How to Get Back in Gear After a Gym Hiatus

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If the cold weather has kept you from working out this winter, it’s time to start getting back in the swing of things before beach season rolls around. We’re all for slimming down and getting in shape but if it’s been a little while since you last followed a steady exercise schedule, it’s important to ease yourself back into a program. "The problem is that many people mistakenly think that pushing their bodies harder and enduring pain are the keys to a successful exercise program," says Dr. E. Edward Khalfayan, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson.

“An optimal, sustainable exercise program begins slowly, and continues with a gradual increase in difficulty," says Dr. Khalfayan. Consider these AAOS exercise tips for a safe workout:

Embark on a balanced fitness program. A program that incorporates cardiovascular exercise, strength training and flexibility, is preferable for optimal health and fitness. A balanced exercise program also will keep you from getting bored and lessen your chance for injury.

Warm up first. First, warm up, even before stretching. Run in place for a few minutes, breathe slowly and deeply, or gently rehearse the motions of the exercise to follow. Warming up increases your heart and blood flow rates and loosens up other muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints.

Stretch. Begin stretches slowly and carefully until reaching a point of muscle tension. Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds, and then slowly and carefully release it. Inhale before each stretch and exhale as you release. Do each stretch only once. Never stretch to the point of pain. Always maintain control, and never bounce on a muscle that is fully stretched.

Use proper equipment.  First, look for running or athletic shoes that provide good construction, shock absorption and foot stability. Also, make sure that there is a thumbnail's width between the end of the longest toe and the end of the shoe. As 60 percent of a shoe's shock absorption is lost after 250 to 500 miles of use, people who run up to 10 miles per week should consider replacing their shoes every 9 to 12 months.  Also, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that allow you to move freely, and to easily release body heat. When exercising in cold weather, dress in removable layers.

Take your time. During strength training, move through the full range of motion with each repetition. Breathe regularly to help lower your blood pressure and increase blood supply to the brain.

Stay hydrated. Drink enough water to prevent dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Drink 1 pint of water 15 minutes before you start exercising and another pint after you cool down. Have a drink of water every 20 minutes or so while you exercise.

Cool down. Make cooling down the final phase of your exercise routine. It should take twice as long as the warm up. Slow your motions and lessen the intensity of your movements for at least 10 minutes before you stop completely. This phase of a safe exercise program should conclude when your skin is dry and you have cooled down.

Rest. Schedule regular days off from exercise and rest when tired. Fatigue and pain are good reasons to not exercise.