Here's How to Start Training Again After an Illness or Injury

Walking is a good exercise to maintain fitness as we age.
Walking is a good exercise to maintain fitness as we age. (Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/U.S. Air Force photo)

After a significant layoff from training, many people start to exercise again with too much intensity or else put off starting until another day. The anxiety of beginning again can delay someone for months or even years.

Whether you have been off the wagon for a few weeks due to injury or illness or haven't been exercising for a prolonged period due a variety of reasons, consider the following ideas for an easier starting point, versus doing the same workouts you did before the downtime.

Try the 5 Minutes On and 5 Minutes Off Model for a Few Days

Do this instead of starting back where you left off prior to injury or illness. If you are used to training regularly and stop for a few weeks, try doing five minutes of your workout, followed by five minutes of active recovery time, just to assess your abilities.

You may find if you had lung congestion, this would help you not to overwork your heart and lungs. If you had an injury, it could help you determine how well you have recovered and whether you can do more without pain.

Repeat the five-minute workout, followed by five minutes of active rest (walking, biking, stretching, etc.) for as much time as you have available or until you feel the fatigue of training.

Where many avid exercisers make mistakes is to start back up where they left off, even if it's been more than a month with little to no activity. Any time off that's more than a week requires a logical progression to get back to where you were.

In fact, a week off training can require two or more weeks to get back to the level you were before the convalescent period. Many former athletes will unwisely do the workouts of their prime, even after a decade or more of not training or competing. This option can lead to more than just a few days of soreness, as serious injury is possible after a significant time of being sedentary.

A Very Fit Workout Partner

It is nice to have a friend who is willing to be your workout partner. We all perform better and stay active longer when we have a workout group or partner helping to hold us accountable. However, what your more fit partner or group is doing is not necessarily what you should be doing as you get started again.

Reducing the weight of resistance training, repetitions of calisthenics or weight training, the volume of cardio activity, and overall intensity of the workout will save you (the beginner) a great deal of suffering as you train with a more fit partner or group. Do what you can do and progress smartly.

Go Gently Back into Training

The short answer is to "treat yourself like a beginner." Pulling the reins on yourself is not easy, especially if you were recently at a high level of fitness training before your illness or injury. There is nothing wrong with walking instead of running or selecting a non-impact cardio activity instead of running too many miles.

Selecting a lighter pair of dumbbells and doing fewer repetitions of both calisthenics and weighted movements is also wise. But doing something is a must, even if it is simply moving again and making a placeholder for the regularly scheduled physical activity you were doing before the injury or illness.

Where many go wrong is stopping all activity during the recovery period and replacing the training time with a new habit. When you are ready to train again, you must break a new habit you established and start training again. How you start again can be the difference between success or prolonged injury.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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