Returning to Strength Training After a Break

by Nick Gold
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
Go For The Gold Fitness

Have you put your fitness routine on hold for one reason or another? Maybe you've been doing some traveling. Kids are home from school. Summer heat making you a little lazy. Or hit by the winter blues. Don't feel guilty. Get back into it. But take it easy. Don't think you can pick up where you left off. If you do, you're asking for trouble. Most likely, you'll either be discouraged that you're not exactly where you left off, or you'll push yourself too hard and risk injury.

Following are suggestions for the first week returning to exercising after an extended period of time off:

Day 1: Do MUCH less than you feel you can do

Here are a few suggestions:

Note: Expect some soreness the next day
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours or days after working muscles beyond what they're used to, is completely normal, even if you were in great shape before your break. The harder you worked your first day back, the more your muscles are likely to hurt. If the pain is intense, or continuous for more than a couple of days, you may have injured something and should consider seeing a doctor.

Day 2: Recover from day 1

As noted above, you're likely to have some soreness. If you don't feel anything, you may have taken my advice to literally, and didn't do enough. Whether you're sore or not, whether you plan on exercising everyday or just a couple days a week, today should be used for recovery. You may want to try some, or all, of the following:
  • Take a walk. Go outside and enjoy the fresh air. Get your blood pumping, but don't exert yourself.
  • Stretch. If your muscles are sore, this may be hard, so go easy. But assuming you hadn't injured anything, stretching sore muscles may help your muscles recover from DOMS quicker. I prefer dynamic stretching over static stretching. Especially if your muscles are cold. If stretching is really painful, stop.
  • If you're a bath person, now's a great time to take one. Or if available, a sauna.
  • Ask your spouse for a message. Will this help? Maybe. But it can't hurt!!!

Day 3: Return to your modified exercise routine

If you were sore yesterday, you're probably still a little sore today. But if today is a scheduled work out day, don't skip it because of some lingering soreness. If today is another scheduled off day, repeat recommendations for day 2.

If today is a workout do, you may want to follow the following:
  • Extend your warm-up time. Getting blood to the sore muscles will help.
  • Do the same workout as you did on day 1.
  • Don't be surprised if you're not able to do what you were able to do on day 1. Your muscles are still recovering from their hibernation. Do what you're able to do, but don't push it too hard.

Day 4: Recovery

By now you should be feeling pretty good. Soreness should be going down or possibly gone. Don't feel like you have to work out today. Recovery is still important. After working them hard, your muscles grow and get stronger during rest. And until your body is back to being conditioned to working out regularly, don't skip recovery days.

Day 5: Continue your modified exercise routine

Start out with the same routine as you followed on day 3. But by now, you should be feeling much stronger. If you are, take advantage of this. Add a rep or 2, add an additional set, and/or add additional exercise(s).

Day 6: Add something new

If you've been spending your time doing strength training, you may want to add some cardio training to your work out. Today would be a good day. I love to run. I get a great work out in a short amount of time. If you want to add running to your exercise routine, start off slow. Combine running with walking. And, I can't stress this enough, get a good pair of running sneakers.

Day 7: On the road to where you were

You've been back into it for a week. Congratulations. You may want to start returning to the work outs that you were doing before your break. You may not be at the strength level as when you stopped, but you'll get back there. Just don't be in too big a rush.

If you have any questions from this article, or have some questions based on your own situation, feel free to send me an email at

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