Your Personal PT, Rachel Tavel, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) at Shift Wellness in NYC, so she knows how to get your body back on track when it’s out of line. In this weekly series, she gives you tips on how to feel better, get stronger, and train smarter.
Whether you’ve been in complete lockdown mode in your home and barely moving during quarantine (besides the occasional trip to the fridge), or you’ve simply just fallen out of your usual exercise routine, many might be feeling the urge to get back into their fitness groove. But after several weeks or even months of not hitting the gym or your usual training regimen, you’re going to need to return to working out gradually and safely if you want to avoid hurting yourself.
One of the easiest ways to injure oneself is to rush the process of returning to exercise, going too hard, too fast. This can often lead to overuse syndromes or injuries such as tendinopathies or shin splints. In fact, it takes only two to three weeks for you to lose that muscle strength you worked so hard to build for and just two weeks to lose some cardio fitness. But even a little exercise can keep this detraining effect at bay.
The good news? Your body is amazing, and as long as your general health hasn’t dramatically changed, implementing the right training regimen even after a period of inactivity can allow you to rebuild that strength and endurance you may have lost. But listen to your body as you go: You’ll want to push it so that you’re gradually challenged, but not stressed. That can be a fine line, so pay attention to warning signals such as pain, tightness, or discomfort.
Gradually Increase Workout Duration and Intensity
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), you should begin with 20-60 minutes of continuous aerobic activity three to five days per week, with 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.
What’s considered moderate? That can be slightly different for everyone. You should feel your heart rate increase, your breathing quicken without getting completely out of breath (you can speak without getting winded, but maybe not sing your favourite song), and you should break a light sweat after 10 minutes. This could be a quick walk, a light jog or a flat bike ride depending on your general health and fitness level.
After two to five weeks at this level of intensity, you can increase both the duration and intensity of your workout. Push yourself towards including bouts of vigorous-intensity level—exercise that causes faster and deeper breaths (without hyperventilation or lightheadedness), earlier sweat development, and it’s harder to hold a conversation while exerting yourself.
Gradually Increase Your Resistance
Begin with light or bodyweight exercises before progressing to larger resistance. Before you start challenging your body by loading more weight onto it, it needs to be able to handle the built-in loads you put on it. To build strength, you’ll want to start with 1 to 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps of exercises such as squats, push-ups, or lunges. Eventually, you can add resistance that is enough that you feel fatigued after 12 to 15 reps like you might not be able to do any more. Add these into your routine for three to five days per week, gradually increasing the resistance as your body gets comfortable with the loads you give it.
Incorporate Diverse Activities to Complement Running
If you are returning to running, you’ll want to make sure you’ve done some good stretching and strengthening exercises before pounding the pavement. Find a good glute strengthening routine, get some new kicks that provide the support you need, and begin a gentle stretching routine to make sure you’ve got the joint mobility you need for healthy movement and body mechanics. As you ramp up exercise, you’ll want to consider your nutrition and sleeping habits. Recovery is a big part of health, so make sure you are putting time aside to rest.
This article originally appeared on Men’s Health US.