It's stunning how much a difference it makes to stop working out for three months. I was planning on being in good enough shape to run a half marathon this spring. Then I got mono. (Too many of my stories still end that way.) As a consequence, I spent over three and a half months not exercising. This week, I started again—and it's hard.
Admittedly, I am young and it will come back relatively quickly. Also: it is considerably easier than it would be had I not lost almost 15 pounds in the intervening timeframe. (Proof, if you needed it, that a healthy diet goes farther faster than any of the weight-loss diets do. All I did was shift my eating patterns slightly and cut out most second portions of dinner. Three months later, here I am.)
Even with those extenuating factors, however, it is frustrating to be back at square one. Tuesday I ran three quarters of a mile. I also did forty crunches, fifty pushups, and ten pullups—split in half, before and after the run. Then, today, when I went to work out again, I hurt, a lot. Now, that's not a surprise: the first day one starts exercising again (really, the whole first week) involves much higher amounts of pain as one's body readjusts to working out. What was surprising was the numbers of each activity that were so tiring.
When I began working out regularly in January, before I came down with mono, I had had a similarly lengthy period of absence from exercise. I weighed much more than I do now. I was nonetheless in much better shape: I could, from the start, pump out 40 pushups in a row. (I'd say "no sweat," but suffice it to say that the opposite ends up being true for me.) I could crank out fifty crunch-situp-things (halfway between the two is my usual technique). I could run two or three miles. It hurt a little, but I was in decent shape.
Why is this transition so much harder? The answer is actually quite simple: before, I was still active for the intervening period, even if not exercising. Mono forces you to either rest or stay sick—so I sat in a recliner for a month. Even after being cleared from bedrest, I spent a great deal of time resting in a prone position. One result of this laying about was that I got better. I've been feeling good for a few months now. Another, more unfortunate result, is that my muscles atrophied—a lot.
So now I start from much farther back than I would have had I not been laying about. The months ahead—as I aim again for that half-marathon goal—will undoubtedly be slow going. That said, I suspect the worst weeks will be these first few as I remind my body that it's not a recliner potato.
Spiritual takeaway: don't do this in your spiritual life! When things get rough, when you get "sick," so to speak, you do not have to "rest" in the same way. To the contrary, the harder our lives become, the more immediate benefit we find in pressing in after Christ. I would go so far as to say that this simple fact accounts for many of the challenges we face in this life. When we let our pursuit of Christ slip because we are tired, frustrated, or otherwise emotionally put out, we onlymake it harder when we start up again.