October 18, 2021

How To Start Or Return To Exercise When It's Been Awhile.

Learn Dr. John's 3 tips to starting a new exercise plan. Make it realistic and safe!
"I've made a huge mistake!"

We're living in a crazy time right now. Maybe you used to have a solid exercise routine, maybe you haven't been in the gym since Hammerpants were in style. Either way, it's likely the pandemic has gotten in the way of your exercise goals.

Many of us find ourselves wanting to Get Back to our regular exercise routine, or maybe we are just trying to Start an exercise routine for the first time. In both of these situations, it's important to think about scaling our return to exercise.

When you are trying to plan out a return to exercise, I have 3 Main Tips to help you be successful.

1: Start Small

Especially if you used to exercise regularly, this one gets a lot of people. People who used to exercise quite regularly tend to design their workouts for their past selves.

That approach can really sabotage you - as it will usually lead to extreme muscle soreness or even injury. You'll want to give yourself the most opportunity to succeed.

Start small. Set your initial workouts at no more than 45 minutes each and no more than 3 days a week. You don't want to do more than this, so that your body has a chance to acclimate to the new demands.

  • Take four weeks and commit to three 45-minute exercise sessions each week. Make sure to really take it easy on your days off in order to give your body a chance to recover.
  • After 4 weeks, you have a decision to make. You can either add another day of the week, or you can add time to your existing three workouts a week.

This leads us to my second point.

2: The 10% Rule

Scientists have studied a lot of athletes of different kinds to see the safest way to increase your workouts. They've looked at runners adding mileage; they've looked at weightlifters increasing their weights; and they also studied other types of athletes who were increasing the difficulty of their workouts.

  • What they found is this: The majority of humans are much more successful in increasing the demands of their workouts if they only add a maximum of 10 to 15% increases at any given time.

Whenever you start working out at the gym, your muscles adapt pretty quickly, within a week or two. However, the other soft tissues of the body take longer. Your ligaments and tendons can take 4 to 6 weeks to adapt to increased loads.

  • So for any exercise routine re-start: Start with a plan, execute that plan for 4 weeks or more, and then increase by no more than 10 to 15%. This will give you the highest chance of success and the lowest risk of injuries.

Tell yourself to enjoy the process of slowly increasing the capabilities of your body, and forget the quick fixes or fast results. That's not the way our body works. Slow and steady wins the race every time. This takes me to my final tip.

3: Rethink Your Ideas About Cardio

For a long time the general thinking was: If you want to lose weight, you need to do steady-state cardio. Maybe this was running out on the streets, running on a treadmill, doing a stationary bike, etc.

This thinking has been shown to be very untrue. Resistance exercise really has way more benefits than anything that steady-state cardio can offer. If your goal is to get stronger, resistance exercise will get you there. If your goal is to lose weight, high-intensity interval resistance exercise will get you there. If your goal is just maintenance of your abilities, resistance exercise will get you there.

There's nothing wrong if you want to warm up with some running on a treadmill or a stationary bike, but take my advice, and add resistance exercise into your workouts. You'll be glad you did. Some of the benefits include:

  • For the older person, it's been shown that resistance exercise will help maintain the calcium in your bones and decrease your risk for osteoporosis. 
  • For someone whose main goal is weight loss, resistance exercise burns much more fat and boosts your metabolism so you can continue to burn fat even after your exercise. 
  • And for endurance athletes, resistance exercise has been shown to improve performance in endurance sports and reduce risks of injury.

So there you have it. These are my recommended steps to make returning to exercise, or starting it for the first time ever, go as smoothly as possible. 

  • Start at an accomplishable small level
  • Make sure you don't ramp up too quickly
  • Make the most of your time in the gym by focusing more on resistance exercise than steady-state cardio

So good luck, you got this! And here's to more success in the gym with fewer injuries!

Article written by Dr. John H. Keefe IV

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