How to Start Working Out Again When It’s Been Awhile

No matter what workout you choose, be sure to spend a few minutes stretching before and after your workout. Stretching is especially important when you’re getting back into a fitness routine. A good warm-up includes dynamic stretches, and when you are done working out, finish with some more cooldown stretches—like these.

Active vs Passive Rest Days

Another reason not to jump into a six-days-a-week workout routine: Recovery is part of being active. “When you take a day off, your body isn’t. It’s actually working very hard to repair and replenish itself after all the work you put it through,” says Sikorski. “Rest days are key to long-term wellness. This is a lifestyle you’re creating now, so be realistic about your frequency,” she adds.

Be sure to schedule rest days into your routine. You can choose between active rest days—when you’re still doing some sort of active movement, like a leisurely walk, some light stretching, or a fun bike ride—or a passive rest day, like when you don’t leave your couch and set your Netflix account to binge mode. Both are entirely acceptable (and needed!)—active rest days help your body recover by increasing blood flow and aiding in muscle repair, and can also help you work on things that are great for your body, like flexibility. Passive rest days, on the other hand, are important for when you truly need your body to rest. Just be sure to keep active rest days to low to moderate intensity (experts advise keeping your activity to about 60% to 70% of your maximum effort), and listen to your body when deciding what type of rest day is right for you.

Importance of Healthy Habits

Other healthy habits besides exercise are important to incorporate as part of your new routine. Things like eating healthy, fueling foods; working on reducing stress; focusing on mental health; and getting enough sleep should all be priorities as you incorporate exercise into your life. “Working out is ‘work’—it takes more time and energy, so you might feel fatigued initially because you are burning more calories and the body is trying to adapt to the increased stresses in the tissues,” says Wu. “If I’m so exhausted that I’m walking around like a zombie, I might opt for some more sleep on a particular day,” she adds. So it’s OK to tuck in a little early and hit snooze on some days…your body will thank you.

Chances are, your body is going to let you know that it’s working hard in other ways, so it’s important to listen to it and learn the difference between hurts-so-good and hurts-not-so-good. “If something feels weird or gives you pain, stop doing whatever that is,” says Sikorski. “There’s actually a not-so-fine line between muscle discomfort from a good workout, and pain lets you know something’s not right.”

Safety Tips

Like we mentioned above, proper warm-up and cooldown are important for your workout. This is especially true when it comes to injury prevention, and can also help with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

A good warm-up preps your body for the increase in activity and a cool-down allows your heart rate to return to a normal resting rate, says Wu. Don’t cut corners here: “Muscles that have not been accustomed to strenuous activity for sometime will experience some form of DOMS , which basically means you are going to be tight and achy for 24-72 hours after your workout,” says Sikorski. (You may also experience this if you work out regularly but up your intensity.) “A proper cool-down session can reduce some of this soreness.”

Another safety tip to keep in mind is form. It’s important that you take it slow and focus on how you’re performing movements. Quality trumps quantity, especially when you’re just getting back into fitness. “Slow down,” stresses Sikorski. “Be deliberate and conscious of your movements. Take the time to focus on your form, on your breathing, on your control.” This is extra important because proper technique and form are crucial for avoiding injury, adds Wu.

Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest thing to keep in mind is to take it slow. “People have a tendency to overdo it initially, and they end up [with injuries] because the body is not prepared for the extra activity,” says Wu. “Low-intensity workouts are a good way to reintroduce the body to activity, frequency, and duration.” After a week or two, you can bump up the intensity, she says, as long as you’re not losing form.

These tips will hopefully help you as you restart your workout journey. No matter what, remember that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed at times. Don’t get discouraged—you got this!

A version of this story was previously published on March 24, 2016 and has been updated.

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