Figuring out how to get back into the gym after a long time off is a challenge most active people face at some point – be it after a holiday, post-injury, or in this case, following a global pandemic.
With nationwide gym closures and collective stress levels through the roof, you can be forgiven for falling off your regular fitness routine. In a sense, lockdown has brought us together in the same boat, uncertain about the future and unsure how to get back on track.
Whether you stopped working out completely, enjoyed a new form of exercise, or even managed to get hold of some rare home gym equipment – below you’ll find some useful tips on how to ease yourself back into the gym safely and effectively.
Know what to expect
The post-lockdown gym environment is going to look and feel different. And your body will have likely changed too. If you were impacted in any way by the pandemic, or you simply weren’t one of the lucky ones with a fully kitted out home gym, it’s perfectly normal to have lost some strength, endurance, and muscle mass.
While you’ll get an immediate endorphin release of happy hormones after your first gym session, physical changes will take a little longer. The good news is: it’ll take less time to regain and surpass the level of strength you had pre-lockdown, due to muscle memory.1
Set smart goals
A goal can encourage commitment and create a determined mindset; you have a reason to stay focused, to maintain your plan and be loyal to your sessions. However, try not to make weight loss a goal – you can watch the scales each week after eating and training well, but still find no difference, as they don’t take into account you’re starting to build muscle. Be sure to make your goals long-term too, so that fitness naturally becomes a habit.
Don’t go too hard, too soon
When getting back into the gym after time off, it’s important to revisit the basics with a beginner’s mindset. Try taking a holistic approach to your workouts and focus on the following three areas to help you build a strong foundation:
Arguably the most effective way to start working out again and rebuild strength is to choose a few whole-body, compound movements that recruit the most muscle groups and signal the biggest adaptation response.2 Limiting your initial workouts to just a handful of exercises may not sound that exciting, but it’s a great way to streamline your training, removing unnecessary distractions.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an ideal way to get a lot of work done in a short timeframe. However, when easing yourself back into the gym, it may be best to keep your cardio at the lower end of the intensity spectrum to reduce your risk of injury3. Treadmills, cross-trainers and rowers can work wonders. Aim to keep at a steady pace for 30-60 minutes, before introducing some HIIT style workouts after a month or so.
Mobility is often overlooked, despite being an excellent way to support your fitness goals. Whether you’ve remained active throughout lockdown or not, staying indoors has meant more time sitting. Being a couch potato isn’t a crime, however prolonged sitting can cause a number of postural adaptations – including tight hips and shoulders, a stiff back and sleepy glutes. These adaptations may have a knock-on effect on your form, and in turn, increase your injury risk.3
Try incorporating mobility drills into you your routine 2-3 times a week, to enhance workout performance, help to avoid injury, and simply enable you to move with ease throughout the day.
Focus on nutrition
Don’t forget the importance of fueling your body with the right nutrients. The more you workout, the more calories and energy you’ll burn, so it’s wise to adjust your diet to match. As a general rule of thumb, opting for mainly whole foods, staying hydrated, and consuming enough protein will serve you well.
With life slowly returning to a “new normal”, be sure to stock up on lots of high-protein snacks and powders, and prep enough meals to last you a week (or at least a few days). This way, you’ll have healthy and delicious food on tap – rather than hitting up your favourite junk food.