How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

It’s just like riding a bike – even after all these years!

How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

Karen Jenkins photographed in Randolph, NJ. Photo by Brian Branch Price.

Whatever your age, grab your bicycle and ride! If you are 60 or older, and do not ride a bicycle, let me convince you to ride.

Bicycle ridership among those 60 years and older is growing the fastest according to data collected by the US Department of Transportation. Between 1995 and 2009, the rise in cycling among people ages 60-79 accounted for 37 percent of the total net nationwide increase in bike trips. Canada, countries in Europe, Australia, and Japan report a similar trend.

Fifteen years ago, my brother surprised me with a heavy, three-speed, step-through bicycle. I was 45 and hadn’t ridden a bicycle since childhood. The gift sat unused for seven years until serendipity intervened and pushed me down an unfamiliar path. Now I ride my bicycle nearly every day and I am the Chair of the Board of Directors of the League of American Bicyclists, which at 135 years, is the oldest bicycle advocacy organization in the world. Every day, I smile broadly and laugh loudly as I ask myself, “How, at my age, did this happen?”

Getting Started – Find a Community of Bike Riders

First, don’t be afraid of riding a bike. Find a nearby program that teaches adults to ride and the skills to ride in traffic. In the US, a good source of information is the League’s website. Type your state and you will find a wealth of information about the Bicycle Friendly America (BFA) program.

Listed will be bike shops, clubs, classes, events, and bike instructors in communities throughout your state. Don’t overlook your local and state advocacy organizations, which at the grass roots level are working to make their communities safer for cyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. I am confident you will meet knowledgeable and friendly people eager to see you riding a bicycle safely and with joy.

How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

Can Everyday Biking Keep Us Young?

Get a Bicycle

Decide how much you can afford to spend and don’t forget to budget for accessories like a helmet, lights, and a lock. If you are fortunate to live in a city with a bike share program, rent one before deciding to buy. There may be a bicycle recycle program in your city where you can purchase a bike for very little money.

For a new bike, go to your local bike shop and have fun looking while asking lots of questions. Most important is to test ride all the bikes that interest you. A good bike shop will help you find an appropriate bike for your budget, the correct size and style for your needs, and make final adjustments for maximum comfort.

Carefully Consider Your Physical Needs

As we get older, our agility decreases, no matter how physically fit we are. Many manufacturers now offer bicycles that are specific for women, seniors, and those with physical limitations. If you are learning to ride or have not ridden in a while, a road (racing) bike may not be the best choice. City bikes are made for comfort and transportation, and with their upright positioning are very manageable to ride. Consider a tricycle if you find balancing on two wheels a challenge.

If lifting your leg over a bicycle frame proves to be challenging then look for a step-through bike which can be handy for all genders. I am now looking for a bicycle with wider tires and a deep step-through.

How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

Karen demonstrates how to fix it yourself with her Trek step-through bike at Marty’s Reliable Bicycle in Randolph, NJ. Photo by Brian Branch Price.

Finding Easy and Accessible Places to Ride

Riding your bicycle should provide hours of healthy, stress-free, physical activity outdoors that will allow you to enjoy the scenery and the company of friends. Take time to find places to ride that are easy and where you feel safe from traffic. Look online for bike maps of your area and ask your local bike shop for suggestions. Organizations that offer bike education classes may offer easy group rides, usually free of charge. Be on the lookout for community bike rides, many of which close the roads to motorized traffic.

What to Wear

Wear whatever clothing you have that is comfortable when moving and feels good. There is no need to purchase special clothing. But you should be aware that wide leg pants can get caught in your bike chain, especially if there is no guard. Use reflective ankle straps to clinch around the bottom of your pant leg. Wear shoes that protect your feet and avoid flip-flops. Natural fibres like wool are excellent to moderate heat while “tech wick” shirts wash and dry quickly.

Learning to Maintain Your Bike

A bicycle is a sturdy vehicle with all the parts easily visible and fixable. At a minimum, I encourage you to learn to clean your bike and change a flat tire. Through bike shops, Park Tool offers a basic one-day bicycle repair course that is well worth your time and money. Ask your bike shop or lookup “Park Tool School” online to find classes near you. The course taught me the value of keeping a clean and well-maintained bicycle and to bring it to the shop for conditioning and repairs beyond my capability. Most importantly, the day-long course gave me confidence to get on my bike and not worry about being stranded. Adding a tire repair kit and a multi-tool to your bag will cover most road-side repairs.

Staying Physically Fit

At the time I started riding a bicycle, I did not know it would be the best investment I would make to maintain my health as I grow older. The benefits of regularly riding a bike include weight loss and preventing serious diseases such as stroke and heart attacks. Riding a bicycle is low impact, an important consideration for keeping active if you have arthritis in your lower joints.

I now take my bike almost every time I drive to visit a museum, go to a meeting, or visit friends. With my bike, I no longer worry how far I have to park from my destination. Often, I will park several miles away and ride my bike. Because I have arthritis in one knee, I am no longer able to walk as far as I would like, but I can ride my bike for miles.

I have looked at my community in ways I never noticed in a car. Most surprising was the physical strength and tenacity I discovered which I did not know I possessed.

Riding a bicycle is for everyone no matter their age!

Karen Jenkins is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the League of American Bicyclists and a League Cycling Instructor. She rides every day in her hometown of East Brunswick, NJ and loves to take the long way home under sunny skies.

Many riders are coming back into motorcycling after a long absence, some as long as 30 years or more. These are riders who reached a point in their lives where family obligations or their economic situation forced them to sell their motorcycle. As the years passed, their situations changed and the love of riding came back with a vengeance. However, motorcycles have changed, training methods have changed, and motorcycle safety has become a priority.

Are you one of these returning motorcycle riders? Here’s what you need to know to do it right the second time around.

    Things Have Changed

If you haven’t been keeping up with the progress in motorcycling since you gave up the sport years ago, you may be in for a surprise. There are a wide variety of both domestic and foreign bikes available that are cool to look at and much more fun to ride. Models run the gamut from scooters to cruisers, to standards, to sportbikes, to dual sports, to touring bikes, and even to trikes.

Motorcycle trikes are relatively new to the sport even though they existed more than 40 years ago. New trikes are extremely stable and possess riding characteristics unheard of until recently. Some returning riders choose trikes to deal with various infirmities.

You’ll also find a change in motorcycle riding apparel and helmets. Various synthetic materials are now being used as well as leather for jackets. Helmet use is now controlled by law in some areas. Check local regulations.

Learning how to ride a motorcycle is now much more organized with numerous classes available.

With the popularity of the Internet, there are now thousands of motorcycle resources available that allow you to stay current with what’s going on in motorcycling. For example, many people become regulars on one or more motorcycle forums. These forums can attract thousands of visitors daily. If you have any question about motorcycling, you can post it on the forum and get immediate responses from all over the world by numerous experts.

I can not emphasize this enough: You must take a formal motorcycle training course from a school that uses the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) methods. You may think you already know how to ride a motorcycle but attending one of these courses will give you the latest skills required to be a safe rider. These courses are usually given over a weekend with both classroom instruction and field exercises. Motorcycles are provided. The classes teach you how to ride the machine, but more importantly, they teach you street survival skills.

If you feel you are already an experienced motorcycle rider, you may want to enroll in an MSF experienced rider course. These courses are conducted with you riding your own motorcycle.

I don’t recommend going down to your local motorcycle dealer and buying a new motorcycle. Perhaps you’ve known someone who decided to get back into motorcycling and the first thing they did was buy a big heavyweight machine. Now, it’s possible that some people who have natural athletic abilities may be able to pull this off. The vast majority, however, will not be able to do it. They will end up damaging the bike numerous times and most likely injuring themselves in the bargain.

You want to start off with a simple, cheap, standard motorcycle and be prepared to see it fall over a few times while you get used to riding again. You should be able to find something for $1000 or less. Just be sure that the bike runs well, has good tires and brakes, and is insured.

At some point, if you haven’t maintained the motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license, you’ll have to take a motorcycle road test offered by the Dept of Motor Vehicles for your state or other governmental authority. A possible side benefit of taking the MSF beginner’s course is an automatic endorsement without having to take the normal motorcycle vehicle tests. Check your local regulations.

Posted 07/09/15 by Amy Kapp in Trail Use

How to safely get back into cycling after a long breakPhoto courtesy Bicycle House Tallahassee

I’m in my later thirties, and I recently started riding a bike again after a long time.

The last and only bike I ever owned was a no-frills, blue three-speed purchased when I was 15, and while I loved it, rode it to all your typical teenager destinations, I was never a pro. It was just fun. A driver’s license at 17—and my life in general—turned that bike into a distant memory. And after two unpleasant experiences getting back on one, I told myself, “I’m not a cyclist.”

Cut to present day: I work in a place where 95 percent of my colleagues use bikes regularly for commuting and recreation, and it’s an envy builder—hearing their stories and watching them bike around Washington, D.C., and hit trails together. Yeah, I want a piece of the action. So with a new blue (10-speed) bike to boot, I’m sorting things out as I go. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far.

How to safely get back into cycling after a long breakPhoto courtesy SPOKES

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

There are lots of great bike share programs, but I decided to buy/acquire my own bike so I can grow with it and use it daily. I was a bit clueless about where to start.

Talking to other bicyclists, particularly my friends and colleagues, steered me in the right direction. They offered to let me try out their bikes and to connect me with people who refurbish used bicycles. My coworker Elissa went with me to a bike shop and explained how specific models (with different frames, gears, wheels, handlebars, etc.) support different types of riding, such as long-distance road cycling vs. commuting. It was eye opening—and empowering.

It’s okay to have a little anxiety. It will pass.

As a runner and dancer, I’ve stayed active. But for years, when people offered to bike with me, I turned them down. Secretly, I was afraid I’d embarrass myself because it had been a while, and the two times I’d tried to ride again didn’t end well. In those cases, one bike was in bad condition, and the other wasn’t a good fit for my short legs. But both times, I thought it was me.

I just needed to give myself a chance. When I tried out bikes this time around, I relaxed, got comfortable (on a bike that fit me) and gave myself some time to settle in. And after a few minutes, I did. And it was awesome.

How to safely get back into cycling after a long breakPhoto courtesy Hakan Dahlstrom | CC by 2.0

Make sure you’re comfortable.

Honestly, when you are picking out a bike (used or new), you can worry about a million things, but my coworker Ryan gave me a great piece of advice: How the bike feels to you (and how you feel on it) is key.

Start small.

Accompanied by my husband, I took my first ride back on the residential streets of my neighborhood. I practiced turns and hand signals in a cul-de-sac. Got comfortable with my new helmet. Went up and down some hills. Basically, it was a fun time in a familiar, low-key (non-scary) setting.

Practice the basics of safe, responsible riding.

Aside from being a great time, my practice ride told me I need a little more practice before I hit busier/urban streets. Another thing I realized was that—despite all the biking I did as a teenager—I need to acquaint myself with a few things things, like (cringe) how to make a proper left turn. I plan to grab some knowledgeable friends and hit some less-busy roads for a tutorial.

How to safely get back into cycling after a long breakTrying on helmets, June 2015| Photo by Elissa Southward

Also, in addition to a helmet, I did acquire a bike lock that was highly recommended and a small (very affordable) allen wrench set. (I’ll be raiding my closet for some visible clothing, too.)

Okay, trails are great options for every level of biker —whether novice, returning or pro —since they provide safe, flat and visually magnificent riding environments away from motor vehicle traffic. And as TrailLink demonstrates, there are lots of ’em!

On a related note, RTC’s Share the Trail campaign provides some great trail use tips.

Explore your local biking groups.

There are biking groups with programs designed specifically for first-time or long-time-away riders. Find out when local rides are taking place, so you don’t have to go it alone! They have wonderful support systems and can provide resources—like this Women & Bicycles Workbook from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. The League of American Bicyclists also provides a comprehensive set of online materials and offers classes around the country.

Have fun!

As a planner, I can get stuck in the weeds now and again. Before I bought a bike, I asked my coworker Katie, an avid and very maintenance-savvy bicyclist (she’s even ridden her bike cross-country) if there was one tool I should never leave for a bike trip without. She looked at me and said, “Don’t wait to bike because you don’t have a specific tool! Go out and have fun!”

Don’t get me wrong; Katie is a big advocate for biking self-empowerment. But her point was clear: Enjoy yourself!

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How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

Amy Kapp serves as editor-in-chief of Rails to Trails magazine. Kapp frequently writes about the impact of, and vast historical and cultural connections made by, America’s rail-trails, parks and public lands.

How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

There are many reasons why you might stop working out for an extended period of time, including injury, giving birth and work. On returning to exercise, you may find that your body feels different and does not perform as it did before. You may also find that you are more likely to experience strain and injury. During a break from exercise, many changes in your body occur. Your lungs lose elasticity, which makes it harder to breathe and may result in side aches. Blood volume also decreases, causing vessels to become smaller and less efficient at pulling oxygen from the blood. This change requires your heart to work harder to provide muscles with oxygen, which creates a rapid heartbeat. Follow some tips to help you get back into shape after a break from exercise.

Consult Your Physician

Taking a break from exercise will quickly cause you to become out of shape, and returning to fitness will require attention to your overall health. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that you consult your doctor before returning to exercise if you have not exercised for three months or more. It is especially important to speak to your doctor if you suffer from any chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis. Your physician can advise you on the best ways to return to exercise and can offer support in your quest.

Start Slowly

When returning to exercise after a prolonged absence, remember to start slowly. You can return to the same exercise you previously did, but at a lower intensity. For example, if you were a runner, return by starting with walking and building through a jog to a run. If you previously did weight training, reduce weights to around half of the weight you lifted before your break. Aim to work out two to three times per week and keep sessions less than 45 minutes for the first two to four weeks. Extend your warm-up and cool down to protect muscles and joints from injury. As your fitness builds, usually around the six-week mark, you can add more workouts per week and increase the time spent working out. You will know you are ready to progress when your workout routine is no longer challenging.

Enjoy It

The number one reason people give up exercise is boredom. When choosing an activity to ease back into shape, choose one that you will enjoy and even look forward to. Find a friend to work out with you. You can keep each other accountable and on track. If you have a dog, consider daily walks — it’s good for both of you. Another way to enjoy working out is to catch up on your favorite television shows or read a good book while on the treadmill or stationary bike. Varying your routine and alternating activities can also keep your workout session fresh and exciting.

Be Patient

It will take time to build yourself back to the level of fitness you were at before your break, so don’t expect too much too soon. Your body is adaptive and will usually return to normal after six weeks of modified exercise. Resist the urge to push yourself in the beginning. Trust your body’s signals, such as fatigue, to let you know when you have reached your limit for each session. Do not wait until you are in pain to stop. Stop when you feel your muscles tiring. Pushing yourself can result in an injury, which will force you to again take time out from your workout routine.

  • Choosing The Healthy Way: Overcoming Exercise Boredom
  • Get Fit Guy: How To Get Back Into Shape
  • Bodybuilding.com: Getting Back In Shape
  • Mayo Clinic: Exercise: When to check with your doctor first

An American writer living in the United Kingdom, Christy Mitchinson began writing professionally in 2000, during her career in laboratory science, pathology and research. She has authored training materials, standard operating procedures and patient/clinician information leaflets. Mitchinson is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and creative writing with The Open University.

Get moving again after being sidelined from injury or burnout.

It happens to so many runners, and in all likelihood it’s happened to you: You start running once you have goals for the new year or when it starts to get a little nicer outside. You push your body faster, farther, and start to dream about PRs in those summer and fall races you set your sights on. Suddenly, you see possibilities that you never had the courage to dream about.

How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

Then WHAM! Something stops you right in your tracks. You get hurt. You get busy. You get tired or burned out. (Or in the case of 2020, the entire year throws everything off.) Suddenly the gains in mileage, pace, fitness, and confidence disappear as quickly as they materialized.

So the question becomes: How do you get start running again after being sidelined or thrown off? The strategies below outline how to make a comeback to running and set yourself up for success.

Get Some Perspective

What happens in your body when you stop running? There’s a decrease in blood volume and mitochondria (the power plants in our cells), plus your lactate threshold falls, says coach and exercise physiologist Susan Paul. In general, the longer you have been training, the more quickly you’ll be able to get back into it after a layoff, she says.

So, in general, someone who has been running consistently for 15 years, then has a layoff of a year, will have an easier time returning to running than someone who has been running a year, then is off for a year. Why is that?

How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

The longer you’ve been running, the bigger your foundation of aerobic strength, says Paul. You’ll have a much higher level of mitochondria to produce energy, more red blood cells to deliver oxygen to the running muscles, and more metabolic enzymes than someone who just started working out.

So while your fitness falls during a layoff, it won’t fall as low as if you had just begun running since you’re starting at a much higher fitness level. In general, here’s how much of your maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max)—or cardiorespiratory fitness—you lose with time off, according to Paul:

  • 2 weeks off: lose 5–7 percent of VO2max
  • 2 months off: lose 20 percent of VO2max
  • 3 months off: lose 25–30 percent of VO2max

Also, you lose conditioning in your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissues. It’s difficult to assess how much conditioning you lose, or how quickly you lose it. But it’s the weakness in the musculoskeletal system that causes so many people to get injured when they return to running. This is why running slower, reducing mileage, and allowing rest and recovery days are so important when you’re making a comeback.

Walk Before You Run

Before returning to running, you should be able to walk for at least 45 minutes (without pain if returning from an injury) says Paul. Walking reconditions soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, connective tissue), preparing them for the more rigorous demands of running, she says.

How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

Fresh off my first century ride, I’m a little wiser and lot sorer than when I began this journey. And while I’ve been riding for years, the increased distance forced me to learn a lot about cycling, from body positioning and technique to hydration and nutrition strategies.

So here are seven things to know about long-distance cycling that’ll prepare you for the miles to come:

1. YOU CAN’T AVOID THE HILLS

Sure, it seems obvious, but the fact is you can’t always replicate race day in your training. Hills and wind are the scourge of many a rider, so when faced with one or both, don’t panic. Just drop as many gears as needed and focus more on maintaining your RPMs than your speed.

2. IT’S NOT YOUR LEGS THAT’LL HURT MOST

Cycling is a relatively low-impact sport … on your legs. But over the course of 50, 60 or 100 miles, you’re going to feel every bump on that road through your hands, shoulders, neck and butt. Invest in a good pair of padded shorts, and change your position and posture as needed to relieve pressure on certain areas of your body.

3. IT’S MORE MENTAL THAN PHYSICAL

Provided you’ve been training, your mind’s more likely to break down than your cardio. It’s easy to feel frustrated or defeated when you’ve been biking for 25 miles and are only 1/4 of the way done. Push negative thoughts out of your head by focusing on the rider in front of you, enjoying the scenery or singing to yourself — anything that’ll keep you going.

4. YOU NEED TO EAT A LOT ON THE BIKE

Embark on a casual 20-miler, and you’ll be fine — no snacks necessary. But once you’ve surpassed two hours of cycling, it’s recommended that you refuel. And if you’re out there for 4–5 hours, nutrition requirements become serious. In addition to water and electrolyte-laced beverages, you’ll want to eat simple, easily-digestible carbs like energy gels to avoid the dreaded bonk.

5. SAY GOODBYE TO BACON-AND-EGG BREAKFASTS

Post-ride protein and healthy fats are great for recovery, but a heavy breakfast won’t do you any favors while on the bike. Protein and fat take longer to digest, and during especially rigorous rides, your body will be focused on fueling your heart and lungs, not digestion. So instead, top off your glycogen stores with whole grains and fruit. Try whole-wheat toast with a little almond butter and a banana-and-berry smoothie.

6. WEIGHT LOSS WON’T COME EASY

It stands to reason that, with all this cycling, you’re bound to drop a few pounds. But the reality is it’s easier to drop weight on shorter, faster rides than long-distance ones. That’s because over the course of a long ride, you need to be diligent about replacing lost fluids with plenty of water, and you should be eating on the bike (see number 4). If you return a couple pounds lighter than when you left, it’s possible you weren’t eating and drinking enough along the way.

7. YOU MIGHT GET ADDICTED

Sitting on a bike for several hours a couple times per week is a commitment. Because, let’s face it: A cozy couch is always more inviting, and that Netflix queue won’t watch itself. But after the initial soreness and fatigue subsides and the improvements begin, you might find yourself craving those endorphins and quiet hours to yourself. I know I did.

Crashes happen. Here’s the right way to check in with your body and your bike before rolling again.

How to safely get back into cycling after a long break

If you ride a bike, you’re almost definitely going to crash. Sorry about that.

When the inevitable occurs, first check and make sure you don’t have any major injuries—before you even get off the ground. If all of your limbs are attached and intact, and you’re not seeing three bikes where there’s only one, move quickly to a safe spot off the road or out of the way of other riders and start assessing.

Post-Crash Checklist

Slow Down: Dr. Michael Ross has seen all kinds of cycling-related injuries. He’s also heard cyclists insist that they were fine, only to watch them crumple back to the ground when they tried to stand.

The best thing you can do for yourself after a bike crash, he says, is to take your time getting up and moving around. You don’t need to jump back on your bike as fast as possible—slow down and assess the damage to yourself and your bike before pedaling off. “Before you start riding, can you walk around?” he asks. “Can you move your arms in all directions? Can you look up, down, left and right without any pain?” Take a minute and assess, then decide whether you can pedal off— or need to wait for help.

Basic First Aid: Before anything else—even before you get up—check your body. Can you feel all of your limbs, are all bones still under your skin, and is there a lot of blood? Don’t risk moving too much if you feel seriously injured: instead, call for help and seek medical attention. Ross says that if you can lift your bike without major pain, your upper body is fine, and if you can walk, you can probably pedal out of the woods. “All joints should move and be able to bear weight,” he adds.

Concussion: Checking to see if you bent or cracked your helmet is a quick way to assess whether you hit your head on a ride, Ross says. “If you can remember this article, you’re probably okay!” he says. If you have a concussion, you’ll probably be disoriented and confused; if you don’t know where you are right away, Ross says, it’s likely you’ve got one. “When you’re riding along, you have all these endorphins and feel really good, so take the time to settle down to check how you’re really feeling,” he adds.

If your body is okay—just bruised or slightly banged up—you can move on to assessing your bike. When Scott Kelly, who has been a head mechanic for pro cycling teams, is working the pit at a race and a rider comes running in with a banged-up bike, he looks for a few key things:

Wheels: Typically, the wheels take the brunt of the crash, and incur the easiest problems to diagnose. Regardless of how you crashed, Kelly recommends checking that the tires hold air, that the wheels are true, that there are no broken spokes sticking out, and that the brakes—cantilever or disc—haven’t jammed up. Once that’s done, you can give components a once-over.

Components: Kelly always checks the position of the brake levers and shifters on any bike after a crash. He says it’s usually easy to push them back into place, but you don’t want to ride away only to realize your lever is so tilted that it’s hard to grab. He also checks for a bent derailleur hanger before he shifts gears, since it could snap as soon he clicks the shifter. Then, examine the chain: Is it jammed, are there any frozen links, and is it still in one piece? Finally, just do a quick check on your saddle to make sure it’s still firmly attached to your seatpost.

Frame: The last thing Kelly checks is the bike frame, inspecting carefully for cracks or deep scratches. This becomes more important on a carbon frame, since a crack can quickly turn into a serious problem as you pedal away, whereas bends and cracks in aluminum or steel frames tend to be more forgiving.

Be Prepared: It’s important to have everything you’ll need in case of a crash—especially when you’re planning an adventure to the middle of nowhere. Always carry basic bike tools—a multitool, chain link, spare tube, and mini-pump, at least—plus a few basic first aid supplies, like a large bandage and some Ace wrapping, so you can create a splint or secure gauze (or a wadded up baselayer) to cover a wound.

Mitigate your risks so that when you do crash, it’s not a cause for blind panic.

B etween work commitments, family obligations and social events, it may seem daunting — and downright impossible — to add anything else to your plate. As a result, people tend to sacrifice the one thing they might enjoy doing the least — exercise.

Perhaps it started with a busy week, and then one week turned into two and then before you knew it, you hadn’t visited the gym in a series of months. Whatever the culprit, there are ways to pull yourself out of a workout rut and create a lasting routine.

Here, health and wellness experts provide five strategies that will get you back on track.

Find your motivation, then talk to a doctor

The thing about fitness is, you have to want it for yourself. Finding the motivation to get back to the gym and get healthy must come from within, says Jonathan Leary, founder of Remedy Place, a social wellness club. And it’s not just about finding the motivation, but about having the right kind of motivation to get in shape. Forget external motivators like looking nice in an outfit and dig a little deeper, Leary says.

“Too often people focus on the common [motivators] in terms of weight, or they have a health scare, or they want it for someone else,” says Cedric Bryant, president and chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise. “You have to start examining why. Ask, ‘why do I want to make, this switch?’ It really has to be focused on things that are really meaningful for you as the individual and finding your right why.”

Once you figure out why you want to get healthy, your first stop shouldn’t be at the gym. Rather, it should be at your doctor’s office, according to Karen Litzy, a physical therapist and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association.

“It’s a good idea to see your physician or your physical therapist before going back to the gym,” she says. Your doctor will likely perform a quick evaluation of where you’re at in terms of strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health, she adds. In doing so, a doctor can ensure you’re healthy enough for physical activity and can guide you on how to remain safe at the gym.

“It’s a reassurance that everything is okay,” she says. “Getting that physical evaluation and allowing people to feel strong in their bodies is the first step.”

Take your time getting back into a routine

Just a short amount of time off from the gym can undo some of the health gains you’ve made, according to Bryant.

“A week of full inactivity is going to cause some detriment in your physical performance,” he says. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, for example, found that taking a break from physical activity for just two weeks can result in a rather substantial reduction of muscle strength and mass — and it can take even longer to gain it back.

In other words, if you were diligent about your routine a month or two ago, don’t expect to hop back into it right away like nothing has changed. Instead, health professionals suggest taking it one step at a time. “When reentering the gym, remember the point is to fix the body, not break it,” says Leary. “Really analyze each type of workout because some of them could increase your risk for injury.”

It’s about taking a metered approach, experts suggest, starting with just a few minutes a day of cardio, then working up to longer workouts, incorporating weights and even hiring a health coach or personal trainer. Ultimately, a healthy adult should be working their way toward 150 minutes of exercise a week, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Don’t change everything at once

When getting back into a fitness routine, you may be tempted to overhaul your eating habits, too. Oftentimes, people tend to fixate on making too many changes at once, says Bryant. Instead, “focus on one thing at a time,” he says. “Focus on just trying to re-establish an activity habit. The reason why I tell people to focus on how they feel is that too often people are focused on the wrong metric.”

Just like those metered workouts, health professionals suggest slowly changing your nutrition patterns over time so you don’t feel overwhelmed and then give up out of frustration. But if you do want to make some changes to your diet, Leary says to start adding more water to your daily routine to ensure you’re hydrated as a first step.

“The more active you are, the more you sweat,” he says, so replenishing your water levels will ensure your body isn’t depleted of key minerals, and in turn, can help you recover faster.

Take a holistic approach to your workouts

Rather than logging a certain number of miles and then calling it a day, it’s crucial to start thinking about your workouts holistically — that includes your cool down, stretching and recovery, too, experts say.

“You want to be functional and pain-free,” Leary says. “Unless you are a professional athlete who has to be strong and powerful, your number one focus should be mobility and flexibility.”

A recovery routine is vital, says Leary. That should include daily stretching and adequate cool down time after workouts. And, if you can, try to incorporate regular massages or an occasional visit to a physical therapist to ensure every part of your body is working just the way it should, he adds. These tactics will help mitigate injury risk, so you won’t have to take weeks off from your workout routine again.

Redefine what exercise means

Perhaps the best news of all: you don’t necessarily have to join a gym or spend hours a day running outside to get a good workout. Rather, you can do it all in the comfort of your own home.

“Let’s say your schedule is packed, and you’ve got family responsibilities. Just find something you can do for five or 10 minutes,” says Bryant. “That’ll help reduce the amount of workout decline that you may experience.”

There are simple ways to start thinking outside the box when it comes to workouts, according to Bryant.

“Look into how you can incorporate more activity into your normal day,” he says, suggesting to avoid taking elevators and escalators when possible, and trying to log as many steps as you can each day. It could also be as simple as getting up and walking to a coworker’s desk to chat instead of sending them an email, or taking a five-minute break to stretch your legs, he adds.

“Think in terms of incorporating activity into your family life too,” Bryant suggests, whether that’s doing squats with your relatives during the commercials of television shows, taking family walks, or playing soccer with your kids rather than sitting on the sidelines. “Try to make moving your new mission,” he says.