I have taken a break from my fitness routine since before Thanksgiving and I’m probably not going to be back into the swing of things until after the new year begins. Should I resume my program where I left off, or do I need to start from scratch after being a six-week sloth?
Mahalo for your thoughts,
— Lolo, Lihu‘e
A-Lolo-ha! This is a great question. Restarting exercise and rebooting eating will soon be on the mind of the masses. Let me highlight some thoughts pertaining to everybody and every body.
Periods of rest and recovery are necessary for repair and restoration of your body. However, during extended inactivity, fitness goes downhill rapidly, initially cardiovascularly. When you suddenly stop stamina, your heart, lungs, vessels, cells, and blood volume all decline in capacity, almost immediately.
Similarly, muscular endurance fades quickly, based on decreases in blood volume, enzymatic capacity, mitochondrial density, and your body’s ability to tolerate and clear metabolic by-products of strenuous activity, namely lactic acid and hydrogen ions. The “burn” you feel in your muscles during endurance exercise returns with a vengeance after a week or two of potato-couching.
On the other hand, muscular strength (maximal, low-repetition movements), can hang on a bit longer and are sustained by surprisingly infrequent exercise. In fact, some of my strongest clients have trained each muscle group less frequently than once per week. Attaining and maintaining strength is a time-efficient proposition, especially when exercising Eccentrics.
Though stretching capacity may also decrease, many individuals actually become more flexible by not exercising, because the act of contracting muscle fibers shortens the muscle’s fibers. If you stop contracting them as frequently (by not exercising as regularly), your muscle fibers will be in a state of reduced “tonus” (and potentially more pliable). This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it is what it is.
The impact of inactivity is so powerful that taking a few months off from on-purpose exercise can feel like it’s been years. Moreover, not exercising for years is essentially the same as not exercising forever, at least physiologically. So, after not working out for an extended period of time, it’s best to reintroduce yourself to your body — slowly and safely. Always restart with lighter-than-typical workouts, as if you are beginning for the first time.
A good rule of thumb is: for each week you have played hooky, you should greatly reduce the intensity of at least one workout session when training resumes. Your body needs to be gradually reeducated. So, for your current six-week holiday, your first six or so workouts of 2023 should be a lot less intense than your pre-Thanksgiving pace. Bridle your enthusiasm when restarting.
Yes, there is such a thing as “muscle memory.” It’s beyond the scope of this answer today, but I can definitely make a case for your body snapping back into to fitness faster than snapping first into fitness. In other words, getting into shape takes more focus than getting back into shape. I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how quickly your body responds to you getting your rear back in gear.
With regard to starting over, limiting intensity is key. The level of intensity to which you were previously accustomed should be greatly reduced.
If you want to exercise for a longer duration, for either stamina or strength (or stretching, for that matter), that is fine.
For strength, performing multiple, less-intense sets of a particular movement is a lot smarter than performing a speedier, and more intense, single set. For stamina, a simple, steady-state session is the safest start-up. You can progress to performing intervals in due time. Whatever you do, do not go back to what you were doing previously, even if you have been off for only a few weeks. Start at the beginning.
Lest we forget sustenance, as consuming mega-doses of nutritive fitness is the ultimate way to reboot your physique and physiology. I highly recommend you watch the inspirational movie about vegetable juicing — “Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead.” (There’s a link on my website to watch it for free.)
Consider incorporating freshly-squished vegetable juices into your first week of the new year, perhaps even exclusively.
Or, at least try a week of eating salads, raw fruits and veggies, fresh juices, assorted sprouts, and a daily handful of raw nuts and seeds. You can’t beat raw, high-water content food for renewal, regeneration, and rejuvenation — especially living here in paradise.
In health & with hope,
Doug Jones earned his Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Maryland and has served professionals and personalities as a concierge fitness trainer for decades. As a resident of Kaua‘i and Connecticut, he has helped millions of people learn the secrets of fitness and fat loss, both online and in person. To submit your questions, or for more information, please visit: www.DougJonesFitness.com
Source: The Garden Island