Everything You Need to Know to Smash Your Return to the Gym

Gyms are due to re-open in the U.K. on April 12th, we can’t wait!

However, for the majority of the past 12 months, we have been limited to home-workouts and cardio. Whilst they can be effective, the load and pressure the body is put under during a home-workout is often much smaller when compared to weights in the gym.

Whilst heavier loads in the gym allow us to more effectively build muscle, it does place additional strain on our bones, ligaments, tendons etc. And as such, going too hard too soon could result in an injury.

With that in mind, we’ve outlined 6 key things you need to know to smash your return to the gym.

Gym Stretch

#1 - Get a Plan

If you’re committed to making progress in the gym, then in our mind, a plan is a non-negotiable.

By all means, spend the first 1 - 2 weeks doing your favourite exercises and having fun (after all, if it’s not fun, then why bother?). But once that is out of the way, you should look to follow a specific training plan.

They’re easy to find, simply google ‘3 day gym workout plan’ or however many days you want to train and you’ll find tons of routines. Yes some are pretty rubbish, but find a credible source and use their plan as your guide. It might need tweaking slightly to suit your goals but it gives you a base to work from.

Not only do training plans provide you with exercises (so you’re not walking around the gym aimlessly looking for a free machine) - but they also keep you accountable to your reps and weights each week.

You should be logging how many sets and reps you do each session so you know if/when you need to increase your weights. We’ve all been there, free-balling a gym session and not increasing the weight when we start to feel tired… don’t let that person be you!

P.S. I have used Jim Wendler’s ‘5/3/1’ multiple times - it’s a great, simple programme for those looking to improve their Squat, Bench and Deadlift.

#2 - Prioritise Free Weights

Whilst the bench-press area will be undoubtedly packed on April 12th, our body needs time to re-adapt to the increased load - specifically our ligaments and tendons. 

With that in mind, free weights become our best friend. Free weight exercises, like Dumbell Press, Dumbbell Row etc. allow our body to utilise (and strengthen) our often weaker stabilisation muscles. 

This gives the body time to re-adapt to weight training and ensure we have a stable platform when we look to re-introduce heavier compound exercises like the Bench Press and Squat. 

Gym Ropes

#3 - Allow Sufficient Time to Recover in Between Sessions

When we put excessive load on our bodies, we break down the muscle tissue. It then repairs and (hopefully) grows back larger and stronger.

During the first few weeks of training following a lockdown, the muscle damage will be much more severe due to the drastic change in training styles. Because of this, we need to give our bodies more time to recover in order to reduce the chance of injury.

Typically, it’s recommended we take 48 hours in between sessions to recover. However, this can be mitigated if we train different body parts on different days. For example, Upper body Monday, Lower Body Tuesday, Rest Wednesday would be fine - the reality is that we have to fit our workouts around our busy schedules. 

As a rule of thumb, it would be wise to limit training to 3 - 4 times per week in the first couple of weeks back in the gym. 

#4 - Decrease Load and Intensity

Here’s an easy one and probably fairly obvious, but we should not be attempting any 1 rep max or PR’s in the first couple of weeks of training!

Pretty much all of us will be weaker due to the extended gym-break and our body will not be capable of lifting the same weights we did a few months ago. Again, a severe overload of our bodies’ capabilities increases our chances of obtaining an injury… the last thing we want to do is get injured just as the gyms open up!

Box Jump

#5 - Eat More

Yes that’s right. An excuse to eat more!

For many of us who have been relying primarily on home-workouts, going back to gyms may increase our energy expenditure. This gives us a good excuse to eat a bit more as it will help promote recovery and fuel future sessions.

We should look to ensure we are getting adequate amounts of protein to help our muscles recover. For most people, anywhere between 1.5 - 2g of protein per 1kg of body weight is fine. 

#6 - Focus on Form

With such an extended break from the gym, it can be easy to forget proper technique when lifting. 

As we’re not overloading the weight just yet, this is the perfect time to reinforce good practice when it comes to exercises in the gym. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that can provide instructions on how to perform certain lifts.

We should ensure we are feeling the contraction in the intended muscle each rep. Going too heavy, too early can encourage us to use ‘Body English’ to lift the weight rather than our muscles - let’s avoid that.

There you have it. 6 quick tips to ensure you hit the ground running when gyms open up next week!