We all have to miss a workout every once in a while, whether it’s due to an illness, a vacation, a family emergency, or a major life change. Sometimes, it’s easy to get right back into your routine. But other times, finding the motivation to return to the gym is more difficult.
So how do you get back on track after missing a workout? If you miss just one workout, you can jump right back into your routine. If you haven’t worked out for several weeks or months, start over with a low-intensity, low-frequency program so you don’t get overwhelmed. Finding an accountability partner or scheduling a competition can also help motivate you.
In this article, I’ll discuss several reasons why you may need to miss a workout and whether or not you’ll lose progress after missing a workout. I’ll also talk about what you should do after missing one or more workouts in a row and tips for getting your motivation back after a long time away from the gym.
If you’ve been away from the gym for a while and don’t know how to get started again, check out the Fitbod app. There are multiple ways you can customize your workouts so you can stay motivated to develop a consistent routine again. And you get your first three workouts for free!
Reasons Why You May Miss a Workout
It’s important to note that missing a workout isn’t the same as taking a rest day. Rest days are generally planned, while missed workouts are often unintentional and due to extenuating circumstances.
That said, below are some of the most common (and valid) reasons for missing a workout:
1. You’re On Vacation
Many people continue to work out on vacation, but many others don’t.
Taking a break from your routine while traveling can give you the mental and physical break your body may need, but continuing to work out (even at a reduced frequency or volume) allows you to maintain consistency and makes it easier to get back on track when you return.
2. You’re Sick
The general rule of thumb is if you’re sick from the neck up, a light workout is okay. But if you have symptoms in your throat, chest, or stomach, you should give your body some rest.
Trying to push yourself through a significant illness can prolong your recovery. You should wait until your symptoms subside before working out again so you don’t put more stress on your immune system.
- Related Article: Can HIIT Make You Sick? (Yes, Here’s Why & How To Avoid)
3. You’re Going Through a Stressful Period
Sometimes, working out during stressful times can give you some semblance of control of your life when everything else is spiraling. But other times, it’s good to take a break from working out when you’re stressed.
Working out piles even more stress onto your body, which can increase your risk of injury, make it harder to concentrate, and affect your recovery.
4. You’re Injured
Although you can work around many injuries (for example, continuing to train upper body if you have a sprained ankle), missing a few workouts immediately after your injury is sometimes necessary to allow your body to heal.
5. You’re Tired
Many people will try to convince you to push through fatigue when you’re sleep-deprived, but I believe in listening to your body. Many times, being “too tired” is just an excuse. But sometimes, it’s a valid reason to have to skip a workout.
For example, if you’ve had three or four sleepless nights in a row because your kid has been sick, you may want to skip your workout. Trying to go for a long run or do multiple sets of heavy squats on limited sleep can negatively affect your performance.
6. You’re No Longer Enjoying Your Workouts
When you first start a new routine, you’ll likely be excited to work out. But as the novelty wears off, you may lose interest and struggle to find the motivation you once had, so you give up on your workouts.
You won’t be motivated to work out 100% of the time even if you do enjoy your routine. But if you frequently dread your workouts, it’s a sign that the routine isn’t working for you.
Will You Lose Progress If You Miss a Workout?
Whether or not you’ll lose progress if you miss a workout depends on how long you’ve been away from the gym.
If you miss one workout, you won’t lose any progress at all. But if you don’t work out for several weeks or months (which is also called detraining), you can expect to lose some strength, muscle mass, and cardiovascular fitness.
When it comes to resistance training, research shows that you can experience strength losses after about 28 days of not working out. Adults over the age of 65 and individuals with fewer years of training experience also experience significant decreases in power output.
Just how much strength you lose after long periods of inactivity is individual. However, a study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine suggests it can be as much as 30% depending on age and years of training experience.
Some research also shows that decreases in lean muscle mass can start to occur after just one week of no resistance training. However, other studies suggest you likely won’t notice any significant changes until about three weeks of not working out.
On the other hand, when it comes to cardio training, you may notice decreases in your aerobic fitness after just 12 days of inactivity.
Key Takeaways: Missing one workout won’t cause you to lose all of your progress. However, strength losses can occur after about a month of not working out, while muscle mass decreases are noticeable after about three weeks of detraining. Furthermore, decreases in cardiovascular fitness can occur after about two weeks of inactivity.
- Related Article: Missing a Day of Lifting: Will You Lose Your Gains?
What to Do After You Miss a Workout
After Missing One Workout
Missing just one workout isn’t a big deal. You can jump right back into your routine and pick up where you left off.
Do the workout you missed, then continue doing the rest of your program’s workouts in order.
After Missing Three Workouts
If you’re following a four-, five-, or six-day training split and you miss three workouts in a row, it’s best to start over from the beginning of the training week.
Let’s say you’re following a five-day split and normally train Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. You worked out Monday and Tuesday but missed the last three workouts. The following week, you would repeat last Monday’s and Tuesday’s workouts and then do the rest of the workouts in order.
Since three workouts represent at least half of many training programs, restarting from the beginning of the week will get you back on schedule so you can continue to do the rest of the program as it’s intended.
After Missing One Week
After missing a week of workouts, it’s best to start with something easy just to get your body moving. If you need to, spend a few extra minutes warming up. Use lighter weights or do a cardio workout at a lighter intensity than you did previously.
For example, if I’ve missed a week of working out, I treat my first couple of training sessions as a “reverse deload.” I typically don’t lift heavier than 65-70% and only do a few sets and reps of each lift just to get reacclimated to the movement patterns. After a few days of this, I feel better prepared to return to my usual routine. I also get much less sore by easing into things this way.
After Missing Two Weeks
Once you get to the two-week mark of missing workouts, it can be harder to get back into a routine.
Sometimes, after a two-week break, it helps to be spontaneous in the gym for a couple of workouts and just do whatever feels good.
For example, you can pick some of your favorite lifts and just do a few sets of each for your first couple of days back. It’ll be easier to ease back into things by doing the movements you enjoy rather than forcing yourself to do exercises you normally dread.
I also recommend sticking with light weights (about 65-70%) and low sets/reps after a two-week break. Since you may struggle with motivation at this point, it will be easier to get back to the gym when you don’t have to face a long, grueling workout.
After Missing One to Three Months
As you saw above, the one-month mark is when you can start to notice some decreases in strength. And if you’re an endurance athlete, one month is already past the point when decreases in aerobic fitness have already started. Those effects become even more noticeable when you’re away from the gym for two or three months.
As such, it’s important to manage your training volume and intensity properly so you can build yourself back up to where you were before your break.
If you’re lifting weights, you may notice that your body feels stiff and your lifts feel awkward even if you know how to perform them with proper technique. To account for this – as well as the potential strength losss – consider taking 90% of your previous one rep maxes and training at 65-70% of that number for your first few workouts.
If you’re focusing on cardio workouts, don’t be afraid to move at a slower pace. For example, you can run at ten-minute mile pace instead of a seven- or eight-minute mile pace.
Alternatively, you can rotate between high- and low-effort intervals. By doing this for a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to rebuild a solid base of fitness that will eventually allow you to train harder again.
After Missing Six Months or More
If it’s been six months or more since you last worked out, you’re essentially starting from the beginning. You may not be at the same exact point as someone who’s a complete beginner and has never worked out before, but your body will have definitely changed since you haven’t been exposing it to any kind of training stimulus.
Whether you previously trained for strength or endurance, it can help to follow a beginner-friendly routine for about three months when you return to the gym.
It may feel frustrating to have to start over from the beginning, but taking it slow at first will allow you to refamiliarize yourself with the movement patterns and rebuild your work capacity.
And with patience and consistency, you should get back to where you were before within a couple of months. This is due to muscle memory, or your body’s ability to relearn skills it did in the past even if it hasn’t done them for a while.
7 Tips for Getting Back on Track After Missing Workouts
1. Pick Something Fun
I already covered the benefits of starting with light, easy workouts after a long break from the gym in the section above. In addition to that, it can help to pick an activity you enjoy to help you get back into a routine.
For example, perhaps you love cycling but gave it up for a few months to focus on building strength. You then grew bored with your strength training routine and haven’t worked out in a month.
Riding your bike a few days a week can remind you how enjoyable working out can be and give you something fun to look forward to as you get back into the swing of things.
Then, once you’ve settled back into a consistent routine, you can branch out and try different types of workouts.
2. Reevaluate Your Workout Schedule
If your reason for missing several workouts is due to something like a job change or your children’s busy sports season, you may need to implement a new program.
For example, you may love powerlifting, but if you can no longer afford to spend an hour or more in the gym, you’ll be more likely to continue skipping workouts.
When you’re going through a busy period, take a step back and look for a workout program that suits your schedule better. Finding workouts that don’t take up a lot of time will allow you to stay active and maintain some consistency. It will also help mitigate significant decreases in your fitness.
Similarly, starting with a low-frequency training program will feel much less overwhelming than jumping into a six-day program after not workout out for months. Start with three days per week and then build yourself up from there.
The Fitbod app is a great place to start if you don’t have much time to work out. You can tell the app how much time you have available, and it will customize a routine that fits within your time constraints.
3. Find an Accountability Partner
Sometimes, you may need an external push to get you back into your routine. Asking a friend, family member, or someone you know from the gym to hold you accountable can help. It’s harder to keep skipping your workouts when you know someone else is counting on you.
If you have the budget for it, hiring a personal trainer can also serve the same purpose. Plus, a personal trainer can work with you to create enjoyable workouts that you look forward to doing, which can help you reestablish consistent habits.
4. Set a Goal
If you can’t find an accountability partner, setting a concrete goal for yourself can also help you get back into a consistent workout routine.
Signing up for a 5k, powerlifting meet, triathlon, or CrossFit competition is motivating because you want to do your best at the event. And doing your best requires adequate preparation, which can only be done if you train consistently.
That said, make sure you also give yourself enough time to prepare. Depending on how long you’ve been away from the gym, you may need several months to train for the event.
Scheduling your race or competition far enough in advance will allow you to train for it without burning yourself out and giving up on your workouts all over again.
The only thing I don’t recommend doing is setting a weight loss goal with a hard deadline. Putting pressure on yourself to lose weight by a certain date takes the fun out of working out, and that’s not what you want when you’re trying to find your motivation again.
5. Reward Yourself
Just like setting a goal with a hard deadline gives you something to work towards, rewarding yourself can help you regain your motivation. For example, you can treat yourself to a massage or a new pair of sneakers if you stay consistent with your routine for a month.
Just make sure the benchmarks you set to determine when you get your reward are reasonable. Aiming for six workouts a week when you know your schedule will only allow you to do four is setting yourself up for failure. This will make you feel defeated and frustrated.
Furthermore, I don’t recommend rewarding yourself with food. This can cause you to view exercise as an end to justify the means and result in an unhealthy relationship with food.
Similarly, I advise against rewarding yourself with something like a vacation to show off your hard work. This can lead to patterns of working out just to lose weight or improve your physique rather than doing it because you like to or want to reap its other benefits (such as improved moods and better overall health).
6. Don’t Make Up for It by Doing a Ton of Workouts at Once
After taking some time away from the gym, you may be tempted to cram as many workouts as possible into a short amount of time to make up for it.
If you’ve just missed a few days and try to do two-a-days to get back on schedule, this isn’t quite as big of a deal. You may tire yourself out more than necessary or be more sore than usual. But it likely won’t have any significant impacts on your body and health, especially if you were very consistent beforehand.
However, jumping right into doing two-a-days or another high-volume program when you haven’t worked out in months is asking for an injury. You’ll need to give your body time to reacclimate to training so you don’t hurt yourself, which can cause you to have to miss even more time away from the gym.
Start with just three or four low-intensity workouts a week and give yourself a few weeks to readjust to working out again. Once you’ve gotten back into the habit of training consistently, you can start to gardually bump up the intensity, volume, and requency.
7. Make Small Changes at a Time
If you’ve been off your fitness game for a while, you may have also slacked on your nutrition. But trying to change everything all at once can be overwhelming and cause you to give up again after just a short time.
If you don’t like change, don’t feel pressured to adjust everything regarding your fitness and nutrition at the same time. Build consistency with one first before working on changing the other. Small, reasonable changes often lead to the best long-term results.
What To Expect When You Start Working Out Again After a Break
How you feel after working out again after a break depends on how long it’s been. If you miss one workout or even a couple of days, you likely won’t notice any major differences in your performance or how sore you feel afterward. But even missing just two weeks of workouts can make your first few workouts challenging and leave you extremely sore.
Weights that are nowhere close to your one rep max may feel like an all-out effort. You may get so sore that getting up from a chair or brushing your hair is uncomfortable.
Sometimes, these are just the effects of destimulation or desensitization – in other words, you haven’t lost a significant amount of progress, but your muscles are no longer used to being put under stress, and they respond accordingly. This should improve within a week or so once you start working out consistently again.
You may also notice that you get tired more quickly, but this will resolve as your body adjusts to the training demands again.
It’s also important to note that it will take time to regain strength and muscle mass after a long break from the gym. In the study from the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine I linked above, researchers found that it can take detrained individuals six weeks to regain muscle mass.
However, rebuilding muscle mass takes longer the older you are. Strength also takes slightly longer to come back, with some studies suggesting it can take at least 8 weeks to return to previous strength levels after a long break.
This may seem like a long time, but the good news is that it’s not nearly as long as the time it took to gain your strength and muscle mass in the first place (which was probably years).
The same is true for aerobic fitness. One study done on trained endurance athletes found that their VO2 maxes (the maximum amount of oxygen your body utilizes during exercise) decreased by only 18% after 84 days of detraining. This suggests that it won’t take nearly as long to regain your cardio fitness if you’re an experienced trainee.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Get Back on Track After Not Working Out?
After not working out for several weeks or months, you can get back on track by starting slowly and training at about half the volume and intensity you previously did. If you have trouble finding motivation, set a goal for yourself (such as a competition) or find someone who will hold you accountable.
What Do You Do If You Miss a Workout Session?
If you miss a workout, do the one you missed, then continue to follow the rest of your program’s workouts in order. If you miss three workouts, go back to the beginning of your training week and start over. If you miss a month or more, start from scratch with light weights until you rebuild your strength.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.