I have been extremely happy to see just how many of my friends and family have contacted me about getting started on exercise programs! There is a remarkable amount we can do at home and in our community. And we have talked about quite a bit of it before! Several of my friends have gotten back into cycling, running, and longer distance walking for the first time in many years just to get out of the house. While these are all great ideas, there are some things to keep in mind if you’re looking to start back up after a few years off.
The biggest thing to note for formerly very active exercisers who are just getting back into it is the concept of gradual reconditioning! The amount we use to run or bike when active in sport was often accrued over time. Something we don’t think about as much when we take our time off! Everybody remembers building up distance over time, but the amount of days per week needs to scale up gradually as well! If you are use to running daily, your body has made adaptations to allow this. However, it will need time to relearn those adaptations! Start with just a few days per week of any new activity, and slowly add in a day at a time every week or 2 weeks once you feel you are not as affected anymore! Distance and speed should be done in this gradual fashion as well!
On on average, the body adapts to new load very quickly over the first 2 to 3 weeks as it relearns the most efficient pathways. But you may find that your speed of adaptability tapers off after the initial month or so. Don’t get discouraged! This is the process of changing from neurological adaptation for efficiency to seeing true changes in muscle and energy systems! These changes are slower because you need to see time for physical growth and change as opposed to neural processing, but they are still happening! Expect that you may not be able to increase distance or days per week as rapidly anymore, however.
Most injuries accrued over this time period are known as “overuse” injuries. Essentially we have often pushed one variable or another too fast and the body did not have enough time to adapt and recover. Pay close attention to how you feel after a workout over the next few day. If your body starts to experience more pain, it is likely warning you to back off a little. So try taking a little more time at the previous level, or adjust one variable of the group (speed, distance, or day per week) down until you find that you are no longer aggravated over the coming days. Then, stay at this level for a bit longer, and try adjusting only one variable at a time!
Return to activity always makes me feel old, because I forget about the gradual conditioning I did to build up over time as a kid. But just remember how many years it took you to get good the first time and those few months to get back can seem much much shorter!