How to Safely Return to the Gym After a Hiatus

calendar May 29, 2020
athletic shoes walking up stone steps

Whether your gym has been closed, you’ve had an injury, or have simply lost motivation, it can be intimidating to return to the gym after a long break. With the announcement that gyms have reopened, it is important to have a plan for resuming your gym activities safely. The following 5 tips may help your transition back to your normal routine be less frustrating, and decrease your risk of injury. 

1. Be Patient with Yourself

After a prolonged break from exercise, it is likely that your body has experienced some deconditioning; this is normal. You shouldn’t expect your performance to be exactly the same, and therefore your gym routine shouldn't be either. Start slow, with 2-3 workouts per week and adequate recovery time in between sessions. Decrease the intensity of your workouts to what feels good to your body now. You will improve, but be patient with your progress. For safe progression, it is recommended that intensity or duration is increased by up to 10% per week. 

2. Warm-Up

Performing a warm-up before starting your gym routine has many benefits, including increasing blood flow to your muscles, preparing your cardiovascular system for exercise, decreasing risk of injury, and reducing muscle soreness. This can be brisk walking, or performing exercises at a slow, controlled pace. 

3. Cool Down

Cooling down after a workout allows your cardiovascular system to adapt back to the body’s resting state. This helps to regulate your blood flow and blood pressure, and can potentially decrease muscle soreness following exercise. This can include continuing exercise at a low to moderate intensity, static stretching, or walking at a slower pace. Research suggests that foam rolling may decrease muscle soreness as well. 

4. Expect Soreness

It is normal to experience muscle soreness after a change in activity level. In fact, it can be a good thing! It is often a sign that your training is effective, stimulating muscle healing into a stronger state. Muscle soreness can peak at around 48 hours following your workout. Monitor your soreness to determine the intensity of your next workout. If you don’t experience any soreness following your workout, you may be ready to increase the intensity of your next session. If you experience more soreness than you are comfortable with, you might not be ready to progress yet. 

5. Set SMART goals

Setting goals is a great way to ensure your progression in the gym, but not all goals are created equal. A SMART goal is: 

  • Specific - Know exactly what you are trying to do (i.e. - running 1 mile without rest breaks).
  • Measurable - Make sure you can verify whether or not you’ve met or progressed towards your goal. 
  • Attainable - Be realistic. If you’ve never gone for a run, your first goal shouldn’t be running a marathon. Try running for 1 minute without rest breaks first, and progress from there. 
  • Relevant - Pick a goal that is important to you.
  • Time-based -  Have a deadline to keep you motivated! 

Example: I will be able to run 1 mile on the treadmill without rest breaks in 4 weeks. 

Hopefully these tips will empower you to be confident in your return to the gym. While you may not be able to jump right back into your normal routine, using effective goal setting, adequate preparation, and safe exercise progression will get you back on track safely. Regardless of your end goal or starting point, know that you are taking steps to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Posted by Ashley Warner, PT, DPT, from our Empower PT - Glendale MetroCenter location.