It happens to everyone. You get in the groove a workout. You’re well on your way to your fitness/health goals. Maybe you start to see some results. Maybe you notice your athletic performance is getting better.
BAM!!! Something happens; you end up taking time away from your workouts/fitness routine. Many reasons can lead to this. Sometimes work or school gets crazy, and we can’t seem to find the time to stay active. Maybe we get sick and take a while to recover. Maybe we get injured, and need to step back from our fitness routine.
Say one of these previously mentioned situations apply to you. Something happened, you took time away form the gym, but you’re ready to get back into it. You’re excited to jump back into the swing of things. But, HOW do you go about it? Do you jump back into the routine you had before? Do you keep the intensity the same as before? Do you dial it back? I discussed this matter with Keith Gacrama, a coach in the areas of Strength and Conditioning/Health and Wellness/Olympic Weightlifting, based out of Houston, Texas.
Before we get into it, let’s make one thing clear. It is always best to check with a qualified fitness professional about specific fitness advice. These are only general ideas that may help guide the decisions we make, in a situation such as this. In addition, injury care and rehabilitation should always be done under the supervision of a qualified health professional.
The first thing to consider when planning a return to fitness after a break, is how experienced you are at the activity you are returning to. We will use strength training, as an example. If you are an experienced weight lifter and have not taken too long of a break from lifting, you will probably be able to bounce back much quicker than a less experienced lifter would. Experienced lifters have a “possibility of being able to jump back in the groove,” says Gacrama. Whereas, depending on the amount of time away from their routine, it may not be as easy to bounce back for less experienced lifters. Gacrama explains, about folks with less experience in strength training, “normally I’d have to reassess them…especially if it’s been months.”
How come this is the case? Why is it more likely for experienced lifters to be able to quickly bounce back from a bit of time away from lifting, than for folks with less experience. Partly, it’s a question of neural efficiency. Neural efficiency is the idea that the brain puts less effort into movement. Meaning, the brain can be thought of as “quieter” in respect to movement. Athletes, in this case, would have a high neural efficiency. Their bodies know how to move correctly, without having to think too hard about it. With respect to returning to workouts after a bit of a break, for an experienced lifter, “if the neural efficiency is high, it’s easy” says Gacrama. For less experienced lifters, this would be less likely to be the case. Depending on the amount of time away from their workouts, one’s movement may have been negatively affected. When movement is less efficient, the probability of injury increases. This is why it may be a good idea to get a fitness assessment (or, re-assessment) to make sure that there are no mobility issues that may need to be addressed as one returns to a fitness routine.
Regardless if one has been away from their workout routine, it is always a good idea to pay attention to our bodies. Sometimes we push forward and work harder. While other times, we need to tone it down a bit. A strategy that Keith uses with his clients, is something called RPE. It stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion. This refers to how one feels about the level of intensity during exercise. The RPE scale is usually from one to ten. One being, sitting on the couch; ten being, the level of intensity is so high one can barely breathe or talk. “I use an RPE scale with all of my clients” explains Gacrama. He uses something called “The Rule of Five.” With this rule, out of five workouts in one week, one might expect one of them to be really good, three of them to be pretty standard, and one of them to be a bit tougher to get through. This is because we are human, and we have some days that are better than others. Keeping the rule of five in mind, if even then a client has an RPE of 8 on a consistent basis, then it might be time to bring the volume of training down.
In the end, a popular rule in fitness comes about time and time again. We must learn to listen to our bodies. We learn what it feels like when it’s time to push, and what it feels like when it may be time to take our foot off the gas. This requires time and experience, along with good coaching.
For more information about Coach Keith Gacrama, check out his facebook page titled “KeithGacrama.com.” Also, check out his website, http://www.keithgacrama.com.