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Expert Advice for Easing Back Into The Gym

By: Shannon Roark

Remember back in May, when Governor Baker announced the phased reopening plan, and we all groaned when we saw gyms were relegated to Phase 3? It felt like that day would never arrive.

Well, y’all, we made it – we made it to Phase 3, and gyms are OPEN. Cue feelings of joy and relief immediately followed by slight panic. Because as excited as we all are to get back, we can’t help but wonder, “How much strength have I lost? What if I can’t hit my squat PR anymore? How will I get back without killing myself?!?"

First: DON’T PANIC. Everyone is quite literally in the same boat – it is, after all, a global pandemic. Even those who stayed active over the last few months likely weren’t at the same volume they were prior to lockdown if they were used to working out in a commercial gym. Really, the only people who probably saw no interruption were the people who already worked out at home. All the power to them because if I learned anything in the last 4 months, it’s that I despise working out at home. Get me back in a sweaty, smelly, bro-y gym ASAP.

Putting aside the obvious anxious feelings that come with returning to a public space in a global pandemic, there are a few ways to alleviate the apprehension of getting back into a gym routine after a few months off.

  • Start with light weights – This is not going to be a PR workout. This should be obvious, but the personal trainer in me just wants to make sure it’s out there. Start almost embarrassingly light with weight selection – even if it feels like you could do more. Heavy weights might feel okay in the set... but leave you hobbling for 3 days because your body just isn’t used to that volume.

  • Go total body – Disregard whatever training split you were at before lockdown (i.e. don’t go for a leg day). Pick a couple of compound movements, with a mix of push/pull/legs, to avoid injury and DOMS that has you groaning before you even get out of bed.

  • Keep it short – Again, the goal here is to get back into a routine, NOT to have a training session worthy of The Rock. (Check out some of his back-to-the-gym advice below.) Even if tempted to keep going, cut it shorter than usual to prevent overdoing it.

  • Increase rest – Take some extra time in between sets to let the nervous system recover and keep the intensity on the lower side.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. We have been through more in 2020 than most of us have experienced in a lifetime. And the year ain’t over yet. Stress doesn’t just affect us mentally and emotionally but physically as well, which adds another complicated layer to exercise. Movements that used to be easy might suddenly become a massive challenge, which can feel truly defeating and discouraging.

Remember, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” according to Friedrich Nietzsche. (Well, also Kelly Clarkson, but Nietzsche was the OG.)

An infographic containing the five points mentioned above.
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Shannon Roark is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Metabolic Effect Level 1 Nutrition Consultant, and Les Mills BODYPUMP (Advanced), BODYCOMBAT (Advanced), GRIT SERIES, & CXWORX instructor. Learn more about her work and read her blog at Will Squat for Peanut Butter. And follow her on Instagram for a burst of motivation, nutrition facts, and relatable fitness content.

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