A long time ago, on an elite sports team far, far away… I was a fitness freak.
Then life (and a stressful job) happened. That’s when I chose to spend my mornings sleeping in instead of weighing in; to spend my weeknights binge-watching TV instead of binge-lifting dumbbells; and to spend my weekends socializing instead of squatting. Weeks turned into months, months turned into years, and now I sit at my keyboard a full-blown couch potato who hasn’t exercised in years.
Until now, that is, because I’m finally ready to lace up those sneakers once more. But as anyone who’s returned to the gym after a lengthy break knows, it seriously blows. Many times before this, I’ve attempted even the mildest exercise only to be met with a throbbing headache, a lack of breath, severe nausea, and worst of all, the disappointment that I let myself get this out of shape — all of which discourage me even more.
For these reasons, I asked Jonathan Jordan, award-winning trainer at Equinox Fitness, for a bit of advice on how long I should expect to feel like crap when I start working out again.
Why Returning to the Gym Is So Tough After a Long Break
“The body is great at adapting to the stress we put it under,” Jordan explains. “Take sitting, for instance: We’re not designed to sit for long hours each day, but when we do, our muscles and connective tissue become stiff to help us remain in that slumped position day-in, day-out. The same is true for exercising: It sucks at first, but when you’re consistent, the body makes physiological changes (it builds muscle, basically) to adapt to exercising on a regular basis.” Once that muscle is in place, it’s relatively easy to stay fit, but once it’s gone, you’ll have to start from scratch again.
What to Expect From Your First Workout Back
“Let’s be realistic: Going from a sedentary lifestyle to ‘killing it’ in the gym every day of the week is like expecting to go from zero to 100 in a broken-down Honda Civic,” says Jordan. “Even if you return to the gym with a realistic program — for instance, working out two or three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes — you can expect to be pretty sore for two or three days after each workout.” The best way to minimize this, Jordan adds, is to warm up before working out, stay hydrated, eat well and get plenty of sleep.
How Long You’re Going to Feel Like Crap
“Most people only feel the dreaded effects of returning to the gym — nausea, dizziness and extreme soreness — for about two weeks,” Jordan says. “Once you’re past that, you should only expect to experience extreme soreness when either adding more weight to an exercise or incorporating a new exercise into your routine.”
The Best Way to Ease Back into Exercising
“If you’re going from zero hours of activity per week, start by aiming for two or three hours of exercise spread throughout a week, then build up from there,” Jordan recommends. “And do not try to pick up where you left off. I see lots of men in their 30s or 40s attempting to lift the weights they did in college — not going to happen!” In other words, train like you would as a beginner — no matter how humiliating this may be at first.
With that, I say godspeed, and don’t forget to work out your forearms.