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  • Writer's pictureAl Painter Jr

Coming Back After Time Off

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

We've all been there. You hit a really good streak with your workouts, and then, BAM! THWACK! ZAP! No mas ejercicio para usted! Loosely translated, you moved too much, and now your body won't let you move at all.

Sometimes, this can take the form of an illness. Like maybe your body was giving you signs it may be time to slow down. Your resting heart rate may have been trending up (raises hand). It may have been harder to get motivated to workout (yep, let's check that box too) and maybe, just maybe, your sleep quality started to go down and your fatigue levels were on the way up (definitely raises hand).

Other times, it’s a straight up injury that takes you out of action for a while. I've been through this one quite a bit and it isn't fun each time it happens.

And every once in a while, life just gets absolutely insane. When we moved up here, I was cooked for about three weeks because I drove about 2200 miles in six days on top of the stress of getting the house packed up. Which we were still doing at midnight the night before I was supposed to drive 673 miles from Mtn View, CA back to Eagle, ID. Oddly enough, moving states isn't the zen experience its made out to be. Who knew?

I tried forcing my workouts and bike rides for the first month up here and it was a mess. No energy, no motivation and an absolute complete lack of focus. My back was also a train wreck from all of the driving and the stress of the whole thing and it took me about a month of slowing down (which I HATED) to finally get it to release.

What I needed was a good old fashion bout of absolutely nothing. But that's boring and rest days are the absolute worst days of the year. The only ones that are worse are the last out of a baseball season in October and the last episode of a new season of "Ted Lasso."

Case in point, this happened a few weeks ago. You'd think at the age of 51, I'd have a better idea of how to take care of myself. For the people I train, this is not a problem. I'm like a wise sage that causes glute soreness and saves people from themselves with solid workout programming. For myself? Well, the trainer's kids wear no shoes if you catch my drift.

Here's what happened:

  • My resting heart rate was on the way up, but it was only a few beats so I didn't think it was bad.

  • I had a mid-back spasm reaching for something pre-workout (3rd day in a row) at home, they usually go away once I start moving so I didn't pay attention to it. Yet another sign.

  • I pushed through it and my heart rate was higher during the workout than normal for about the same effort.

  • I was also having trouble staying warm at home afterward which is usually a big sign I need to pump the brakes and rest.

  • My body did what it was supposed to do to warn me the edge of the cliff was nigh. Essentially, it said "I gave you plenty of signs and you didn't listen. Enjoy some forced rest with a fever smart guy!"

  • It only lasted for a day, but my energy levels were nil for about a week. Throw on top of that what was most likely a mild bout of food poisoning from not cooking some chicken well enough, and it was lesson learned. It was truly fowl situation if ever there was one….

My first workout back was on Saturday of that week after five days off and zero energy. So what did I do? I had an existential crisis of biblical proportions. Mentally I wanted to go warp factor 97, but my body let me know that just wasn't going to happen.

After a moment of personal growth that hurt more than the workout, I actually listened to my body and went at a really sedate clip and focused on just movement to get loose rather than get after it and force a bad workout that would've most likely ended up in a really frustrating experience.

The point being that after you've taken time off for whatever reason, you CAN'T just pick right up where you left off. One of two things will happen:

1. You'll go too hard and potentially not be able to go at all for a while.

2. You'll go too hard and not want to go at all because it was a bad experience.

The key to getting back after it after time off is TO. GO. SLOW. Do this, and you'll get back to where you were faster.

You need to ramp back up and allow your body the time it needs to reacclimate to both the frequency and intensity you were at prior to your break. Trust me on this one.

You can't drive 100 miles on only 50 miles worth of gas. Your body won't be shy about letting you know as much either.

Is it frustrating? You bet your glutes. Is it the right way to approach this? Same answer.

If you can reframe your experience from lost time to a chance to go back to basics and refine your process, all the better.

Maybe even ask yourself:

  • What were some holes in my program?

  • What wasn't working that I can improve?

  • Where were my strength gaps?

  • How was my intensity?

  • What about my frequency each week?

  • Do I need to readjust my goals to keep my new movement habit sustainable?

If your workouts were 60 mins 4x/week, where should you start your rebuild?

  • Back at the beginning

  • 2x a week at 20 minutes each time is a good start.

  • Maybe something to the tune of:

    • 3-4 exercises

    • 3 sets

    • 8-12 reps

    • 6-7 MAX out of 10 in terms of intensity

    • Rest :60 seconds (if not more) between sets, this will allow just about a full battery recharge ready to go for the next set.

    • If you finish the workout feeling like you could've gone harder, you did it the right way.

Then reevaluate each week: can you go longer?

  • If yes, add 5-10 minutes

  • If not, stay the course for another week.

  • Once you've worked up to 60 mins 2x/week, then you can add in a 3rd day and use the same timing sequence:

    • Day one 60 mins

    • Day two 60 mins

    • Day three 30 mins

  • Eventually, once you hit 60 mins 3x/week, you can add in your 4th day to the tune of 20-30 mins and start your rebuild again.

Then after you do this, you can get into how many, how much and how often. The best way to really dial this is to have a Coach help you. I did this with my bike riding last summer and it was a much better rebuild than the way I was trying to do it myself.

He dialed in the exact schedule I needed and the amount of time I needed to ride to hit my goals. By the time I did my first MTB race since 2012 that I was aiming for in August, I felt good on the bike and I had a good race experience.

Alright, that's a strategy for you to use to rebuild after time off. Remember:

  1. Go slower than you need to.

  2. Rest more than you think you should.

  3. Reframe the rebuild knowing this is an opportunity to refine the process and build a better workout.

  4. The best way to do this is to have a Coach help you map it all out. Mostly to save you from you to reduce the chances of being volunteered to rest by your body!

Thanks a ton for reading, it is much appreciated!

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