In a perfect world, you’d never miss a workout or stray from healthy eating habits, staying Spartan race-ready 365 days of the year. But much like competing on a Spartan course, stuff happens, and whether you find yourself taking a training break to recover from an injury, travel (seriously, did all your friends have to get married in the same calendar year?), or something else, we’re all bound to let our fitness levels drop at some point.
But good news: according to Lesley Bell, a NASM-certified personal trainer and brain health coach at Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, Spartan athletes have incredible muscle memory, thanks to past rigorous training. This makes it easier (and speedier!) to get back into shape. Here’s what to know when you face a fitness lull and how to get back into shape.
How to Get Back Into Shape the Spartan Way
1. Reconcile With the Fact that It Doesn’t Take Long to Fall Out of Shape
Bell says that you can start to lose muscle strength in just three weeks of pausing your training. If there’s an injury and that muscle is completely immobilized that timeline may be as short as two weeks. Your age also plays a part in this equation, according to research published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care.
“As we age, we naturally lose lean tissue, so individuals who are significantly older than their athletic counterparts have been shown to begin losing lean mass as early as 10 days after rest,” says Bell. Your diet can combat this if you focus on eating higher amounts of quality protein, but those dealing with an injury will have another factor against them as researchers discovered. “The body’s hormonal response to injury (high amounts of circulating cortisol, the stress hormone), will end up exacerbating muscle loss,” says Bell.
2. Start Back Slowly with Mobility and Flexibility
“To prevent injury, I highly recommend starting with a corrective exercise program, meaning taking the time to ensure that your muscles regain their flexibility and that your joints have sufficient mobility before trying to jump right back into intense workouts,” says Bell. This should consist of exercises that focus on isometric holds (static muscle contraction movements), working on both grip and core strength before you upgrade to plyometric moves like box jumps or burpees.
3. Find Your Flow: Create a Better Balance of Lifting + Cardio
“It’s true that there is a happy medium between athletes who do too much cardio and those who focus too much on strength training and have extra mass to carry around through the course,” says Bell. “Finding that flow state in your endurance regime is the biggest goal.” Bell recommends focusing on strength training two to four times a week and doing endurance runs or other cardio conditioning four to five days a week in order to achieve a balance of the two.
4. Work on Your Mental Fitness: Mantras + Meditation Are Key
You might feel discouraged starting over again, but it’s equally as important to work on your mental fitness along with your physical fitness to get back into shape quickly. Bell says to remain focused on your strengths as you get back into a routine and to use techniques like meditation or visualization to help you prepare for what’s to come, from your training routine to race day.
“One of the most rewarding parts of being an elite athlete is having the ability to push your mind and body to its ultimate limits,” says Bell. “Even if you have to take some time off, simply knowing what you are capable of should not change.”