Training Right: The Smart Comeback

Pro trainer Jared Rice offers tips for ramping-up your routine after time off

So you got hurt. Or had a baby. Or got busy with work. Whatever the reason, you took a break from training, and are looking to make a comeback. Below, Jared Rice, an ACSM-certified Health and Fitness Specialist, registered dietitian and triathlete in Washington, D.C., offers tips on how to avoid burning out, injuring something else or otherwise derailing your progress.

What are the most common mistakes you see recreational athletes making when they're coming back from an injury, a pregnancy or another break in training?
Jumping back into things too quickly and starting where they left off with regard to training intensity, duration and frequency, rather than planning a gradual ramp-up to get back to a full-scale training regimen. 

Regarding an injury, the average athlete or fitness enthusiast will often come back too soon, or start to incorporate advanced forms of exercise because they feel fully healed. But many people fail to recognize and address the muscle atrophy that occurs after an injury hiatus. It may be necessary to incorporate some physical therapy techniques such as myofascial release, hot/cold treatments and targeted training of assistor muscles. 

What can an athlete do to avoid burnout or further injury when coming back from a training hiatus?
Ramp back up slowly and gradually. Place extra emphasis on doing a proper warm-up, cool-down and stretching. Take care to continue physical-therapy strength-building exercises as applicable. To avoid both re-injury and burnout, emphasize exercise diversity and cross-training to rebuild cardiovascular endurance, which begins to recede after as few as three days without exercise while resting an injury.

What are some safe, effective forms of cross-training for injured athletes (depending on the specific injury, of course)?
This will depend entirely on the injury, but in most instances, low-impact forms of cardio are going to be best. That includes things like swimming, rowing, seated stationary cycling or using an elliptical machine. Low-impact and controlled forms of strength training can be used to prevent muscle loss. A few examples are isometrics, machine Pilates or Gyrotonics.

Any mental tricks or tips to stay positive through a comeback?
Set small, short-term goals throughout the recovery process to mark your progress. Give yourself milestones for recovery and your return to glory.