Taking time off fitness

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I have a confession to make. I fell off the wagon. No, not that wagon. The exercise wagon. I had completed an 8-week program of weights, body weight exercises and skill-based work. I took a week off to recover and plan my next program. When I finally started working out again 5 weeks had passed.

My reasons for the long break? I had to travel from Kingston to Halifax. Drive a car back to Kingston. Get two cars road-ready. See my son off to his final year of school. Start the new school term myself. The housework required to make the transition from summer to fall. I was a busy guy.

Of course, the reasons I just gave are not really reasons, but more like excuses. And they are not even very good excuses. I could have found time to work out, even if I had just done a short workout. I had lots of time to exercise. The real problem was all that extra stuff disrupted my tidy schedule – it threw me off my regular routine and I found it hard to develop a new one. As things calmed down and became more predictable, I managed to get back to regular exercise.

Taking time off is not a bad thing, especially after you have gone through a heavy training cycle. For younger exercisers (under 60), rest is very often restorative—the body has time to grow stronger and comes back stronger. I read a story about Dwayne Johnson related to rest. He was training for the movie “Hercules” when he suffered an inguinal hernia, which can be caused by excess abdominal pressure. It can be quite painful and often requires surgery to resolve. After his surgery and some time away from lifting weights, The Rock was back. He was working out (a bit more cautiously I would bet), but said he felt great and he came to the set in great shape.

But Dwayne Johnson is only in his 40s. Research shows that older persons lose strength and flexibility faster than younger persons. In 4 to 6 weeks, older exercisers will lose balance and flexibility and after 24 weeks they lose significant amounts of strength and power. The decline in strength that accompanies aging, on top of the detraining effect that comes from too much rest, means that as you get older, you have to moderate your rest if you want to maintain your gains.

I really can’t explain why I didn’t get back to exercising and I know I shouldn’t take too much time off. But I decided not to beat myself up. I took a break and now I am back. I feel okay, but I do feel that muscle soreness after working out, which will fade with a few workouts. Taking a break and starting back, regardless of the time off, is always better than never starting back up, but expect to work harder than your kids to keep making gains.

By Pat Costigan

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