How to Start Working Out Again After an Injury
Nurse Susan provides an overview of how to get back in physical shape following an injury
Whether you are out of commission for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, it is frustrating to be side-lined because of an injury. If you have finally gotten the okay from your doctor to start working out again, it is tempting to jump straight back into your old routine. Doing that will typically do more harm than good, though. Instead, be sure to keep these tips in mind to make your transition back into the gym as safe and effective as possible.
If you bite off more than you can chew, you will most likely end up overwhelmed both physically and mentally. Your body will not appreciate going from zero to one hundred in one training session, and you might feel discouraged or defeated when you cannot handle the same training load you once could.
Start slow, maybe just go for a short walk or jog, or do some very light weight lifting. Remember, it took you a long time to get to where you were before your injury. You should not expect to get back to that level after a long recovery period.
Focus on Quality Over Quantity
Whatever you do when you first get back to the gym, prioritize quality over quantity. It is better to lift lighter weights and focus on your form than it is to hurt yourself trying to immediately go back to the same weight you were lifting before.
Be conscious of your movements and make every rep count. Focus on form, control, and breathing. This will help you get re-acclimated after taking time off, and you will improve your technique, which will decrease your chances of getting injured again in the future.
Stick to Low-Impact Moves
Low-impact exercises like walking and swimming are great for transitioning back into the gym. They're easy on the joints but will still let you get your heart rate up and get your blood flowing.
Instead of going straight to the weights, you might also want to consider trying some low-impact workouts with resistance bands. Resistance bands are, of course, much lighter than weights, but they will still challenge your muscles by providing a constant amount of tension.
You can also use bands to work on your form and warm up properly before doing more challenging exercises.
If you have been sitting on the couch or lying in bed for a few weeks while your injury heals, you will probably need to spend some time working on your mobility and range of motion.
For your first few workouts, prioritize exercises that help you move your limbs through a full range of motion. This will increase blood flow and help your body adjust to proper movement patterns.
In addition to doing mobility work on your own, you can also try some yoga or flexibility classes to help loosen things up and get comfortable moving again.
Warm Up and Cool Down Properly
A thorough warm-up and cool down are essential for preventing injuries and reducing muscle soreness.
Your warm-up should include some light cardio (like walking on the treadmill) followed by some dynamic stretches (stretches that involve continuous motion).
When you cool down, do some more light cardio to bring your heart rate back down, then finish off with some static stretches (stretches that you hold for an extended period of time) and foam rolling.
Schedule Regular Rest Days
If you were working out six days a week prior to your injury, you probably should not just right back into that routine after taking time off. Recovery is essential for letting your muscles repair themselves. It will also help you avoid overdoing it and re-injuring yourself.
If you have been totally sedentary while you recover, start by working out just two or three days a week, and use the other days for active rest like walking or doing mobility work.
Make sure you're prioritizing sleep, too. That is when most of your muscle recovery actually takes place. It is totally okay to head to bed a little earlier on gym days, your body needs it.
Listen to Your Body
"No pain, no gain" should not be your motto after you are coming back from an injury. Pain means you have done too much, too soon.
A little discomfort is fine. But, there is a big difference between discomfort from a muscle being worked and pain from overdoing it. If something is hurting you, especially in the area that was injured, you need to take a step back and adjust so that the pain stops.
Do not Neglect Nutrition and Hydration
Do not forget that what you are putting in your body is also essential for healing and performing your best in the gym. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water, you will probably need to increase your intake once you get back to your workouts.
Make sure you're also eating a healthy diet that is rich in nutrients to fight inflammation and promote recovery. The following are some good things to include regularly in your meals:
Work with a Professional
If you have had to take a significant amount of time off from the gym, it can be helpful to work with a personal trainer or physical therapist to make sure you do not overdo it when you get back to the gym.
A professional will give you a specific program to follow to help you return to your former level of fitness. They will also be able to monitor your form and progress and adjust if you need to slow down or step things up.
It is not easy returning to the gym after an injury. However, if you keep these tips in mind, you will be back to your old way of training before you know it.
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About the Author
Nurse Susan has always been passionate about helping people heal. After she retired from a lifelong career as a nurse, that passion did not go away. She loves to use her expertise to write about the best ways to keep you and your family healthy, active, and happy.
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