A lot of things happen in life and sometimes you end up taking a break from the gym and working out. Maybe you’ve been traveling for work, or had a kid, went on vacation or just needed a break from the gym to focus on other things in your life.
If you’ve been training for many years it’ll be easy for you to step back through the door and start where you left off, but that comes with very real risks. You see, your body remembers how to do all the movements and your mind is more than willing to push through the discomfort. The problem lies in your deconditioning.
There are a couple places people tend to get injured the most while training. One of them is coming back after a long break. Inevitably, you’ve lost strength, muscle mass and even the connectivity that helps everything work together in the body to perform.
So what happens? You start training, you feel great, you push a little, add some weight, you hit a good conditioning workout and boom - you pull something, tweak a muscle, strain your back or you just wake up the next day feeling like a useless sack of bricks. And there was no warning that this was coming….except for this blog post.
There’s a method to avoid injury and the risks associated with coming back to training. Within our circle we call this Breaking the Seal.
There’s two ways to approach it. You can get back in the gym and alter your training or you can find activities to do outside of the gym to warm up the body and reboot things.
In the gym - You absolutely want to do mobility work and warm up properly. Break a sweat and then move on to working on the range of motion you’ve been missing while you’ve been on the sidelines. Hip, ankles, spine, neck, shoulders - all of it needs to be mobilized properly so that you can move right as you get back to training.
We highly recommend doing a search for KARS routines on Youtube and using this to mobilize pre-workout. A good KARS routine can take as little as 15 minutes and you’re ready to do pretty much anything.
For Strength - ideally what you want to do is start off with lower weight strength sets, at volume, with a heavy focus on timing, engagement and form.
As opposed to building up to a heavy set of 3, you’re really going to want to hit the foundational set schemes of 5 x 5 or others that total a decent amount of repetitions when it’s said and done.
You’re going to feel like you can lift more but you’ll want to stay light for at least a couple weeks - we’re talking 60% of your previous max or less.
For some of us who can only get in the gym 3 - 4 days a week we have a habit of hitting multiple lifts in supersets or during extended training sessions. Even though you’ll feel great to be back at it, avoid hitting too many movements and lifts in the same day or session - or you’ll pay the price the next day.
When it comes to conditioning you’ll want to do something sustained for a longer period of time that is less intensive on the body. Bodyweight workouts with an emphasis on cardiovascular conditioning over an extended period of time are perfect as long as you scale the movements properly.
Something as simple as a pullup in a long workout can do damage when you haven’t trained for a while. You can also use a rowing machine to do interval distances or one row for a longer duration. The main rule for conditioning when coming back is to do something that doesn’t spike your heart rate as high. Let your central nervous system get used to the stimulus again.
The other approach to Breaking the Seal is to engage in athletic activities outside of the gym that are low impact on the body and also cardiovascular focused.
Even though you’ll be outside of the gym - you’ll still need to warm up properly beforehand and really do the work on the mobility side to make sure you can move right. If you skip this step, your risks of injury will go through the roof, regardless of how low impact the activity is.
One of my personal favorite activities to do outside of the gym is to swim. Swimming is low stress on the body but is an extremely good cardiovascular workout. You can do it for an extended period of time, regardless of how well conditioned or fit you are and you will not do damage to your body. This may be something as casual as going to the beach and swimming through some waves for an hour or doing laps in a pool. You’ll be surprised how much of a workout you can get from swimming. The other upside to swimming is that if you learn to perform without oxygen - everything else is a piece of cake.
If you have a sport you love, you can also jump back into that on a casual level. A couple hours of full court basketball will definitely Break the Seal. Just remember, you need to be able to move well to avoid injury so I can’t say it enough - warm up and mobilize!
A day hike on a challenging trail will work just fine too. I’m not talking about a paved mountain with overlooking views for influencer photographs. I’m talking about a real trail with some kind of rating and elevation climb that will challenge you a bit in a tolerable and enjoyable way. Don’t be afraid to venture out - sometimes solitude is needed, especially in today’s world.
The goal of Breaking the Seal outside of the gym is to distract yourself from the uncomfortable feeling of being out of shape with an activity you enjoy so much you’re not paying attention to being out of breath and the other side effects of reconditioning the body.
Make sure whatever you choose to do follows the guidelines of longer duration and sustained heart rate. You do not want something that is going to spike your heart rate and put your body in shock after it’s been away from training.
Once you learn how to do this, coming back to training after an extended break isn’t so much of an issue and you’ll have another skill in your pocket to make you a better performing human.
Get after it - time is flying by and it’s never too late to Break the Seal.