Have you ever tried exercising after time away?
I recently had to get surgery, and I am navigating my return to my exercise routine and teaching yoga. Having to figure out how much is too much too soon can be frustrating and demoralizing. Maybe, like me, you’re navigating a wellness routine return post surgery, post illness, post injury or just post break. Regardless, there are several ways to manage a return to exercise in a healthy manner.
First, there can be no return without recovery. I must note that, especially after a surgery, meticulously following the post-op directions — while tedious — greatly increases the chances of a smooth recovery. Many of us (including me) have these preconceived notions that taking a break will erase all signs of progress. In reality, sometimes breaks offer the most progress.
With that said, we can discuss what to do when the time comes to return to one’s routine. Using your mindset and self-talk realistically can ease the transition. Factually, coming from an injury, surgery, illness or a break means that you may not possess the same strength as before. Accepting this strength difference rather than generating guilt about the difference represents the key to a healthy return.
We can resist the urge to catastrophize and make ourselves feel guilty about not measuring up to our past selves. Thoughts about “I’m not lifting as much as I used to” or “I can’t run as fast as I used to” build until everything you do feels like failing.
I am not above falling prey to this mindset. The problem is when this mindset can color your worldview altogether and create an inescapable negative feedback loop cycle.
While I can only speak to my own experience with a negative feedback loop cycle, I can assert that thoughts directly influence our actions. So a negative feedback loop cycle might make one more prone to avoiding activities that might increase joy or well-being. Here we see the intersection between mental health and physical health. Our thoughts — and the quality of these thoughts — plays a role in whether we choose to exercise and how we perceive exercise.
Presumably, we want to break the loop and find ways to switch up our self-talk to become realistic and maintainable. I’m not talking about only thinking positive thoughts for the rest of our lives. Personally, I find solely positive thinking as harmful as negative thinking. Thinking without nuance cannot represent the nuance of our lives or offer us a realistic way to live. Thus, I recommend subtle shifts to a more realistic mindset.
A break does mean that we might lose some “progress.” Yet, you still have relative strength for which you should give yourself credit, along with muscle memory. Muscle memory can remain for months or even years. Plus, even if you lose strength, it only takes about one-third to one-half as long to regain strength and muscle as to lose strength and muscle.
While I don’t deny the frustration of not being able to immediately return to your tried-and-true workout plan, the comfort of knowing that strength is longer lasting and more resilient than anticipated can help form realistic self-talk that is more supportive, like “I can’t lift this weight quite yet.”
Along with forming a routine that makes one more likely to workout (like I discussed in a prior article), self-talk plays a pivotal role in returning to a routine after injury. Thinking is powerful — realistic self-talk can help us accept that our current ability might be lower while reminding us that growth requires some amount of challenge. However, the power of thought makes changing our thinking patterns that much more complicated, so I won’t pretend that changing our actual thoughts will be easy.
Nevertheless, I want to incorporate supportive and realistic self-talk into the rest of my daily life. I plan to subtly shift my thoughts when I’m aware of them, but I’m not going to guilt or shame myself if my self-talk does not perfectly align with these ideals I’ve set forth. Instead, I will acknowledge the thought and allow my mind a chance to recover just as I would allow my body to recover from my surgery.