As far as exercise goes, running has a lot going for it. It’s free, you can run almost anywhere, and it engages multiple muscle groups all at the same time. As many will tell you, however, once you interrupt your routine, getting back into running shape can be quite the challenge.
Are you keen on learning how to get back into running after a long break? Pull up a chair because we are about to dive into the best tips and tricks.
How Long is Too Long?
Before you attempt to figure out how to get back into running, it’s essential to know “how long is too long”. This will allow you to take the necessary precautions.
When it comes to running, consistency is key. When you stop running for just a week, your maximal aerobic capacity (which is a key performance indicator), begins to decrease. Then, after only three weeks, the amount of blood your heart pumps per beat, your stroke volume, and your aerobic muscle enzymes begin to wane.
This potential regression is precisely why runners fear any occurrences that might force them to take extended breaks from the sport.
How to Get Back Into Running
Keep in mind that the longer you have been out of the game, the longer it will take for you to recondition your body. Here is how to get back to form.
One thing is sure; it’s best to avoid the temptation to attempt to pick up exactly where you left off. No matter how eager you are to regain your previous fitness levels, running a full-course on your first few days back is a mistake.
A better alternative is to begin by walking until you can comfortably do so for 45 minutes without injury or pain. Walking reconditions your tendons, muscles, fascia, and connective tissues. This prepares your body for the more rigorous movements involved when running.
Once you can walk without issue, try short, slow runs, and gradually pick up the pace from there. You can expect some soreness during this time, but it should ease with consistency.
Once the initial soreness passes, you will begin to experience an improved level of aerobic fitness. Feel free to take this as a sign to kick things up a notch higher. If you ever feel discomfort, remember to stay within your limits and slow down when needed. Consistent progress is exponentially more efficient than getting injured and having to start from scratch all over again.
Evaluate Your Rate of Return
The rate of return suggests how much you can do and at what point. As a rule of thumb, here are some recommendations that account for the amount of time spent away.
- Less than ten days: You can pick up from where you left off as long as there is no pain.
- Two to three weeks: Run a minute or two slower than your usual pace per mile.
- One to two months: Alternate 30 second walks between 30 to 60 seconds of running. Gradually increase the running duration while decreasing the recovery times.
- Three months to years: Start with walking. If you can do 45-60 minutes of brisk walking, you can graduate to low-intensity jogging and then finally to running.
Account For Your Current Conditioning
While everyone wants the fastest progress possible, try to cater to the body and fitness levels you currently have. Comparing where you are today to your former, fitter self, does not help. Aside from tempting you to push yourself too hard, making comparisons can make it seems like you’re not progressing as much as you actually are. This can also discourage you from establishing a new routine and ultimately reaching your goals.
It is also important to avoid comparing yourself to others. The duration you were away, your general fitness, and so on make your journey uniquely yours. Allow yourself the chance to get a fresh start and build from there.
Leverage Strength Training
Strength training can be pivotal to your running goals. Leading up to the time you’re ready to pick up running again, strength training provides plenty of opportunities to discover moves you can do comfortably (even when adapting to a current injury).
For example, if you have a knee or ankle injury, you can still strengthen your glutes and abs. Think about running form (and the muscles you engage when running), then find exercises to target those areas. This allows your strength training to focus on the biomechanics of running, which can help you get on track faster.
Join a Group
A running group or partner can be extremely beneficial, both to keep you motivated as well as accountable. Group camaraderie also provides people with a distraction from the rigors (and at times, pain) of working out and running a course.
If you can’t find a friend who shares your fitness goals, ask around. Check local gyms and charities to see if they have a running group, or even considering forming one yourself.
If there are running competitions in your area, sign up for these as well. This is perfect for helping you focus on something tangible rather than merely abstract, long term goals.
Avoid Medication Dependence
The drive to perform can, unfortunately, come with the temptation to take medication to numb the pain. While this masks the pain temporarily, it hinders you from knowing when to stop and even from knowing when you are making progress.
When you start running again, there is a high likelihood that you will experience some discomfort. This should gradually ease if you remain consistent, and as the pain lessens, this is an excellent signal that you’re ready to push harder.
Relying on pain meds takes this benefit away. It makes it much more likely that you may push yourself too hard, right into an injury. As a rule of thumb, if the pain is too intense, walk, or jog instead. If this is still not possible, rest up and make another attempt at a later date.
Create a Plan
A plan is essential when evaluating how to get back into running shape. You probably had a detailed plan when you first started running, and you definitely will want one now.
A comprehensive plan includes not just a running and cross-training schedule but strategies to prevent injuries. As you think long-term, formulate short term goals as well. Reaching milestones is a great way to stay motivated and inspired as you keep progressing.
A comeback always comes with different emotions (from being pumped up after a great week, to discouragement on others). Remind yourself that people in your position all go through the same emotions. The trick is to remain focused on your goals, practice consistently, and stay motivated!