How to Return Safely to the Gym Following Time Off

Just about everyone has felt like their life has been turned upside down over the last six months resulting from the pandemic. Moreover, everyone is now looking for ways to get back to their regular routine and that includes exercise. We all want to get back at it and we want to return safely to the gym. If there was ever a time to reap the psychological and physiological benefits of aerobic exercise and strength training it would be now!

This article will address how to return safely to the gym from an exercise standpoint rather than from a gym safety pandemic point of view.

How Quickly Does the Body Begin Detraining?

The body begins to lose cardio and strength gains made at the gym in as little as 2-3 weeks. The good news, though, is any gains lost due to time off can be redeveloped quickly. As long as you’ve been healthy. You can typically maintain strength levels for 3-4 week after a hiatus. Where you really begin to see the effects of missing workouts though is with the loss of muscle mass. This can occur in as fast as 3 weeks. The key is to always listen to your body before/during/after workouts. If you need to back off on the weight or mileage during a workout because you don’t feel 100 percent, then do so. If you experience any stiffness, tightness or pain, that’s your bodies way of telling you to back off and watch out.

Gradually Increase Workout Volume

When starting out or coming back from a hiatus, strive for 20-60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise according to the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines. On the strength side, aim for 1-2 sets of an exercise using 12-15 repetitions with moderate resistance. As time moves forward, slowly decrease the amount of repetitions while increasing the amount of resistance and the number of sets. Increase the amount of resistance each week by about 10 percent for lower body and 5 percent for upper body exercises once you’re able to reach 12 repetitions. Begin with bodyweight exercises like push-ups, squats, lunges and split squats before moving to machines or free weights. In both instances, 3 days a week is plenty, eventually progressing that to 4-5 days if and when needed.

Pay Special Attention to Recovery

On the off days you’re not strength training focus more on stretching and mobility. In addition, spend time on your foam roller to release any tight muscles and connective tissue. Also try using a recovery product like Hyperice to help in that area. In fact, think about adding a few days of either yoga, stretching or a mobility class to your weekly routine. If you like to run, closely monitor your weekly mileage building it back up slowly.

Document Your Workouts

A valuable tool is documenting how your time is spent in the gym or at home during each workout session. Monitoring training volume (sets x reps. x load) on a daily and weekly basis will help prevent overtraining and you’ll get better gains. Research has shown that you’re 2-3 times more likely to stick to a new habit when a plan is in place and a record is kept. To help you plan, log and track your strength training workouts, download the award-winning Jefit app. One of the great training tools featured on the Jefit app is the ability to record 1-RM for each exercise. In fact, if you come back after time off, choose a lighter percentage of your 1-RM initially before building back up slowly. This will help keep overtraining type injuries at bay. Stay Strong!