Exercise: How to start exercising again after a long break

When it comes to exercise we all would like to be doing a bit more. The level we’re at isn’t always relevant, as the principles are constant. But where do we start after a long break, how do we avoid problems and build that all-important momentum? Read on for tips on how to start exercising again after a break (no matter how long)!

Starting Exercising Again

Whether you’ve had a two-month layoff and are preparing for next year’s world masters athletics championships or you’ve been doing nothing for a few years and want to do “something”. I’ve got two words for you: Pilates and walking. I’m happy to insert yoga for pilates, I just happen to be a pilates guy now. Why these two?


The key to exercising as we age and take time off is not breaking anything before you really get going. That’s why pilates is so brilliant, it’s very gentle on the body. You can only do what you can do and it’s regenerative from day one, give or take a little stiffness. Apart from the strength, core strength, mobility and flexibility aspects – and don’t forget Balance, with a capital B – the joy of pilates is that the body loves movement. Stretching, moving, strengthening, without really threatening the body – and of course no repetitive impact. It’s both the gentlest wake-up and also an endless journey.

I always compare the older body to a Meccano figure, whose screws and nuts (joints and muscles) have gotten loose. They need tightening up for the figure (you) to have structural integrity. Everything becomes easier when you tighten things up a little. Whether for everyday life or as a base for other activities. I do pilates online but it can also be sociable too.


Is there a better form of exercise? From ‘fast striding’ for an hour or more to a gentle stroll in nature, walking conditions the body. Some people feel they have to half kill themselves to get things started again after the last few months or years off. Not only is it very unpleasant, it’s completely counter-productive. Don’t invite a problem. A knee, a joint, a calf. By my reckoning, walking does at least 80% of what running does, without the impact and damage to the body and without the unpleasantness that many of us have. I just don’t do it.

I walk (and I run up steps for ballistic work) and it conditions my body, especially after a break of a few weeks. It’s not hard to steel yourself to go for a walk, it’s easy and doesn’t cause joint/muscle issues that are almost inevitable when doing any impact activity after you’ve been inactive. Muscles become more inelastic, ‘grumpy’ if you will and take longer to come around to the idea of doing stuff. The body needs coaxing over the weeks. That principle also applies within a session, if you’re already doing other forms of exercise. Quite often if I start a running-up-steps session, my knee might be grumbling. I stop and walk for 15 minutes. It goes, it’s happy now and I restart my session. It just needed a little time for the juices to start flowing, in a way that we didn’t have to worry about at 30.

A Little and Often

This teasing of our body in terms of bringing it gently to remember what it can do is a bit different to the classic mindset of the training effect, which is to put stress on the body, let it recover and then go again, at a higher level. That of course still exists, but It’s a different way of thinking because as you age, what your body and your – more grumpy – muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints view as too much, both within the session and afterwards, is less. If it survives the outrage of whatever exercise it’s being asked to do, It has to dig deeper and so recovery, already slower, takes even longer.

The answer is simple – do a little and often. Coaxing, reminding, playing with your body to remind it of what’s possible. Less is more. In athletics, it actually has a term – ‘activation session’. Go more gently than you think but do it often. Build momentum. This is why pilates (also yoga) and walking are so perfect because you can do them very often and build momentum. And they don’t require an iron will to build and maintain momentum. Why make things harder when you can just be smarter?

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Momentum comes in several forms – physically (re)training your body to expect exercise, retraining your muscles, tendons, muscular-skeletal system, as well as your cardiovascular system, so they expect and can handle what’s coming more and more easily – this is the physical momentum but just as important is the mental side. Your body system does adapt, but you’re also reminding yourself to allow time for exercise, to prioritise it. You’re re-building a new habit again. My mantra when starting after a break has always been: 3 sessions to get momentum. It holds true. So, when you’re struggling to motivate yourself: if you can drag yourself to a pilates class, or out for a walk 3 times, the rest magically begins to happen.

One last word in case you’re a regular or a fitness guru. It’s easy to scoff, but walking and pilates will take you a very, very long way in the world of fitness. I’ve won Master’s athletics titles not always because I was the best, but because I was there at the start line, healthy, with momentum – using Pilates and walking as key elements of training. You can build up to fast striding for 60 minutes which is more strenuous than you might imagine. And Pilates is a never-ending journey. Once a week isn’t really enough. Twice a week will reap such dividends to your ability to move and operate in the world, that you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. three times even better. That’s been my experience as a masters athlete but it equally applies to any activity you might want to try. It’s the true and authentic version of ‘strong and stable’.

Quick Fire Tips to Start Exercising Again After a Long Break

  • Start Slow: Easy does it! Ease back into exercise with low-intensity activities like pilates or walking to prevent injury
  • Set Realistic Goals: Don’t overreach. Establish achievable short-term and long-term goals to stay motivated.
  • Create a Schedule: Organisation is key. Plan your workouts and stick to a consistent routine.
  • Warm Up: Don’t underestimate the importance of stretching. Always warm up your muscles before exercising to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Mix It Up: Incorporate a variety of exercises to keep your routine interesting and balanced.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body feels and don’t push through pain.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts.
  • Rest and Recover: Allow time for your body to rest and recover between workouts.
  • Find a Workout Buddy: Exercise with a friend for motivation and accountability. Or alternatively try group classes.
  • Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small.

Check out our What to Wear to Yoga guide for more wardrobe inspiration.



David Gordon, founder of BAM, has a degree in sports science, has spent a lifetime in elite sport and is now a European and World Masters pole vault champion, as well as a pilates regular.