Getting back to the gym after a long hiatus can be a daunting proposition. Facing up to the reality of diminished strength and stamina and the potential of sore muscles can cause you to put off your return to fitness for as long as possible. But once you make the decision and take the first steps, getting back in the game can give you a positive sense of empowerment. Taking some precautions against injury and soreness can make it easier to stay in the game.
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Have a Plan
Before you set foot back in the gym, set short- and long-term goals. Decide how many days per week you will exercise, and ask yourself what your desired outcome is over the long run. Devise a plan for your first workout. Jumping right back in where you left off can leave you sore and discouraged, and can set you up for injury. Visualize your workout ahead of time. Will you do cardio or resistance training first, and how much time will you devote to each? Which machines or equipment will you use, and in which order? Take advantage of the personal trainer at the gym to develop a customized workout plan. Having a specific plan will give you a sense of control and keep you from wimping out on your workout.
Warm Up and Cool Down
To prevent or at least minimize delayed onset muscle soreness, that achy pain you feel in your muscles a day or two after your workout, warm up before doing more challenging exercise. A general warm-up consists of rhythmic activity such as walking or cycling for five to 10 minutes to elevate your heart rate and increase blood circulation. Increasing blood flow to the muscles raises core muscle temperature and increases elasticity, making muscle fibers less prone to tearing. A specific warm-up entails performing a light set of an exercise to take the joints and muscles through their full range of motion before applying overload. Cooling down by stretching the muscles after your workout helps them relax and begin to recover.
Take it Slow
Achieving fitness goals is a long-term proposition. Set yourself up for success by easing back into your fitness regimen, reducing time and intensity at first, and gradually increasing them as you get stronger. Apply a gradual progression of intensity over a period of one to six weeks before you begin to dramatically increase resistance weight loads, giving connective and muscle tissue time to adapt and strengthen. Do resistance training on two or more nonconsecutive days of the week, with one set of eight to 12 repetitions of an exercise for each muscle group.
Listen to Your Body
During and after exercise, pay attention to your body's feedback. Joint pain and muscle cramping during exercise can indicate poor exercise technique or can be a sign of doing too much, too soon. Allow your body plenty of time for recovery between exercise sessions, at least 48 to 72 hours, and get plenty of sleep. While delayed onset muscle pain is common two to three days after vigorous exercise, muscle pain lasting more than seven days can indicate muscle strain, an injury that should be treated and allowed to heal before resuming exercise.