What is the best way to start exercising again after a period of inactivity? Learn how to start exercising again after a long break with these tips from a personal trainer. I want to help you getting back into shape after years of inactivity!
Social distancing and sheltering-in-place has had a physical and emotional effect on almost all of us. Even after 2020, I think we’ll all feel differently about a number of things.
Some of us are realizing how important it is to exercise – even if we weren’t doing it before.
I personally feel that it is my duty, my responsibility, to stay healthy as the parent of two young children.
To stay healthy mentally and physically, I know that exercise is key.
And I am no stranger to cycles of commitment to exercise and total and complete laziness.
It is my goal to someday reach a point in my life where I am more balanced. No more “all in” or “all out.” Just consistency without any large breaks in exercise and healthy eating.
But figuring out how to start exercising again after a long break is easier said than done.
The truth is that most people aren’t natural, habitual exercisers. We all go through seasons of life that are active and seasons that simply aren’t – and it’s pretty normal! Maybe that’s why you’re here – to find the best path to getting back into shape after years of inactivity.
However, the key to staying healthy is to find a middle ground. You know, that thing they call balance!
The people who have been exercising regularly for years weren’t just born that way. They worked on finding balance for years – and they learned what they needed to prioritize.
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Habits take years to form sometimes, and this has been true for many when it comes to exercise. In fact, I’d be willing to be that it’s normal for *most* people.
If you’re like me, you have historically swung between “all in” and “all out” in the way of fitness.
That means that you’re either working out and eating clean every day, or not at all.
Anyway, if you’re reading this, I’m guessing that you’re currently of the latter group.
What do you do if you haven’t exercised in awhile?
Getting back into shape after years of inactivity (or months, even) can be hard. I get it. I have made it my life goal to STOP the cycle for my overall health.
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By now, I have learned a few tricks to help me retain smaller cycles of inactivity and unhealthiness. However, I still have my moments. Yep, even as a personal trainer, I cycle through weeks at a time without consistent exercise.
Know that you are not alone!
Learning how to ease back into working out is key – I truly believe this.
Jumping “all-in” with a hardcore diet and exercise plan usually leads to hardcore relapses. So that’s not the answer.
(If you’re an experienced yo-yoer, you probably know this by now.)
But let’s get one thing clear.
It doesn’t matter if you’re relatively healthy or super overweight.
Ultimately, the process of figuring out how to start exercising when you are out of shape is going to look similar to the process for people who aren’t overweight.
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Because in truth, you can be healthy from a weight perspective, but totally out of shape as far as cardiovascular health. (And so much more.)
How long does it take for your body to get used to working out?
Your body is amazing. It’s going to adapt to every little thing you do, and quick.
There’s a reason why so many people talk about switching up your workout style and routines. (And why high-intensity interval training is so important.)
There’s also a reason why people plateau!
Your body will adapt each time you work out. If you do the same thing for more than four weeks in a row, your body will reach a new level of fitness.
At that point, you MUST increase intensity or switch it up somehow – or you’ll just be maintaining.
If you want to continue to see progress, it is recommended that you do a mix of cardio and weight training.
Again, it will take your body no more than about 4 weeks of the same routine to get used to your new level of fitness. (Sometimes less!)
How To Start Exercising Again After A Long Break
So, you’re ready to get started. You’re getting back into shape after years of inactivity.
It can be easy to jump in with crazy expectations, but resist! Here’s how to start exercising again and minimize your chances of relapsing back into laziness.
1. Set a goal.
Your first goal shouldn’t be lofty. It should be reasonable and fully attainable. I don’t recommend planning to work out more than four times per week as your first goal.
In fact, if you consider yourself a total beginner, I would simply aim for 20-30 minutes of low-to-medium intensity three times per week.
The idea is to set yourself up for success – not failure. Then, once you’ve successfully worked out 3x/week for at least two weeks, you can ride that sense of accomplishment into your next goal.
The bottom line: Set a *specific* goal that is realistic for you.
Here are some examples:
- Not realistic and specific: I want to eat clean and exercise every day.
- Realistic and specific: For the first two weeks, I will exercise 3x/week for thirty minutes and cut soda out of my diet.
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2. Start slow.
Trust me on this one. Any attempt to jump in too hard and too quickly will set you up for failure.
You should not try to bench what you could bench in high school.
Do not try to run that 8 minute mile you could do when you were 21.
You should not reach for the biggest dumbbells you can fit your fingers around.
I hope you get my point.
It’s a myth that you have to feel too sore to walk in order to make progress. While soreness is a good indicator that you have put in the work, it’s also a good indicator that you’re overdoing it.
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In your first several weeks exercising again after a break, you should focus on improving your cardiovascular health and making sure you have the correct form while weight training.
You should focus on challenging yourself.
But, it’s likely that after a period of inactivity, almost any amount of exercise will cause your body to burn more calories and build more muscle.
Don’t risk injury, which will surely set you back further, by going too fast or too hard.
3. Dial in on nutrition.
Obviously, the problem isn’t just a lack of physical activity, right? Getting back into shape after years of inactivity is going to require dietary changes, too.
In fact, most fitness and medical professionals argue that you could be totally healthy without a crazy amount of exercise if your diet is dialed in.
So, what should you do? Begin by eliminating extra sugars from your diet, including any hidden sugars out there.
You will also benefit from decreasing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet, since unused carbs later get stored as fat.
You can read about a low carb diet here, or consider something like the Mediterranean diet as outlined here.
Either way, you should aim to do the following:
- Increase lean protein intake.
- Increase intake of water, fruit, and vegetables.
- Decrease the intake of saturated and trans fats (read about good fats vs. bad fats)
- Decrease the intake of refined carbs and sugars.
4. Keep a schedule.
You know what they say.
“Failure to plan is planning to fail.”
If you don’t “pencil in” your workout time, it decreases your likelihood of getting it done.
So, plan workouts by day and time. If you want to work out three times per week, pick specific dates and times. Then write them down.
If need be, put reminders in your phone or on the calendar.
Related Reading: How To Create A Workout Plan | Beginners Guide
5. Track progress.
Progress can be an important motivator. (But know that there are many ways to see progress aside from weight.)
Use a progress tracker to note your starting weight and measurements. If you have a fancy scale that tells you a body fat and muscle mass measurement, write those down too.
(I have this cheap but high-tech scale from Amazon, and it gives me all sorts of metrics.)
You can get my body measurement tracker when you sign up for my freebies!
6. Celebrate non-scale victories.
Non-scale victories are ways to track progress that don’t include the scale. I have a big list of NSVs to celebrate here.
You definitely need to keep track of other metrics, even if they only have intrinsic value. That’s because there will be times when it feels like there’s no progress being made. Getting back into shape after years of inactivity should include celebration of non-scale victories.
Example: The way your clothes fits and looks on your body or more self-confidence!
7. Switch it up.
Your body adapts quickly, but it’s also easy to get bored. Aim to try something new or different at least once per week.
This doesn’t mean that your entire routine or workout plan has to be different. It could mean that you simply add on 5 minutes of yoga to the end of your workout.
Here are some other simple ways to switch things up:
- Try a new group fitness class (read my tips on how to rock a group fitness class as a beginner)
- Try a new exercise (kettlebell swings, TRX, burpees?)
- Try an on-demand streaming workout
- Do some random workout video from YouTube
- Jump rope
- Add sprints
PSST! Looking for a home workout program or fitness challenge? Try my 21-Day Postpartum Challenge!
8. Add time/intensity/weight weekly.
You should continue to see progress if you add difficulty over time. This will help you keep your motivation up.
Many people think that you need to add a bunch of weight or time to increase difficulty. You can, but it’s not the only way to do things.
Here are some other ways to make sure your body is increasingly challenged:
- Get your heart rate up higher
- Add 5 minutes to your overall workout
- Limit rest time compared to previous workouts
- Add 2-5 reps to sets compared to previous workouts
- Finish your workout with a Tabata-style burst. This means you go “all out” with effort for the last 4 minutes. (Read all about this style of HIIT in my HIIT for beginners post.)
9. Find something enjoyable.
Working out wouldn’t be such a challenge if it was enjoyable all of the time. While working out is never gonna be 100% fun, you do have the ability to make it mostly fun.
However, in order to do this, you’ll need to find what works for you.
Me? I prefer a social workout atmosphere – it keeps me accountable and I like to keep coming back to see my friends.
I also like to be outdoors when possible.
In order to break the cycle of inactivity, I think that you need to keep trying new things. There’s no need to do things that don’t make you feel good.
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So move on from workout styles that feel like a big chore, and start with those that feel fun!
When you’re learning how to start exercising again, this is super important to keep the ball rolling.
10. Find accountability.
Any journey is harder when you’re alone. Fitness and weight loss don’t have to be so lonely.
You’ll be more likely to enjoy your journey (and succeed) if you have friends or family to support you.
In fact, some studies say that people who work out with buddies or in groups are more likely to lose weight and continue on an exercise plan longer. (Here’s just one such article with plenty of links to studies.)
So grab a trusted friend and get exercising!
I hope that this post helps you figure out how to ease back into working out. Getting back into shape after years of inactivity can be a challenge.
You can learn how to start exercising again – you just have to start!
Do you have any other tips on ways to start exercising again after a break? Let me know by leaving a comment below!
Thanks for reading,