You’ve navigated the excesses of Christmas and the new year, but you haven’t yet got back into the swing of regular exercise. Motivation can be a challenge after having time off, especially if you aren’t yet back into your normal routine. Fear not! The Confident Body Podcast is here to help you get back to doing the things you love.
In this episode, Michael is joined by Adriane Ward, senior exercise physiologist at MD Health, to explore how to avoid the traps of restarting your exercise routine so you can be more effective and minimise pain and injury.
In particular, we look at the benefits of getting the help of an exercise professional to ensure your exercise program is achievable, aligned with your lifestyle goals, and tailored so you can build up strength and manage existing injuries.
CLICK HERE to read the full transcript from episode 18 of The Confident Body Show
Topics discussed in this episode:
- Should you take it easy if you’ve had time off from exercising, or just dive right in?
- The advantage of seeing a professional to help you restart an exercise routine.
- What happens to the body when you take a break from exercise?
- The difference between normal muscle soreness and potential injury.
- If I don’t get muscle soreness, am I not working hard enough?
- It is important to take a break from exercise sometimes, such as when on holiday. But be aware that taking a break means you’ll likely lose some muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. You might not even notice the changes until you start exercising again and putting your body under stress, which is when it is most likely to break down. You may need to take a small step backwards when returning to exercise, otherwise you risk injury and further compromising your long-term program. (3:30)
- When it comes to exercise, some people don’t know where to start. If you’re unsure, an exercise professional can help you set a program that’s realistic and that is aligned to your goals, strengths and weaknesses. history and injury status. They can also help you build strength gradually and manage existing injuries. (2:15)
- Muscle soreness – such as an ache in the muscle belly of the muscle groups you have been working on – is a normal part of starting a new exercise program. A pain sensation in the joints is NOT normal and should be examined by your exercise professional.
- The most important part of your program is consistency. Regular, consistent exercise wins every time. It is okay to miss a session or have an off day, but returning to regular, consistent exercise is the most important thing in the long term.
- If you need to choose, do strength training first. This forms a good base and foundation to build cardio fitness, even if you are a runner, swimmer or cyclist.
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Episode 18: Full Transcript
Welcome to the Confident Body, where experienced health professionals discuss how to get the most out of your body for the lifestyle you choose. We believe everyone can exercise and get the most out of life, regardless of your injuries or health issues. Now here’s your host, senior physiotherapist, Michael Dermansky.
Hi everyone, and welcome to the show that helps you become more confident in your body so you can keep doing the things that you love. I’m Michael Dermansky, senior physiotherapist at MD Health, and I’ve got a special guest today on our second show for the year, Adriane Ward, who’s one of our senior exercise physiologists at MD Health in Q. Welcome to the show, Adriane.
Adriane Ward (00:41):
Hi, thank you.
Michael Dermansky (00:45):
All right, so we are going to get onto a topic. It’s the start of the year, people are starting to do exercise again, want to return to exercise routine after that exercise period. So let’s start with the first question for today, “I’ve had time off during the holiday period and I’m struggling to get motivated to restart. Should I just dive right in?”
Adriane Ward (01:04):
Well, if you’ve previously been exercising regularly, then you probably just need to be aware that it may not be suitable to go straight back to your previous exercise levels or the intensity you were up to, depending on the time you’ve had off. You may need to reduce the weights you are using or the sets and reps you were doing. This wouldn’t be for long, just to be safe at restarting as you were likely to have lost a little bit of muscle strength after the rest from your usual routine. Once you’re able to, you can increase the weights or the reps and sets to build towards your previous levels and beyond again.
If you are someone who doesn’t really exercise regularly or wants to start, then I would suggest seeking the advice of a professional to assist. This can be just to set up an ideal program for where your body’s at the current level and to assist in reaching your goals. Seeing a professional can really assist with reducing those niggles when you start exercise, like knee pain for example, and to ensure the exercises you are doing are appropriate and that you have the strength required for the type of exercise you want to do.
Michael Dermansky (02:10):
Okay. Well let’s go back to what you’re saying about seeing a professional as well. So what’s the advantages and disadvantages of seeing a professional as well? Because I mean, well, how hard is it start exercising and what’s the big deal about getting advice around that too?
Adriane Ward (02:23):
So the hard part about exercising is some people just don’t know where to start. They’re told to exercise more or exercise for this amount of time and do that, but they don’t know what that means. So the professional can help them to determine what type of exercise they should be doing at that stage. A common thing I’m told is, “I’m told to walk more by my doctor, but every time I walk my knee hurts.” So let’s deal with those sorts of things and have less things, barriers, to start us exercising in the first place.
Michael Dermansky (03:02):
So if someone came like that to you, for example, they were told, “I need to walk more as well, but my knee hurts.” What are you hearing as a professional?
Adriane Ward (03:12):
So I’m hearing that, yes, they may need to walk for whatever reasons. But they don’t have most likely the required strength for the load that the walking’s going to place through their body. Or there’s something going on with their knee, so let’s deal with that first. That allows them to then start their walking.
Michael Dermansky (03:32):
Right, okay. So let’s go back a step as well. So you said, diving right in, they may need a bit reduce the weight, the reps, the sets they’re doing as well. What happens to the body when the people take a break from exercise, particularly for a prolonged period of time, say three, four weeks, a month, two months, and so forth?
Adriane Ward (03:47):
So during that break, they’re definitely going to have lost some of their muscle strength and their cardiovascular fitness, depending on what they’ve been doing and what they were doing prior. It doesn’t mean that they’ll lose all of it and they may not even feel like they’ve lost any of it because they haven’t been putting that extra load or stress through their bodies.
But when they do start to then increase the load or activity to higher amounts, then the body is put at risk of breakdowns or injuries because they’re not strong enough for what they were doing. So they just need to build back up and back off a little bit to build back up again.
Michael Dermansky (04:32):
Right, okay. So I mean if I haven’t exercised for three or four weeks, if I don’t go back to my previous weight or strength or speed that I was doing before, does that mean I’ve gone backwards? How come I’m not going straight forward?
Adriane Ward (04:50):
It does mean you’ve gone backwards a little bit, but it’s not necessarily in a bad way. So you’ve gone backwards, you’ve had a little break, your body will return to those previous strength levels and exercise intensities quicker than previous, than it took you to build it up. But it’s not backwards as in I have to start again.
Michael Dermansky (05:11):
Right, okay. And we know that there’s a decline in muscle mass. I mean for example if you’ve been at hospital and have to have an operation, I mean not only is the operation itself, but even the bedrest part of it as well. I know there’s many studies where people have been directly asked to stay in bed for a week or two. And the results are it takes them quite a long time to get back to where they were before because of the loss of muscle medicine and cardio fitness as you said as well. That’s a natural process because your body adapts to exactly what you ask it to do. You do less, it adapts to that. And it takes longer to build that up than it does to actually decline that too.
Adriane Ward (05:51):
Yeah, it does. But if you’ve had a break from the holiday period, you’re not dealing with cutting muscles open. So you will have lost a little bit of strength but you can reactivate and restrengthen and then continue to progress on past that.
Michael Dermansky (06:12):
Right. And the other thing is, as you said, you’ve got the motor patterns too. Your brain knows what to do, it’s done those activities before. It’s just a matter of reactivating it and then allowing the body to continue to grow past that as well.
Adriane Ward (06:24):
Michael Dermansky (06:25):
So let’s go back a next step to that too. You’ve restarted the exercise program and what starts to happen after you restart your exercise program again?
Adriane Ward (06:37):
So when you restart an exercise program, you do often need to build up your muscle strength and endurance, along with your cardiovascular fitness. Which like we’re just saying would’ve dropped off from that break with regular exercise. You may feel the exercise to be harder than you remember it being before the break, even if you are returning to that lower intensity of exercise previously. You may experience DOMS, so that’s the delayed onset muscle soreness and that’s the soreness in your muscles that you feel one to two days after your exercise session, as your muscles aren’t used to the weight or the repetitiveness of the exercise you return to.
So as mentioned, as we’re just speaking before, you should start at a reduced level of exercise to return. And again, it doesn’t have to be for long and you’ll build it back up. But you can also, if you’re unsure, that’s when seeking out the advice of a professional to help with returning to that regular exercise patterns for yourself.
Michael Dermansky (07:38):
Right. Well going back to the professional device as well, you said DOMS as well and muscle soreness as well. So this is a common thing I see as well, that people who haven’t exercised regularly, particularly if they start a new program, don’t know the difference between what is normal muscle soreness and what is a problem. How do you tell the difference?
Adriane Ward (07:59):
Yeah, they don’t know that. And they often start an exercise program when we see, “Oh, but I did this and actually felt worse. Why am I continuing with it?” And it’s really important for people to be aware of this because, like you said, that is the good soreness as such and that’s where we want them to expect this and or not be scared of it I should say.
So when we start exercising, we do expect, particularly with our strength training and that, that we make changes to these muscles and these changes happen at a microscopic level. But it does happen often with a little bit of soreness. So what we’ll get is we might do a program on one day and then by the next day, the day after, we get that healing process occurring in the muscles, which is a normal process, and that can be painful.
It’s usually painful when we are moving. So when we go to stand up or when we go to sit down and it’s in the belly area of the muscle and once we get going then it settles down. We stop again, it might return. And this can last up to, in a really severe case, up to five days. But it will back off and you will then notice a difference of that pain having decreased and ceased within that timeframe as well.
Michael Dermansky (09:21):
I think the biggest thing you said as well is that it’s a soreness sensation in the belly of the muscle. So for example, you feel it in the front of your thigh, in your bottom as well. It’s very different to a pain sensation in the side of the hips or in the front of the knees. So as a professional, what we’re looking for is where are you telling me it’s sore and what’s the sensation like?
If I’m hearing you telling me it’s sore in the front of my thighs or my bottom when I get up as well, we’re okay with that too. That’s a normal healing response that you feel when people first start exercising. Where they say, “Oh, I heard this pain in the front of my knee for three days and I thought it’d be okay.” No, no, we want to know about that because that’s not a good sensation as well. That’s definitely what we want to hear about too. So depending on where it is and what the type of sensation is, that either gets our attention or doesn’t get our attention as well.
Adriane Ward (10:08):
Yeah, exactly. And it’s important for people to be aware of that because we’re happy to continue on with pain in that muscle belly or in that front of the thigh or the buttocks sort of area. Like you said the knee, we’re not so much happy to. So let’s work with what we can. If we need to change something, we can. If we need to just continue on, we can as well.
Michael Dermansky (10:30):
Okay. So I guess the other question that goes along with that too is that if I don’t get DOMS and that delayed muscle soreness, have I not worked hard enough in the exercise program?
Adriane Ward (10:39):
No, no, that’s not necessarily the case either. Your muscles were just able and ready to do that level of exercise. And that’s okay.
Michael Dermansky (10:48):
Yeah, I mean that’s the biggest thing is, “I wasn’t sore the next day.” That’s okay because I mean it often, one, it happened early stages as well. So once your body adapts, you’re not going to get that kind of sensation repeatedly as well. And also, it depends on what type of exercise people [inaudible 00:11:07]. So when we do what’s called eccentric exercise, which is a lowering phase, there’s a larger amount of disruption in the muscles and you’ll get larger amounts of that DOMS muscle soreness. If we are not doing a lot of that kind of stuff, you are not going to get that sensation. It’s not because it’s not important, but it’s a type of activity that tends to get that sensation more.
Adriane Ward (11:26):
Yeah, that’s right. And depends on what we are doing in the session and depends on that current state of your muscles to begin with.
Michael Dermansky (11:36):
Yeah. So another big question as well, if you’re restarting, strength versus cardio, which one and why?
Adriane Ward (11:44):
Strength. I would always start with returning to strength before returning to the cardio training. This is to make sure that your muscles, your bones, your joints are strong enough to handle the load. And particularly usually with cardio training, it’s the repetitive forces placed through them in that training session.
Michael Dermansky (12:02):
Right. Well, I mean then, if I’m a runner, why do I need to return to strength training first?
Adriane Ward (12:08):
We need to make sure that your knees, your hips, your ankles can handle that impact force that we are getting every time we hit the ground through our ankles, our knees, our hips. And we’re doing that continuously and we’re doing that repetitively for a certain time or a certain distance. If we don’t, that’s when we’re, we’re sort of more at risk of breakdown or those little injuries. Because the joints and the muscles and the tendons holding those joints together are not strong enough to handle what you are asking it to do.
Michael Dermansky (12:42):
Yeah, but isn’t running enough? If I do swimming or running or bike riding, aren’t I getting strong from that alone?
Adriane Ward (12:46):
No. You’ll get some, but not from that alone. So I would always handle that strength and increase in that strength first.
Michael Dermansky (12:55):
Yeah, I mean that’s a big thing about those cardio activities as well is that strength training really is the secret behind those as well. To be a better runner you need to be stronger. To be a better bike rider, you need to be stronger. To be a better swimmer, you need to be stronger. That’s the background noise or foundation that needs to be there in order to be able to do those cardio activities. And it’s so underestimated in a lot of the people in those populations as well. And it’s not until they go back and realize, “Hang on, let’s do some strength work first.” That they become better runners or swimmers or bike riders as well. It’s just such an important foundation that you get.
Adriane Ward (13:34):
That’s strength training, you’re right. It’s going to help that performance of that cardio activity that we’re doing.
Michael Dermansky (13:40):
Yeah, yep. I mean you’re a runner yourself as well. You do strength training as well?
Adriane Ward (13:45):
Michael Dermansky (13:45):
And how does it help?
Adriane Ward (13:48):
I enjoy my strength training probably more than my running. I like my running. And I have been able to reintroduce it after about a six-month break and not one issue because I continued my strength training whilst my running was off. And I actually returned a lot better than I expected I would.
Michael Dermansky (14:08):
See, that’s interesting that you say that too. Because that is the whole point and the reason why you do strength training is to do those activities with having to think about them, that’s the whole point.
Adriane Ward (14:16):
Yes, exactly. And returning with a better performance, a better recovery time, and no niggles.
Michael Dermansky (14:25):
You can just enjoy the activity rather than worry about, “Oh, am I going to be sore from it, going to be aching? I’m gong to injure myself doing it, this activity that I want to do for my enjoyment.” You don’t want to contradict the activity you want to do by actually just enjoying what you’re trying to do.
Adriane Ward (14:39):
Exactly. And it didn’t take me five days of soreness or five days of recovery for that half-an-hour activity that I enjoyed.
Michael Dermansky (14:48):
So let’s go back another step as well then. So this is a common thing we hear as well is, “I want to get fit this year, I’m going to exercise every day.” Is there anything wrong with that story?
Adriane Ward (14:58):
Yes, there’s a lot of things wrong with this story. The first one for me is that it’s almost always unrealistic and you’re going to set yourself up for failure and set yourself up for failure quickly with that sort of comment. Most of us do have busy lives at work and busy lives at home, yet a comment like this, we’re expecting to find an extra 30 minutes a day to fit in all the extra exercise we’re planning to do. And whilst we may find that doable while we’re on holidays, we need to have a plan and a realistic plan for returning from holidays and back to our more normal routines. We’re busy.
The second part that’s wrong with that for me is that our bodies need time to recover from our training. With exercising every day, our bodies just don’t get that time. And that leads us to having an increased risk for breakdowns from over training and not having enough recovery time. These breakdowns can be in the form of muscle tear, strains or injuries, tendinopathy injuries, and stress fractures, just as an example.
The third reason I have for not exercising every day is that we simply don’t need to. So exercise guidelines for us to lead an active lifestyle include doing two to three strength training sessions a week, two to three high intensity cardio sessions a week, and a walk most other days. So for me, that means if I spread my strength and cardio sessions out on separate days, then I can do two strength training sessions, two higher intensity cardio sessions, and if I happen to fit in a walk on another day, then I’m reaching that active lifestyle recommendations from that alone.
Michael Dermansky (16:57):
So it’s interesting, you don’t have to do it every day as well. The other thing is, well, that people don’t realize as well, is that the strength training adaptation, the change occurs when you rest, not when you exercise. So I had a hard workout, I’m stronger from that. No, I’m not. I’ve had a hard workout, I put a stimulus on that area as well. The recovery’s going to happen when I rest, not when I exercise. And so if I’m exercising every day, I deny my body what it needs, time to actually do, to adapt, be better than afterwards.
Adriane Ward (17:23):
Yeah, exactly. And it includes with that whole lifestyle of recovery in terms of rest, but recovery in terms of quality, in terms of sleep, what we’re eating. And bringing the whole picture together.
Michael Dermansky (17:40):
So I mean, as you said, that’s a big deal. Because recovery is not just this nice thing that I do because I’m not exercising. It’s actually a planned and important part of the exercise program. If we don’t have the recovery period, I’m sorry, the program won’t be effective.
Adriane Ward (17:53):
Yeah, exactly. And people wonder, “We’re exercising so hard and I’m spending all this time and I’m not getting my results, I’m just going to stop.” Well, you’re not seeing the results because you’re not having that recovery time and then you’ve spent every day exercising for however long and you’ve wasted it.
Michael Dermansky (18:10):
Yeah, and I mean every professional will tell you the same thing. When you hear the story, “I’m going to exercise every day this year.” You just hear failure every single time because it ain’t going to happen. If you do it for a week like that, good luck. It don’t going to last longer than that. If you do it two weeks, that’s a miracle and a half. And then injuries tend to happen a week or two after that too, and then everything just stops.
Adriane Ward (18:31):
Exactly, yeah. And you start back at the square one of, “I haven’t achieved anything in my goal of starting exercise.”
Michael Dermansky (18:41):
Yeah. And you said it doesn’t have to be… A good solid program is two exercise strength trainings a week, two cardio sessions a week. And then if you go for a leisurely walk where you have a walking pace that you can have a conversation with someone, that’s enough to get a great outcome. Because even the professional athletes don’t exercise every day and they don’t do hard training every day because it’s not going to work.
Adriane Ward (19:10):
Yeah, exactly. And it’s not realistic, it doesn’t work. And you end up probably, I’ll say more annoyed and frustrated at those injuries starting to occur, because you feel that those injuries stopped you from doing what you were wanting to do, not that the amount was unrealistic to begin with.
Michael Dermansky (19:28):
Yeah, yeah. Yep. So I guess you’ve talked about this before, but one last time for listeners as well, I don’t know where to start but I want to start exercising this year. Where do I start?
Adriane Ward (19:43):
Yeah, so as I was saying earlier, that if you were previously exercising regularly and you want to just get back into it, then starting with that reduced intensity. So this could be less weight that you are lifting, less reps or sets or less duration or speed, depending on the type of exercise you’re doing, to regain that lost strength that we will have lost over that rest period.
If you haven’t really exercised previously or been consistent, then I would recommend seeking the advice of a professional. It’s no use saying, “We did this program because that worked for our friend or this worked for that person.” The professional’s going to help work out where your body’s at at that time, your goals that you want to achieve, and be able to help with setting up a program that’s appropriate for where your body’s at and what you want to achieve from your goals.
Michael Dermansky (20:37):
So it’s a really big deal because people are going to be different stages. You said they might have a knee problem and they need to work on that first before they start doing more than that. Where someone else is actually in a relatively reasonable position and we can start someone quite far down the track because that’s where they need to be, as opposed to somebody else. So it really is individualized based on the people’s needs as well. Rather than, this is the best exercise program you heard from this influencer or that program as well. That may be great for a show, but it may not be the right one for you to get the outcome you want out of it too.
Adriane Ward (21:11):
And those people may have already been exercising regularly and consistently for the last 12 months before they’re up to that program that they’re advertising now. So where are you beginning at for your body type?
Michael Dermansky (21:24):
Yep. Yep, absolutely. And I guess that goes back to the individualization as well. So how a program is great for one person, it’s not great for somebody else as well. And then going back to the goals as well, what’s the point of the exercise program? The exercise program itself is not the outcome, it’s not what you want out of it. It’s a means to an end. So what do you want out of exercise program in terms of what you’re trying to achieve out of your life?
You might just want to be fit enough to be able to play with your kids. Or you want to be able to run a half marathon. Or you want to be able to power lift 2000 kilos, whatever it is. Your goals are very, very different and what you have to do will very much depend on what you actually want to achieve out of your program.
Adriane Ward (22:07):
Yeah, exactly. And that’s where that individuality and that personalization comes in.
Michael Dermansky (22:19):
So just before we finish up, Adriane, anything you else you want to add to the listeners about restarting an exercise program this year that we haven’t talked about so far today?
Adriane Ward (22:27):
Yeah, yeah. Probably the biggest thing is that being consistent with your exercise is probably one of the best things for you. So over time, consistency plays a huge part. We don’t usually see or feel those small changes, but over a six or a 12-month period, then those small changes equal quite a big change. So being consistent is one of the big things I see as a professional, is to who starts to achieve those goals that they’re wanting to achieve and not just go, “I’ve done it for four weeks, it hasn’t worked.” And we’re talking long term consistent.
The other thing is to also just not be too hard on yourself. If you have a busy day and you miss a session, as long as you get back into it and not just give up, then missing that one session, it’s not going to matter. You can have that as an extra rest day, extra recovery day. The main thing is you do still need to get back into it and be regular and consistent. But missing the odd one here and there, don’t be hard on yourself, it’s not going to make a difference.
Michael Dermansky (23:34):
Yep, yep, yep. That’s really good advice as well. I mean that’s huge. The first thing that you said today as well about the consistency, I think the whole theme of last year was every professional we had on the show as well said the same thing. Consistency, consistency, consistency, consistency was the winner in the long term, no matter what the situation was. We just heard it again and again and again. I think it’s going to be the theme of this year again, consistency, consistency, consistency, consistency as well. It’s just such an important thing. But consistency as in don’t be rigid either.
So consistency means exactly that too. You get back on the horse and you do it again, you get back on the horse and you do it again. But if you miss a session because you’ve had a busy day or you don’t feel well, that’s okay. That’s not the end of the world. Just get back on the horse and consistency wins again in the long term.
Adriane Ward (24:23):
Yeah. And that’s where a program for you that is not every day is going to have the biggest change over time.
Michael Dermansky (24:32):
Fantastic. Excellent. Well, thank you very much for being on the show this early this year as well. I think there’s some great advice there for the listeners as well. And next show we have you as well, going to dig a bit deeper into strength training women and why women should be lifting weights. I think it’s a really great topic and a super important one that we hear as well. I know you’ll have a very strong opinion on this one too, Adriane, too, because we see it every day in our working lives as well. But we’ll go dig deeper into it next week, next time as well.
Thank you very much for being on the show and we’ll talk to you later. Thank you very much.
Adriane Ward (25:06):
Thank you for listening to The Confident Body. For practical articles to help you build a confident body, go to mdhealth.com.au/articles.