For the last several weeks, gyms throughout the world have been closed in an effort to try and slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, some countries are beginning to reopen while others put together plans for what reopening will look like.
Whether you’ve been working out at home and staying out of the gym in response to the pandemic or if you’ve taken time off for any other reason, you’re probably pretty excited to get back to lifting and the gym environment as soon as you safely can. Before you sprint into the building bright and early on the day it opens, though, it’s helpful to have a plan for how you’re going to adjust your gym workouts after a long break.
Listed below are eight tips to keep in mind. They’ll help you adapt your workouts so you feel good about them and don’t have to hobble out of the building like a baby deer!
Common Mistakes People Make When Returning to the Gym
When going back after a long break, a lot of gym-goers make mistakes that can sabotage their progress. The following are some of the most common ones:
- Doing too much, too soon and trying to make up for lost time
- Not having any kind of structure or plan for your workouts
- Jumping right back into old programming without consideration for your current situation
- Failing to fuel workouts properly
- Failing to take adequate rest
- Setting unrealistic expectations about workout performance
If you make these mistakes, you might find that you feel burned out and lose motivation soon after returning to the gym, neither of which are great for reaching your long-term fitness goals.
You may also end up feeling disappointed in yourself. This is especially likely if you try to return to the old programming you were doing before your break and find that the weights that were once easy to lift feel a bit heavier than they once did.
The Right Way to Adjust Your Gym Workouts
With the right plan, you can feel confident going back into the gym after taking some time off. Here are eight tips to keep in mind as you adjust your workouts to ensure you get the most out of them without overdoing it:
1. Lower the Weight
If you’ve continued to exercise at home during your gym break, even if you’ve only been using your body weight or resistance bands, there’s a good chance you haven’t lost much, or any, muscle while you’ve been away. That being said, it’s still a good idea to lower the amount of weight you’re lifting when you first go back to the gym.
You might not have lost muscle mass or strength, but it’s likely the weights you once lifted with ease will feel a little heavier when you hit your first few gym workouts. To avoid putting too much strain on your muscles and joints right away, lower the weight and focus on performing exercises with good form instead.
Within a couple of weeks, you’ll likely be able to go right back to lifting the weight you were lifting before. You might even be able to increase your training max!
2. Scale Back Your Frequency
This is an important tip to keep in mind even if you were exercising regularly at home throughout your time off from the gym. For most people, six days of at-home bodyweight training is very different from six days of in-the-gym training.
If you’ve been away from the gym for a while, don’t dive right back into a six-day-per-week routine. This is a surefire way to overdo it, and it’ll make it much harder for your body to recover properly.
Consider scaling back the frequency of your gym workouts in the beginning while you get used to that style of training again. After a couple of weeks, you can slowly start to increase the number of workouts back to what you were doing before.
3. Do Fewer Exercises
When you go back to the gym, there’s a good chance that it won’t take too many sets or repetitions for you to feel the burn and experience some soreness the next day.
After a gym break, remember that less is more. Focus on staple exercises (think compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, or bench presses) with a couple of accessory movements added in for good measure, then call it a day.
Now is not the time to hammer your body with a ton of volume. As you adjust to the gym, you’ll be able to slowly increase the number of sets, reps, and total exercises you do and go back to training the way you were before.
4. Allow Adequate Rest
Some people, especially those who are trying to make up for lost time or undo the “damage” that occurred during their break, feel an urge to cut out rest when they go back to the gym. They might assume that shorter rest times are always better and that they ought to keep their heart rate elevated as much as possible so they can burn more fat or see results from their workouts sooner.
If you fail to take adequate rest in between sets, though, you’ll have a harder time recovering and your form will likely suffer. This can increase your injury risk, too.
5. Warm-Up Properly
A proper warm-up is always important. It’s especially key when you’ve been out of the gym for a long time, though, and are getting ready to lift weights again.
Take the time to warm up your joints properly and get your body prepared for the exercises you’re about to put it through. Foam rolling can be helpful for this. The same is true of mobility drills like Controlled Articular Rotations (also known as CARS), which take your joints through a full range of motion and help you identify any sticking points that you need to work on.
A proper warm-up will help to protect you from injuries. It will also make it easier for you to get your head in the game before you dive back into your gym workouts.
6. Cool Down Properly
Be sure to cool down at the end of your training sessions, too. Don’t just walk straight out of the gym after you’ve finished your last set.
Spending about 10 minutes or so walking and doing some static stretching to bring down your heart rate can go a long way when it comes to reducing your soreness and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to put yourself in a “rest and digest” state, which is optimal for post-workout recovery.
7. Use the Right Supplements
When you go back to the gym after a break, even if you follow the other guidelines outlined in this blog post, there’s a good chance you might feel a little sorer than you’re used to feeling. If this is the case, some smart supplementation can help you combat soreness, speed up your post-workout recovery, and ensure that you feel like your workouts are enhancing your life rather than taking away from it.
Here are some of the most effective supplements to consider using:
- HydroBCAA + EAA for muscle repair and optimal hydration
- PS Whey or ISO-P3 to promote muscle recovery and growth
- PS Glutamine 300 for muscle repair and joint health
- Jekyll for better blood flow, increased pumps, and enhanced nutrient delivery to the muscles
- Crash Liquid Shots for better sleep and muscle recovery
Adding these supplements to your pre- and post-workout routines can have a big impact on your body’s ability to recover. Some, like ProSupps HydroBCCA + EAA and Dr. Jekyll pre-workout, can improve your performance during your workout, too, to help you stay focused and energized.
8. Set Realistic Expectations
Finally, be sure to return to the gym with realistic expectations. Don’t assume that you’ve lost all your gains and have to start over from zero. Also, on the other end of the spectrum, don’t assume that you’re going to be able to go right back to lifting the way you were before without any kind of adaptation period.
Both of these mindsets are unrealistic and won’t be the case for most people. You’ll likely have to take a couple of weeks to work back up to what you were doing before, but your strength and muscle will come back. You’ll be exceeding your old records before you know it.
Get Ready to Go Back to the Gym Today
Your gym might not be reopening yet, or you might not be quite ready to return to your structured gym workouts after a long break. That doesn’t mean these tips can’t still be useful for you, though. Keep them in mind so that, when you do decide to return to the gym, you’ll feel confident and will be able to maximize your workouts without over-taxing your body.
While you’re waiting to return to the gym, check out some of our at-home workout resources. This article on effective upper body workout ideas is a great one to read next.