There are many reasons as to why people might take a long break from the gym. It could be due to an injury, pregnancy, long vacation, or just too much going on. Life happens, pandemics that cause the gym to close happen 😅
The point is, life isn't perfect and sometimes it gets in the way of our workout routines. But that's okay, all you have to do is pick yourself up and start again! Luckily, if you've been able to maintain a healthy diet and some physical activity then it shouldn't be too difficult to jump back in! If you completely let loose then things might be a little tougher... Either way our tips on how to ease back into working out after taking a break at the gym will work for anyone who needs help getting back into the workout mentality without risking injuries 💪So let's get to it, the gains are waiting!
How Do I Get Back In Shape?
It depends on the amount of time taken off and your fitness level. If you took a few weeks or months off and have a history of strength training then you have the advantage of muscle memory! Muscle memory is your body's ability to activate muscle fibers quickly and efficiently due to having done it consistently in the past. Another great thing about muscle memory is that if you had a significant amount of muscle mass, then it'll be easier for you to add muscular weight back on! It'll still take time, but you'll have an advantage over others who are starting from scratch. 
For those who took an extremely long hiatus or are starting to ease back into getting in shape by adding weightlifting then things are going to be tougher. It's basically starting from scratch, but we all have to start somewhere!
Whether you are an experienced lifter who's returning to the gym or a beginner, these tips are recommended for anyone that intends to head back to the gym. It's a slow process, but taking baby steps will make sure that you maintain motivation to workout, create good workout habits, and minimize the risk of injury.
So here's what to do to ease your way back to getting in shape...
1. Reset your goals
Before rekindling with your exercise routine, set new goals that you want to achieve, specifically SMART goals. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By setting goals with those criterias you will increase your chances of success!
Here's how to set your SMART goals:
Be specific - Common goals are "get healthy" or "get fit", but these are too general. You need to choose a specific goal that will get you to your overall goal. Examples of specific goals are losing weight, increase in strength, or build muscle.
Make it measurable - Once you identify your specific goal, add a number to it so you're able to measure your progress. For example, if your goal is weight loss then set the amount you want to lose and a timeline you want to finish that goal in. Track your progress by weighing yourself, or having body composition measurements taken, or taking pictures every 1-2 weeks.
Make it attainable - Setting goals that you can't attain can discourage you along the way and make you fall off your workout routine again. So when you make your goal measurable make sure you choose a number that isn't too difficult to achieve, but not too easy either since it's not very motivating.
Make it relevant - Make your goals consistent with your interests. A lot of people think that losing weight means just doing endless amounts of cardio. But if you hate running then running 2-5 miles everyday is going to burn you out quick. Try other forms of cardio that are great for fat loss like HIIT, hiking, cycling, even lifting weights with minimal cardio can help you achieve your weight loss goals.
Make it time-bound - Decide when you hope to achieve your goal by and then fill in your timeline with milestones you need to hit to keep you on track and to make the goal seem more attainable. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds in two months, consider extending the timeline to 6 months. Break it down even further and aim to lose 5 pounds in an x amount of weeks.
Once you have your SMART goals laid out, you can start developing a workout plan that is based on your goals therefore helping you achieve them.
2. Practice flexibility exercises
Your joints and muscles might be a little tighter than usual after skipping the weights and cardio for a few weeks or months. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself (and your muscles) by trying to tackle a difficult workout your first day back at the gym. Remember, take baby steps. Before diving into your regular fitness routine integrate a few days of flexibility and mobility workouts. This will help increase blood flow and circulation while assisting in range of motion and joint mobility.
Flexibility workouts are often overlooked because they're "too easy", but establishing these protocols early on will help your body properly adjust to the strenuous activity that will be placed on it. In fact, everyone should include these three key components in their workout routine: flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, and resistance training. They are important for everyone to practice because these types of exercises will improve your mobility which will help you jump higher, run faster, and lift heavier with little to no pain. Also flexible muscles increase the ability of your joints to move through their full range of motion without pain or stiffness, which is a huge plus when it comes to weight lifting.
You can practice flexibility exercises by doing warm-up exercises you're familiar with like static and dynamic stretches. Another great way to practice flexibility is to do beginner yoga classes before hitting your first few training sessions.
3. Start slow
Don't overdo it, it's all about taking it slow in order to build sustainable good workout habits. So begin with what works for you in the moment. Maybe you were able to squat 150 lbs before, or run 5 miles in 30 minutes, but chances are your stamina has decreased. And that's okay! It's better to take it slow in order to avoid overwhelming yourself.
Start by committing to a few training sessions a week and focus on proper form instead of lifting heavy the first few sessions. A good starting point for weight lifting is to start with three total-body strength workouts, with one rest day in between each session. On those days focus on the main key exercises like squats, lunges, shoulder press, push ups (or chest press with free weights), bent-over row, and pull ups (or assisted pull ups). You can start with bodyweight exercises, or add resistance bands to increase the intensity. You want to consistently work your way up by slowly increasing the resistance or weight, sets, and reps.
If weightlifting is not your thing, the same progression principle applies to any other form of workouts like cardio. Start with three sessions a week, and increase the intensity (speed or resistance) by 10% as you make progress.
The key is to be consistent and slowly work your way up. Speeding your way through without proper form will lead to pain, injury, and probably ditching the gym all over again!
4. Listen to your body
Muscle soreness is expected when restarting a fitness routine. It happens because your muscles are no longer accustomed to strenuous activity, so they get tight and achy for a few days. It's normal, but you should pay careful attention and listen to your body.
There is a difference between that good sore feeling to a pain that doesn't feel too good, and it's important to distinguish the two. A little muscle discomfort and soreness is normal. What's not normal is feeling actual pain while doing a certain movement or even feeling sharp pains after your workout. If that happens, stop immediately! Listen to your body and stop doing the exercise that is causing the pain, and schedule a rest day for the following day. A lot of people get stubborn with taking rest days, but you have to let your body recover from the intense workouts you're restarting. Don't push through anything that feels painful, but if you want to stay active during your rest then do less strenuous activities. Practice flexibility exercises, go on a walk around your neighborhood, do something that will keep your body moving, but not add any more stress to your joints and muscles.
A tip to reduce soreness: Properly warm-up your muscles and cool down after! Most people warm-up, but forget to cool down. Skipping those stretches after your workout will make those muscles that were working hard tighten up again. Cooling down prevents that from happening and helps regulate blood flow throughout the body thus minimizing some soreness.
5. Get enough sleep
This one goes hand-in-hand with listening to your body, and you've probably heard it a million times, but... Prioritize sleep! Working out is hard work, it takes a lot of your energy, literally. Your burning more calories and your body is trying to adapt to the increased stresses in the muscle tissues. And if you don't already know, your muscles need proper rest in order to recover and grow!
To get quality sleep that your body needs to heal and refuel, stick to a regular sleep schedule, avoid caffeine and heavy meals close to your bedtime, and put all your devices on silent or sleep mood. Your body will thank you and so will your future self. Getting burnt out is common in the fitness world and one of the ways it happens is when people go full force when starting or restarting their fitness journey, and they ignore the signs that their body is trying to tell them. So when you feel tired, take a step back, rest, and make sure you're getting enough quality sleep.
Getting back in shape is a process, it takes time to get into the swing of things. The best way to set yourself up for success is by following these tips and having a workout plan before getting started that is structured around your fitness levels, goals, and has an adequate amount of rest days.