Ramp Up the Right Way
If your workout routine has been on pause, here’s how to hit play on progress and be kind to your body.
- You can still make long-term progress even if you take time off from working out.
- The key to a solid ramp-up is to work slowly and be gentle on yourself.
- Finding the gear that makes you feel your best can recharge your inspo.
Read on to learn more…
Been a while since you exercised? No shame. Even the most committed exercisers let up on their workout routine from time to time, says Nike Trainer Courtney Fearon. You’ll just want to get back on track soon — while treating your body kindly — since the more physiological adaptation you lose, the harder it is to start making progress again, and the easier it is to get hurt.
After one week of inactivity, your energy, mindset and/or mobility may feel off, and managing even one workout requires a little more effort than it otherwise might, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Alex Rothstein, the coordinator of the exercise-science program at the New York Institute of Technology.
Research from the University of Liverpool reveals that two weeks of inactivity can leave you with muscle loss, lower cardiorespiratory fitness, an uptick in body fat, a decline in mitochondrial function (the body’s energy source), and an increased risk of health issues.
After three weeks of lying low, you’ll need a short build-up period to return to your previous fitness level, because you’re at greater risk of an overuse injury like shin splints or a hamstring strain, says Rothstein.
Push that to six weeks and you can consider yourself “detrained,” he says. You’ll need to work slowly and gently to return to your former intensity safely and effectively.
What does a solid ramp-up look like? This:
1. Assess the situation objectively.
A benchmark workout lets you measure your progress each time you repeat it. For example, explains Nike Trainer Joslyn Thompson Rule, if you want to build back up to a fast 5K, your first step would be to run-walk that distance and see how long it takes. If your goal is to breeze through push-ups again, drop and see how many you can do.
You may be tempted to compare your present state with a former, fitter you. Don’t, says Fearon. “When someone realizes that they are not able to do as much as they did before, there’s an emotional letdown that often results in a negative response and a decrease in motivation.” Plus, people tend to remember a specific workout as being less difficult than it actually was, so when they revisit it with less prowess than they had previously, they can feel even more frustrated, he says. That could cause you to make a beeline back to the couch…for good. Instead, use your past as fuel: Know that you’ve been fit before and can get there again.
2. Have a plan and stick to it.
A little plotting can help keep you from taking on too much at once and getting overwhelmed, says Fearon. It can also help you stay on track when something (a time-sucking project, a bad week with your partner) gets in your way.
Ask yourself what you’re trying to get back to doing, whether that’s maintaining a routine or remastering a skill. Then, consider outlining a weekly goal (as in, train three days a week), a monthly goal (increase deadlift strength), and a three-month goal (PR that deadlift), says Rothstein, who recommends planning your workouts at least a week in advance. Some of his guidelines:
- Do two or three low- or moderate-intensity workouts for the first three or four weeks.
- Add one workout per week until you’re doing up to six.
- Cap cardio workouts at 45 minutes, adding five minutes each week. When you hit a duration that feels good to you, aim to maintain that while increasing the intensity.
- When you experience less or no soreness 48 hours after a workout that used to make you sore, it’s time to add more weight or scale up your movements.
3. Check in with yourself regularly.
If you don’t monitor progress regularly, you might overlook some of your smaller, less obvious improvements and be tempted to throw in the proverbial gym towel. “Sometimes progress doesn’t even seem like it is happening,” says Fearon. You might think you’ve plateaued, but maybe you have more energy, you’re jumping higher when you play ball, or you’re sleeping more soundly. Those are all wins. Use these two ways to self-assess your victories:
- Ask yourself three questions after every workout, says Thompson Rule: What did I do well? What would I do differently? What am I going to do better next time? This, she says, forces you to pull a positive out of every training session while still being honest with yourself about how things are going and how you can tweak your workouts so you can move forward, faster.
- Repeat your benchmark workout every four to eight weeks to see how your overall fitness is tracking, suggests Rothstein.
You should start to feel your fitness return after a few consecutive weeks, says Thompson Rule. Still, use the first month as a grace period that’s all about “integrating your regimen back into your life,” she says. Finding the gear that makes you feel your best, figuring out a convenient time to work out, and getting comfortable with the fact that you may need to make adjustments to your new routine until you get it right can all help.
As you’ll see, ramping up doesn’t have to feel like setting the treadmill incline to 10 percent. A gentle climb is a kinder, steadier road to lasting progress.
Words: Rozalynn Frazier
Illustration: Gracia Lam