Injuries, employment, illness, classes, and even just laziness are all factors that can prevent us from continuing a fitness program. Although taking time away from intense programs every so often to recover can be beneficial, too much time away from the gym can cause complications. I personally find my first few lifts back into my routine to be the most frustrating lifts. I can’t lift the weight I usually can, I get tired faster than usual, and I often am sore for days afterward. It is the same situation for running; I am slower than usual, I feel as though I am working harder than I should be, and I often don’t want to get out of bed the next morning. I know just how difficult those first few workouts back in the gym can be and I would like to share how I approach my first few workouts of my routine.
I have realized that during my first few lifts after a break I often try to do too much. I walk into the gym with the mentality that I can pick up where I left off. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Besides the frustration of not being able to lift up to my normal standards, if I push it too hard when I am not ready it can be detrimental to my progress and can even set me back days in my training program.
By understanding and accepting that I simply cannot just pick up where I left off, I have made huge advances in my training efficiency. Now, when I walk into the gym after a break, I have a plan that is adjusted to account for my time off. Everyone is different, but for weight lifting the first time back, I personally choose weights that are around forty to sixty percent of my max weight and lift for twelve reps or more with around a minute of rest time between each set. I try and perform three sets per lift and only perform three lifts per muscle group. I use this technique the first week to help get my muscle endurance back. I then gradually increase the weight every lift and transition back into my normal routine. The same general concept applies for running. When I go back and step on the treadmill for the first time I now accept that I need to slowly build back up to my normal speed and incline. For me, this means turning down the speed to around seventy percent of my normal speed and putting the incline down to about half of its normal percent grade.
Getting back to the fitness level you once had depends on many factors, such as the time you took off, nutrition, and sleep but if you work back into your routine slowly, you could save yourself a lot of time. As simple as it may be, the most important lesson when getting back into the gym is to be patient. Do not expect to immediately come back as strong as you once were. Focus on progressing with each session and in time you will be back where you want to be and ready to improve.
Jack Burdick is majoring in Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota
and along with his weightlifting workouts, he competes in marathons and ultra-marathons (50 mile races) and is looking to earn a Cross-Fit title or to be recognized with The World's Fittest Man title which is reserved for an ultra endurance power athlete.