The last thing you want to do after a long exercise hiatus is return to your old routine like nothing has changed. Even if you're riding high on the thrill of being back in the gym, you need to ease back into things and not overdo it on day 1.
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To lower your risk of injury (and consequently, another unscheduled break from working out), there are a few moves you'll want to put on a temporary hold as you build your strength back up. Put a pause on these five exercises until you're back in your groove and try these alternatives in the meantime.
1. Rebound Box Jump
One training element you'll want to avoid after a long break from fitness is high-impact exercises. Although plyometric (jumping) workouts are great for developing sport-specific skills and overall power, it's safer to steer clear of box jumps if you haven't worked out in a while, says Sam Chan, certified athletic trainer and physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York.
Plyometrics can be risky if they're not practiced frequently and with the guidance of a professional, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Sometimes the force sustained in plyo exercises can be as much as seven times your body weight, making them particularly taxing on the joints.
Instead, start with some easier plyo work like jumping rope or hopping drills, like ski hops, Chan says. With time, progress to regular box jumps at a low height, increasing height gradually, working your way up to rebound box jumps as you grow comfortable with the motion.
- Start standing with both feet together, arms at your sides.
- With feet together, bend your knees, then spring up, hopping a foot to the right.
- Without pausing too long, rebound and hop to the left.
- Continue hopping back and forth over an imaginary line, keeping your back straight and chest up.
2. Triceps Dip
Triceps dips are one of the most popular arm exercises, but they're also controversial. That's because this exercise can put excessive stress on your shoulder joint, which can cause impingement and pain when performed with poor form, according to the ACE.
If you haven't done the move in a while, it's probably not wise to jump right back in. Your shoulders rely on your muscles and tendons for stability during triceps dips. And if you haven't trained these muscles in a while, they probably won't have the strength or stamina needed to perform the exercise properly.
Instead, Chan recommends you start with a few alternatives. Triceps pushdowns are a safer, more effective triceps dip alternative. Or try skull crushers or triceps push-ups.
- Begin holding a bar, rope or resistance band that's anchored high above your head. You can use a cable machine if you're at the gym.
- Keep your elbows bent and tight at your sides, slightly peeking behind your body.
- With your upper arms stable, straighten your elbows by moving your palms toward the floor, face down.
- After your elbows are fully extended, bend them again to 90 degrees, returning to the starting position.
3. Kipping Pull-Up
Even when you're in peak condition, kipping pull-ups are hard. "If you don't have the adequate conditioning/strength, the momentum and speed involved in this exercise means your muscles may not be able to maintain control," Chan says.
Unlike regular pull-ups, kipping pull-ups involve a momentum and swing to bring your chest up to the bar, making them a cardio and power-based movement, in addition to strength. Plus, if you haven't done this move in a while, you run the risk of shoulder injury in this overhead position, Chan says.
Instead, start with lat pulldowns and pushdowns to re-introduce your upper body to the motion, he says. As you build your lat and trap strength increases, progress to strict pull-ups and barbell rows. Then, once your endurance and strength is where it was before your break, you can get back to the kipping pull-up safely.
- Start by anchoring a resistance band to a point high above your head.
- Hold the other end of the band in both hands, kneeling on the floor if needed to add tension.
- Extend your hands straight up above your head. This is the starting position.
- On an exhale, pull the band down, hands shoulder-width apart.
- Squeeze your lats for a moment at the bottom of the movement.
- Release the band and return to the starting position.
4. Upright Row
Though it seems simple enough, the upright row is another move that requires some consistent practice. Upright rows put your shoulder in an internally rotated position, facing your body. Without consistent, proper practice of the exercise, you put your shoulder at risk of impingement and pain, Chan says.
Cable face pulls and lateral raises will work your shoulder muscles and traps in an external or neutral position, decreasing the risk of shoulder impingement, Chan says.
As you progress toward the full upright row, practice internally rotating your shoulders without resistance to reintroduce the motion to the joint. You can prep for upright rows with a broomstick, focusing on rotating the shoulders toward the body with each rep.
Cable Face Pull
- Start by anchoring a cable machine or resistance band at about eye height.
- Stand a foot or two away from the anchor, holding the band or rope cable attachment in each hand with an overhand grip, thumbs facing toward you.
- Lead with the elbows up at shoulder height, pulling the rope toward your chin, fists at eye level.
- Hold here for a moment.
- Then, release and return to the starting position.
5. Deficit Barbell Deadlift
Deadlifts are an excellent compound exercise that work nearly all major muscle groups. But if you're just getting back to deadlifts, you shouldn't start pulling at your previous level, Chan says. Deficit deadlifts are a challenging progression, so you should treat the move as if you were a newbie.
Start with a kettlebell deadlift or trap bar deadlift to re-familiarize yourself with the hip-hinge motion. Kettlebells and trap bars will help you practice the correct movement pattern and mechanics without overloading your lower back, which you risk doing if you start with a more challenging progression.
Additionally, before you deadlift, take your body through a dynamic warm-up and choose a weight that's at least 75 percent of your previous norm.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a kettlebell in front of your thighs, palms facing your body.
- Hinge from the hips, softening your knees as your hips sink enough to lower the weights toward the ground or to the middle of your shins.
- Check your posture: Your spine should be straight and long, chest up and open, shoulders back.
- Engage all the muscles of your core to maintain this position as you push your feet into the floor, as if you were trying to push the floor away from you using your glutes and hamstrings, to pull the weights up and return to standing.
Other Factors to Keep in Mind
- Start slowly: No one enjoys backtracking, but it's necessary if you want to stay injury-free. Keep your intensity low when you first get back and decrease the weight you're lifting. Lifting about 75 percent of your previous weight is generally safe, Chan says, but start even lower for the first few reps of each exercise.
- Leave reps in reserve: "There's no need to immediately jump back into sets to failure your first workout back," Chan says. "Your body needs time to ramp up and re-adapt to training." With every set you perform, stop a few reps short of your maximum.
- Start with moves you know: Always start with exercises you're comfortable performing. If you've been squatting for several years and take a six-month break, the movement pattern will come back to you pretty quickly. Conversely, if the form is unfamiliar, it's best to start from scratch and re-learn the motion.
- Warm up and cool down: To stay free of injury, take your body through a warm-up and cooldown routine before and after every workout. Even starting with a few rounds of Cat-Cow pose and ending with runner's lunges can make a huge difference. These routines will ensure your muscles are ready for your training session.