, your strategy might be to see a physiotherapist or other health professional to better understand what the mechanism of injury was and to be given some specific exercises to combat the pathology.
Or perhaps you stopped because your usual, beloved gym was forced to close its doors? You became lost without the motivation of the other members and the encouragement of the trainers, and so your routine fell apart. In this case, perhaps you need to work on your intrinsic motivation, as you don’t want to become too reliant on external drivers for your success.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go back to your much-loved gym once it returns, however, you may like to try completing one or two sessions a week independently to grow that exercise autonomy for the future.
Have a think about why you stopped in the first place – what was the driver? What systems can you put in place in your current, highly motivated state? Actioning these systems will ensure you are physically and mentally resilient enough to stay true to the course next time adversity comes around.
2. Gradually Build Back Up
As a strength and conditioning coach, I am always very wary about a phenomenon known as ‘load management’. You may be wondering what this has to do with you, so I’ll use an analogy to help illustrate.
If you have ever lifted weights for the first time, started completing a new repetitive task, or even wore a new pair of shoes, you might have found your body developing blisters. Essentially, an uncomfortable blister forms because our skin cannot adapt quickly enough to the new stressor (namely, friction) on an isolated area of our skin.
However, you’ll notice that over time, your skin starts to adapt to the new stimulus, forming a tougher, almost callus like surface to cope with the new demands. When getting back into exercise after a long period off, our body as a system is no different.
It’s important to take it slow and steady, rather than jumping straight back into a high-intensity session on almost every day of the week. This will give our body plenty of time to recover and adapt to the new stimulus, rather than developing a ‘blister’. If you’re not sure what this looks like for you, pick something easier than what you used to do and listen to your body.
Start with an exercise modality that you’ve done previously and keep the intensity low-moderate to start off with. If you’ve never exercised before or it’s been several years, you should see your GP to get a health check first.
If you were previously very active and it was quite recent (weeks or a few months), you’ll be able to start at a higher level and progress quicker.
3. Listen to your Body
Listening to your body involves being mindful of how your body is feeling not only as you’re exercising, but also in the 48 hour period following your session. It’s completely normal to experience some mild, general muscular discomfort and tightness in broad regions of your body in the days following your first few sessions back.
This is known as DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) and 99% of the time this discomfort is a completely normal part of getting back into exercise again. It’s important to frequently review how you are feeling and ensure that you are returning to a feeling of ‘normal’ again at a quickening rate as the first few weeks of your return progresses.
If you become concerned about any pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away with rest, recovery & time, contact a physiotherapist or other medical professional promptly. Keep listening to your body and use this intuition to guide you as you are getting back into exercise.
4. Prioritise an Effective Warm up & Recovery
Warming up enables you to become mentally and physically prepared for the exercise session to come, and make any necessary last-minute adjustments to your session based on how you’re feeling. Just like a morning coffee or other morning ritual sets you up for a productive day, so too does a warm up routine in preparing you for a highly effective and safe session.
An effective warm up helps to prepare your previously cold and inactive muscles and also ensures that your joints are limber and mobile enough to exercise safely. As you start, listen to your body and feel for areas that feel particularly tight or sore – it might be worth giving them some extra time and attention, in the form of a stretch or mobility exercise.
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s also important to adequately recover from your sessions to promote optimal adaptation. There are dozens of activities you can partake in to accelerate your recovery, including stretching, quality nutrition, hydration, warm & cold showers and most importantly, getting an adequate amount of sleep.
Prioritising warm ups and recovery will ensure that getting back into exercise is a silky smooth transition.
5. Set some Practical Goals
It’s summer and you’re off to a new destination with your family – what’s the first thing you do when you jump in the car? You get up google maps and put in your destination to help you navigate the journey of course! The reality is that without a roadmap, you’re probably not going to get very far before becoming lost.
Our exercise journey is no different. It’s great to get started when you’re full of motivation, but before too long, it’s best to write down some practical goals so that you know where you’ve come from and where you’re heading.
When setting goals, it’s best to work backward – starting with the end in mind.
For example, start with a specific, time-based goal, such as being able to run around the Botanical Gardens (~4km) without stopping within 2 months. From here, assess what your current ability is – perhaps you can run 2km without stopping – and identify how far off you are from your goal.
In this case, you need to be able to run 2 further kilometres in order to achieve your goal. If you’ve got three months, this means that each week you need to add 250 more meters to your run each week. Breaking down your bigger goals into smaller targets makes it easier to take specific action today.
When getting back into exercise, it’s easy to lose motivation or sight of our bigger goal, which is why these smaller targets are a great way to keep us accountable. Before long, a few weeks would have gone by and you’ll be exercising consistently again.
What we Offer
At the Artemis Centre, we offer a number of swimming and gymnastics programs that can help you and your family get back into exercise.
Our expert coaches will inspire you to get back moving, enjoying what you love or help you to discover a new passion.
Visit our programs page to find out more.