Whether you have been side-lined by an injury, have let your work schedule hinder your workouts or have simply lost the motivation to sit on an exercise machine, a longer-than-expected break from your fitness routine can lead to surprising physical, mental and emotional changes.
Sadly in the personal training business, trainers often see their clients make great progress and build up superb routines, only to see that hard-work come undone when an injury or other unexpected circumstance requires the client to take time away from their training programme. You may be asking, what can be done about this? The best answer is to just do something. Our bodies are designed to be physically active, after all.
Here are some nuggets of advice that you should take to heart when it comes to taking a break from your training:
So, you’ve put in a lot of time developing a fit and healthy physique. Frustratingly, you’ll find that when taking time off training, this can be lost a lot quicker than it’s gained. In saying that (and I hope this knowledge will keep you feeling positive) you can still gain back the vast majority of your fitness over a short space of time once you resume training. The real challenge lies in climbing the final few steps towards full fitness.
Why Exercise is Key
If your break from training is due in part to your own motivation, just keep reminding yourself of the many benefits of exercise. Skipping workouts doesn’t just take its toll on the usual suspects: weight, strength and endurance. There are numerous studies that have linked regular exercise with reduced rates of depression, more vigour, less lethargy, better sleep, and a good general sense of wellbeing. If you’re feeling down or unmotivated, then the benefits of exercise should not be disregarded.
Whether it’s work, social commitments, illness or injury that’s preventing you from engaging in your regular fitness routine, we would advise that you never become completely inactive. Maintaining mild to moderate physical activity in areas that aren’t affected is the best way to stay in a positive mind set and make the return to full fitness much easier. If your reason for being absent from the gym was due to injury, then I suggest you re-focus your mental attention on the exercises you can do, rather than worry about what you cannot do. Unless your injury or illness is extremely debilitating, the chances are, there are plenty of exercises you can do, and do well.
I’m going to use myself as a case study here:
Back in May 2018, I suffered what would be considered a fairly serious injury. I tore my biceps tendon (while spotting a client doing a squat, typical!). The injury required surgery, 4 weeks of total rest, then a 12-week progressive rehab plan towards full strength. As a self-proclaimed ‘meat head’, the idea of not being able to bench press, row, or do a pull up for the best part of 4 months was daunting, potentially depressing.
What did I do?
Well, in weeks 0 – 2 I did an incredible amount of indoor cycling, weeks 2 – 4 I added in barbell back squats with a modified grip, then by week 4 onwards I started to do two things:
a) I started strengthening my ‘good’ arm, so much so that my left arm is now my stronger arm and I can do things with my left arm (1 arm push ups etc) to a better degree than I ever would, had I not had the injury
b) I treated my Physiotherapy on my injured arm with the upmost respect. I know first-hand (my partner is a Physio) how many injured people rely on a Physio/Osteo to be ‘fixed’, hoping a click or a crack or a deep-tissue massage will get them back to full strength. Nope, I’m afraid not. If your injury requires certain stretches, or using thin bands, or generally doing exceptionally boring exercises, then I can say first-hand that you really need to respect those movements, just as you would your 10k run or max effort bench.
Oh, one more thing… About 4 weeks after the surgery I took up Yoga. I mean I really devoted a lot of time to Yoga. I kind of love it now, and it’s nice to have a new hobby (thank you, injury!).
Moral of the story – Try and train often, always train smart, and whatever exercise is thrown your way, give it your all. Just be sensible.
As you return from any extended break, think about the long-term goals you want to achieve, rather than trying to get back into things too quickly. It will take patience and hard work to reach the same level you were right before the break, especially following an injury. There is no shortcut in fitness, only effective planning for your journey.
All the best,