This is the final part of the article series from guest author Megan Applegate.
So it’s been over a month since your last workout. Whoops. You’ve fallen out of the habit and the thought of getting back into your routine is exhausting, because you know how much harder it’s going to feel. It’s time to get back on the horse!
Sometimes, we have to halt our routine. You catch the flu – you’re out for a week. Holidays put a major damper on your regular schedule. A death in the family; moving to a new city; an injury – it happens.
Here’s a scary detraining fact: after 2-4 weeks of no exercise, you lose about half of your training-induced cardiovascular and neuromuscular improvements. If you can avoid completely missing out on your exercise, one session per week is the absolute minimum that could help you maintain your neuromuscular improvements.
The good news is that you can get them back. All is not lost. The rate at which you can gain these improvements back depends on a number of factors: your age, your fitness level, how long you have been active, the type of exercise you normally do, how long you have been inactive, etc.
But the approach to how you get back on the horse is equally as important. This article will address a few ways to help you recommit to your exercise program and the healthy lifestyle you know you want.
Reconnect with yourself
“If more people understood that stagnation is an expected and natural part of the weight-loss process, they wouldn’t quit prematurely.” – Adam Bornstein, BornFitness
Since you fell off the horse, here are a few things to consider before getting back into an exercise program:
- Refer back to the tips on starting a program for setting goals, securing social support, and overcoming barriers.
- Consider the reasons why you stopped exercising. If you weren’t enjoying your routine enough to stay engaged, or you weren’t seeing the results you wanted, reassess your goals and your plans to meet them. You might need to try something completely different than you were doing before.
- Pace yourself when you get back into your routine, especially if you were out due to an injury. You are going to want to push yourself but take it easy. Start back at 3 days/week at a moderate intensity and gradually work back up. Depending on how long your break was, you may be able to get back on track relatively quickly.
- Make sure to incorporate stretching – your tendons and ligaments are going to need some extra attention after a break.
When you reconnect with yourself, you start to identify behavior patterns. Knowing your tendencies and planning around your strengths is part of what makes for a good program.
Measuring your progress
The number on the scale does not necessarily represent your fitness. Let me say that again. The number on the scale does not necessarily represent your fitness. There are a number of other measures that you can use to track your progress and assess your fitness level.
Weight loss is the most common goal for those starting a new program. For some, this is a reasonable goal to have, especially if you are managing a disease like Type II Diabetes. However, it is important to understand that weight loss is not going to happen easily or at the same rate for everyone.
If you are tracking your weight loss, don’t do it daily. Body weight fluctuates naturally from day to day, depending on diet, hydration, and hormones. Record your baseline weight and don’t measure again for at least a week. If weight loss isn’t your main goal, wait 4 weeks between measurements.
The body weight set point theory posits that we each have a physiological set point range for our mass. If your weight starts to drop below this range, your body slows your metabolism to reduce your energy expenditure, making it harder to lose weight. Your body literally sabotages your weight loss goal. There is nothing you can do to change your set point.
Losing that last ten pounds may not happen, especially as you age – but you can convert that last ten pounds from fat into muscle.
Non-scale progress measures
Two objective non-scale progress measures that may help you include body fat percentage and circumference measures.
Body fat percentage: both high and low body fat percentages can put you at an elevated health risk. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that men do not drop below 3% body fat, and women do not drop below 10-13% body fat (it can significantly disrupt reproductive hormones).
Circumference measures provide an indication of the distribution of your body fat. This can be an indirect, but good way to measure your reduction in body fat, or your muscle growth. Measure at the upper arms, chest, waist, hips, upper thigh, mid-thigh, and calf.
Subjective measures of your progress are just as- if not more- important. Here are a few to consider:
- How far or fast are you able to run? How does this compare to your first day?
- How much weight are you able to bench press, squat, or deadlift? How does this compare to your first day?
- How do you feel – both emotionally and physically? Are you sleeping better? Do you have more energy throughout the day? Are your workouts feeling smoother, and energizing instead of exhausting?
- How do your clothes fit? Do you still notice a tight waistband or an about-to-burst button?
Health and fitness is a life-long endeavor. It is impossible to do it 100% right 100% of the time. Make room in your life for the setbacks and shortfalls, And never forget that you can always get back on the horse!