Returning to training after a break? Check your expectations at the door.

physical training Mar 25, 2022

Maybe you took your coach’s advice to heart and you embraced the offseason. Maybe you were recovering from an illness or injury. Maybe you are coming out of a busy life season, or needed a mental health break. Whatever the reason, most of us at some point find ourselves resuming training after some time away from it. 

Regardless of whether the break was self-imposed or forced upon you, you are likely anxious to jump right back in. This is where some athletes make a critical mistake. If you pick up where you left off and return to your previous training volume and/or intensity, or you expect to hit the same pace or power numbers you were before the offseason, you are setting yourself up for a bruised ego at best – and at worst, possible injury.

Instead, take a step back and meet yourself where you are. Get a little perspective on where you stand right now, not where you were at the height of last season. When you take a break from training, or lighten your load significantly, several changes happen in your body. There is a decrease in your blood volume (think fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen to working muscles), and your lactate threshold and VO2 max have likely fallen. Also, you lose conditioning in your connective tissues like ligaments and tendons.

Does this mean you’ve lost all your hard-won fitness? Not at all! Periods of recovery allow your body to be better prepared to bounce back, and even exceed your previous peak fitness. The higher your fitness level was before your break and the longer you have been training, the quicker your fitness will return. BUT, it is still important to start slow and ramp up at an appropriate rate. This is especially true if you are coming back after an injury. 

When you are assessing your current fitness, think about other factors that may be at play. Perhaps you made strength training a priority during the off-season (Yes! Great choice!) and now your body needs to adjust to your new strength gains. Perhaps you were focusing on one sport to improve technique or speed at the expense of another – for example, you were committed to a swim progression to work on your stroke, and you swapped time on the bike for more time in the pool. Perhaps you have been working with a physical therapist to make gait adjustments after an overuse injury, and you are still retraining those neural pathways. All of these things can affect your return to training in some way.

As you get back into it, first give yourself some grace. Try not to beat yourself up about “lost fitness,” and just accept that you are starting at a slightly different place, good or bad (or maybe both). This is a good time to do some baseline testing (CSS test, ftp test, InBody, lactate threshold, run threshold pace, etc.) so that you can measure your progress from where you are starting and not where you were before the break.

No matter how experienced you are, it’s important to ramp up slowly. Give those ligaments, tendons, and muscles time to get back up to speed (literally and figuratively) before you start adding distance and intensity. And you might need more recovery at first – don’t be afraid to take it. With a little prudence and patience, you’ll be back to crushing your sessions before you know it.



Alison Steiner Miller

Axes Coach Alison Steiner Miller enjoys helping runners and triathletes of all levels reach their goals and exceed their own expectations. She believes in setting ambitious goals, working hard when nobody is watching, and reinventing yourself as many times as you need. Alison is a certified coach with Ironman, Road Runners Club of America, and is a certified personal trainer. As a runner turned triathlete, Alison has competed in races from 5ks to ultramarathons, and sprint triathlons to full Ironman. She has achieved numerous age-group podium finishes at sprint and Olympic distances, and has been named an Ironman All-World Athlete.

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Alison Steiner Miller: [email protected]



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