5 ways to safely ease back in to sports and exercise post lockdown
Gyms are open once again, more and more outdoor fitness classes are being offered and schools, as well as school and club sports, are back. Lockdown has had an impact on physical and / or mental health for many of us and many people will be looking to return to exercise and sport due to the benefits which can be gained from them.
Just some of the physical benefits of exercise can be:
• an increase in strength in muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons
• weight loss and toning
• decreased risk of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiac conditions
• reduced risk of falls in the older population
• reduced blood pressure and resting heart rate
While the mental benefits of exercise can be:
• an increased feeling of wellbeing
• improved cognitive functioning
• improved sense of connection and community when exercising in groups or as a team
• improved sleep
Although the benefits shown above are significant, it is worth taking some factors into consideration if you are new to exercise or have had a (long) break from it. It is also worth considering just what exercise is going to look like for you now that we need to take into consideration the additional precautions when exercising in groups or at the gym. For some people these new measures may create a level of anxiety and possibly deter them while for others, the need for getting back to a routine will drive them back. It is important to find what works for you.
Here are 5 ways to get you back to exercise safely.
1. Be realistic
If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s a good idea to ease back in rather than to start right where you left off. If you used to exercise 6 days a week, consider starting with 3 days and gradually build back up to 6 days as your body adapts to the demands of exercise on it once more. Consider also that if you used to exercise for an hour at a time, to reduce this as well as the intensity of the exercise so for example starting with lunges rather than going straight back to jumping lunges. Remember too that warming up and cooling down is just as important as the activity itself. And don’t forget rest days. My general advice for those returning to exercise after an injury or period of inactivity is to reduce the time, intensity and duration of the activity to 50% and then build up from there whilst listening to your body. How quickly you get your fitness back will be different for everyone.
2. Set a goal
This could be finding an upcoming event such as a trail run, triathlon or tough mudder or it could be a personal goal such as being able to run 10km without stopping, do a pull up (or multiples thereof) or learn a new sport. Remember too that your goal should be SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time bound). Celebrate small changes along the way as these will keep you motivated and ultimately get you to your goal.
3. Respect your body
Remember, you are unique. Don’t compare yourself to others or to who you were years ago and what you could achieve then. Everyone is different and therefore your response to exercise will be different to that of your friends. What works for one person will not necessarily be best suited to you. Some people respond better to slow steady exercise while others may benefit more from higher intensity work outs. Some need more recovery than others. Bear in mind too that it takes time to build fitness and that this will in part depend on your baseline fitness. Be patient with yourself and you will find that consistency will get you results.
4. Don’t ignore niggles
Rest and pain killers will only mask an issue. Think of a niggle as a warning sign. Niggles that are ignored can lead to compensations which over time can lead to injury. The longer niggles are left, the longer they can take to recover. Unfortunately, rest will not undo the compensation but rather allow it to settle, only for it to rear its head again once you get back to activity. If you do have a niggle, why not seek the advice of a rehabilitation specialist such as a biokineticist. This way, the cause can be identified and treatment specific to your needs can be started. You may be surprised to find that the niggle is not the problematic area but rather the area compensating for somewhere else not doing its job efficiently. I’ve found that the more people ignore niggles, the more frequently they return and over time, the recovery takes longer. Many people have given up activities they enjoy because of this.
5. Seek help or an accountability partner
If you are new to exercise or lack motivation, it’s a good idea to get the help of an exercise professional. This way you only have to show up and they will assist you with correct form, provide motivation and ensure you are challenged just enough each session. Too much too soon can lead to injury. Or if a personal trainer is not for you, you could buddy up or join a group fitness class (please consider point 1 and 4). Many people are more likely to stick to an activity if they know that someone else is holding them accountable and when it becomes a sociable event.
If you have any questions about returning to sport or exercise or you are battling with a persistent niggle, why not book a complimentary discovery session with me. This way we can discuss your relevant exercise and injury history and come up with a strategy to get you back to your activity as quickly, sensibly and safely as possible.