Why You Need to Go Easy on Yourself After Christmas

This time of year can disrupt even the most fitness-dedicated amongst us. Whether we’re putting our feet up with friends and family, enjoying some festive treats or just don’t really feel like exercising, our good habits often go on hold while we enjoy a well-earned break.

The problem is, getting back into those habits can be a challenge. Time off exercise can make you a bit rusty, but even worse, it can significantly increase your risk of injury, no matter how fit you are.

Any sudden shift in the amount of physical activity in one week – known as your acute workload – increases your risk of an overload injury. This also applies to returning to exercise after a period of inactivity, even if you were highly active and fit before. Studies on athletic populations have shown just a week of inactivity reduces physical capability, making them more at risk of injury when they resume training afterwards.

The risk to the general population is lower, as we don’t consistently demand as much of our bodies, but it’s not insignificant. I can guarantee in January I’ll be treating overload injuries as a result of people going too hard after the Christmas break – especially if they’ve put on a bit of weight.

Luckily, our bodies are naturally equipped with everything we need to be able to moderate our exercise safely. If you’re feeling more discomfort than usual while exercising or recovering, don’t power through. That’s your body’s way of telling you it needs to take a break or recover. After the holidays, you might be tempted to rush yourself back to your level of performance before, but don’t ignore the warning signs.

Instead of aiming for your old target in whatever activity you enjoy, only work to an intensity where you would usually stop. Wherever that point was, consider that your new base, and build up gradually from there. It is best to start with moderate exercise intensity, which makes you sweat but you can talk while doing it. Further, too much variation in intensity puts you in danger of injury – studies show a 50% increase in training in one week compared to your recent level can increase risk of injury by four times.

This advice is for life, not just for Christmas. We give a lot of guidance to our clients on how to graduate their exercise so it doesn’t outpace their body’s ability to perform and recover. You don’t necessarily need a detailed programme to do this, you just need to change how you measure progress.

Let’s say you enjoy running. You may set yourself a goal to increase your distance by a certain amount per run, but that amount could be consistently overloading your body. Instead, you should aim to exercise at a certain level of intensity, say a moderate 6/10 on your personal scale. By working at the same level of intensity each time, you will naturally be keeping pace with your body’s ability to adapt to the demands that you place on it.

This way, you’ll still be making progress towards your larger goal, but you’ll be far less likely to be set back by an injury.

And remember, if you need any help making the most of your body, whether you’re returning to exercise or have some New Year’s resolutions to achieve, we’re only a call or an email away.

Liam McCloskey