This article first appeared on Shape.
Getting back into a workout routine when you've taken time off is intimidating, so I've outlined a guide to help you ease in without losing motivation or risking injury. Just remember: It's all about baby steps!
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Keep in mind, your level of progression is largely based upon your total time off, the reason for the break (surgery, work, children), and your level of fitness prior to it. (You'll totally relate to The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Taking a Workout Hiatus.) I advise returning to a workout program in a progressive manner. If you start off by placing too large of a demand on your body, you run the risk of injury and a quick regression backward. Being so sore the next day that you are hobbling down the stairs does not indicate a quality workout.
1. Start with Flexibility Workouts
Your first progressive step forward should be to integrate a couple days of flexibility workouts in order to increase blood flow and circulation while assisting in range of motion and joint mobility. Flexibility is one of the most overlooked protocols of fitness routines, and establishing these protocols early on will allow your body to properly readjust to the new demands that will be placed on it. If you have access to health club or fitness professional, I recommend signing up for a flexibility or beginner yoga class. (Or do it without leaving the house: try this beginner yoga flow video to increase flexibility.) Select 10 to 15 stretches, performing each flexibility movement for up to 1 minute.
2. Add Easy Cardio
Next, depending on your schedule and time commitment, try incorporating light cardiorespiratory workouts after a couple stretching or yoga sessions. If weather permits, a brisk 20-minute outdoor walk will help invigorate your mind and get your body moving again. (Other options: try this low-impact HIIT workout for beginners or walking workout for gentle indoor cardio.) The treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bike are great indoor alternatives. If you had a well-established fitness base prior to a month-long break, your first week may include light jogging as opposed to walking.
3. Start Strength Training
After the first week of flexibility and light cardio, start to incorporate strength workouts into your routine. (Try this gentle strength training workout for getting back into the gym.) Your time away from fitness probably involved a lot of sitting, which causes weakness in your posterior chain. These muscles are important for basic everyday movement, as well as keeping your spine erect when at your desk. That is why is at this point one must look to incorporate exercises that improve posture, develop core strength, and activate muscles throughout your gluteus and hamstring regions.
Exercises like squats, lunges, bridges, TRX hamstring curls, stability ball mobility, and core work will help to activate these areas. TRX workouts and bodyweight workouts are ideal for working these muscles and create a safe transition back into your fitness regimen because you can work within your own fitness level. Try these: