If you’ve been hibernating all winter (or, let’s face it, all year), the thought of figuring out how to start working out again can seem a bit daunting. And while there’s no way around it—when you’re not in the habit of working out, you lose progress—don’t be deterred from sweating it out. Challenges can be a good thing!
There are some things to think about when you’re easing back into a workout routine whether you’ve been taking a break for the past couple of weeks, months, or even years. Barry’s Bootcamp trainer Kellie Sikorski and physical therapist Karena Wu, DPT, MS, CSCS, know what’s up when it comes to getting adjusted and avoiding injury. Here are 11 things to keep in mind as you kick-start that fitness grind.
One of the first steps before you actually dive back into a workout routine is to plan out what you want your routine to look like, and how you want to get there. If it’s been awhile since you last worked out, you’ll definitely want to start small. “Doing too much too soon can overwhelm you mentally,” says Sikorski. “And a rigorous routine may eventually feel like too much to deal with, which in return makes you feel defeated.” Understand that you’re probably not going to be as fit as you were, and that’s OK. You can start with just 10 minutes a day; the goal is just to get moving more.
As you plan out how to start working out again, think about your habits, goals, and schedule and go from there. It can also help to think of ways to motivate yourself. Connecting with a (virtual) workout buddy is a great way to stay consistent and be motivated. “Find a friend who is already working out and has a routine. That person can be a key motivator,” says Sikorski. If you’d rather share the starting line, find a friend who is also looking to get back into a regular routine. “Together, you can keep each other motivated and accountable,” adds Sikorski.
In addition, when beginning a workout routine (or starting one after a long hiatus), it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to get the all-clear before you begin.
On a fun note, if it’s been awhile since you exercised regularly you’ll probably want to invest in a few key pieces to make your workout comfortable and enjoyable. That can mean a pair of running sneakers that feel good on your feet, or a sports bra that actually supports you in a HIIT workout. Check out our SELF Certified Sneaker Awards as well as our SELF Certified Sports Bra, Shorts, and Leggings Awards for the best gear we’ve tried.
As you ease back into your workout routine, don’t forget to set goals to keep you focused. Sikorski recommends setting a S.M.A.R.T. goal–specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-sensitive. “What is your goal…to run a 5K? To feel stronger?” asks Sikorski. Start there, then create a plan.
When it comes to figuring out a workout routine, begin with what works for you. Do you only feel comfortable committing to one day a week initially? Great! Mark it on your calendar and stick with it. Don’t feel like you have to immediately start logging five to six gym workouts per week. “You can’t get to three to four days a week without mastering day one, so just start,” says Sikorski. As you get comfortable, try to work your way up to four days a week. “The body responds to consistency over time, so your results will come much faster if you can keep a regular pattern and frequency,” says Sikorski.
Beginner Exercises to Know
It’s also always a good idea to make sure you have the basics down before easing back into a regular workout routine. Basic strength training exercises like squats, lunges, and planks show up in many variations in many different types of workouts, so you’ll want to ensure you have a good foundation before jumping right in. Not sure where to start? These foundational exercises are ones all beginners should learn. You can also check out our beginner workouts here if you’re looking for a full routine that keeps beginners in mind.
No matter what workout you choose, be sure to spend a few minutes stretching before and after your workout. Stretching is especially important when you’re getting back into a fitness routine. A good warm-up includes dynamic stretches, and when you are done working out, finish with some more cooldown stretches.
Active vs Passive Rest Days
Another reason not to jump into a six-days-a-week workout routine: Recovery is part of being active. “When you take a day off, your body isn’t. It’s actually working very hard to repair and replenish itself after all the work you put it through,” says Sikorski. “Rest days are key to long-term wellness. This is a lifestyle you’re creating now, so be realistic about your frequency,” she adds.
Be sure to schedule rest days into your routine. You can choose between active rest days—when you’re still doing some sort of active movement, like a leisurely walk, some light stretching, or a fun bike ride—or a passive rest day, like when you don’t leave your couch and set your Netflix account to binge mode. Both are entirely acceptable (and needed!)—active rest days help your body recover by increasing blood flow and aiding in muscle repair, and can also help you work on things that are great for your body, like flexibility. Passive rest days, on the other hand, are important for when you truly need your body to rest. Just be sure to keep active rest days to low to moderate intensity (experts advise keeping your activity to about 60% to 70% of your maximum effort), and listen to your body when deciding what type of rest day is right for you.
Importance of Healthy Habits
Other healthy habits besides exercise are important to incorporate as part of your new routine. Things like eating healthy, fueling foods; working on reducing stress; focusing on mental health; and getting enough sleep should all be priorities as you incorporate exercise into your life. “Working out is ‘work’—it takes more time and energy, so you might feel fatigued initially because you are burning more calories and the body is trying to adapt to the increased stresses in the tissues,” says Wu. “If I’m so exhausted that I’m walking around like a zombie, I might opt for some more sleep on a particular day,” she adds. So it’s OK to tuck in a little early and hit snooze on some days…your body will thank you.
Chances are, your body is going to let you know that it’s working hard in other ways, so it’s important to listen to it and learn the difference between hurts-so-good and hurts-not-so-good. “If something feels weird or gives you pain, stop doing whatever that is,” says Sikorski. “There’s actually a not-so-fine line between muscle discomfort from a good workout, and pain lets you know something’s not right.”
Like we mentioned above, proper warm-up and cooldown are important for your workout. This is especially true when it comes to injury prevention, and can also help with DOMS
A good warm-up preps your body for the increase in activity and a cool-down allows your heart rate to return to a normal resting rate, says Wu. Don’t cut corners here: “Muscles that have not been accustomed to strenuous activity for sometime will experience some form of DOMS , which basically means you are going to be tight and achy for 24-72 hours after your workout,” says Sikorski. (You may also experience this if you work out regularly but up your intensity.) “A proper cool-down session can reduce some of this soreness.”
Another safety tip to keep in mind is form. It’s important that you take it slow and focus on how you’re performing movements. Quality trumps quantity, especially when you’re just getting back into fitness. “Slow down,” stresses Sikorski. “Be deliberate and conscious of your movements. Take the time to focus on your form, on your breathing, on your control.” This is extra important because proper technique and form are crucial for avoiding injury, adds Wu.
Mistakes to Avoid
The biggest thing to keep in mind is to take it slow. “People have a tendency to overdo it initially, and they end up [with injuries] because the body is not prepared for the extra activity,” says Wu. “Low-intensity workouts are a good way to reintroduce the body to activity, frequency, and duration.” After a week or two, you can bump up the intensity, she says, as long as you’re not losing form.
These tips will hopefully help you as you restart your workout journey. No matter what, remember that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed at times. Don’t get discouraged—you got this!