Get Back Into Shape After a Break With These 4 Rules

Despite your best intentions, sometimes it’s necessary to take a long break from your fitness routine. Whether it’s life stresses, an injury, or an illness that forces you to rest, it happens to even the most dedicated fitness enthusiast. But after time away from exercising, the last thing you should do is jump right back into your previous routine. Why? Because after a period without activity, your muscles lose strength, power, and size, and your cardiovascular endurance drops quite rapidly. So we’ve come up with four essential rules to get back into shape after a break.

Jumping back into too much too soon can cause injuries, fatigue, and burnout—and it’ll force you to take another break, which will further delay your return to previous levels. Instead, follow these simple rules to help you make a triumphant comeback so you can feel your very best.

fitness woman writing down her exercise goals

After a long break, curb your expectations: Things won’t come back overnight. (Sorry.) A common rule of thumb is it takes at least half the time of your break to return back to the same shape.

There are factors that can speed your return—like your training history and previous fitness levels—but don’t force yourself into impossible goals or feel discouraged if progress is slower than you’d like. Be patient, and you’ll get there.

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woman doing dumbbell curls to lose weight in a week

Training “volume” refers to the amount of exercise you do—i.e. sets and reps, minutes of cardio, number of workouts per week, etc. Doing too much will cause problems. While muscles can regain their strength and size quicker, your bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments take far, far longer to return to their previous levels—so go easy on them.

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When you return, start with a very low volume. For example, if you used to train five times a week before a break, start with just two times a week. From there, you can gradually increase the volume of work. Every few weeks, plan to add another weekly training session. Then, every week, do an additional set or a few reps so your body can get stronger and fitter.

man running vigorously in the winter, demonstrating exercises men shouldn't do for weight loss

Whether you’re returning to strength training, trail running, or swimming, it’s essential to use the proper technique. Why? Because after a long break, your body will need to get accustomed to the movements; without solid form, you’re increasing your risk of injuries, pains, and aches.

Always use the right technique when you exercise. Record yourself doing the exercise, consider hiring a coach, and follow the perfect form from the time you warm up to the time you finish.

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muscular man at gym lifting barbell

When it comes to getting back into shape after a break, it’s important to increase the amount of weight you use a little at a time. Let’s say you squatted 200 pounds before a long break. When you return, you can start with just 100 pounds, but don’t try to increase your weight by 20 pounds each week—it’s too fast and you’ll fatigue quickly. Instead, gradually increase the weight by just five pounds per week. It seems slow, but that’s the point! It’s important to give your body plenty of time to adjust and adapt.

With cardio, you can increase the duration by five minutes each week. Again, think long-term: Small increases add up quickly. And once you’re back in shape, we promise you’ll be glad you took things slow and steady.

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Anthony J. Yeung

Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a fitness expert featured in Esquire, GQ, and Men’s Health and the founder of GroomBuilder, the destination for men who want to transform their bodies for their weddings. Join the free 5-day course to burn fat and build muscle for the big day! Read more about Anthony

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