We've all been there.
Work has been too busy, illness, injury, COVID-19 etc. Sometimes we take some time away from the gym and although we would hopefully have kept up with some basic level of physical activity during our time away, the vast majority of us will be eager to hit the gym hard when we come back. Whether you consider the gym your spot to escape, a place to smash your fitness goals or your hangout to see your gym buddies, the last thing you should do is start at the gym in a way that causes you to become injured, disheartened or worse - waddling around like a duck for a week!
Here are my top 10 tips for you starting at, or returning to the gym.
1. Take the first few weeks easier than you want to. Yes it's exciting to get in there but go too hard and be prepared for some delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that could last for a week. If you've previously been training, for the first few weeks make it your MAIN goal to only lift 50% of what you were doing (feel free to choose your own percentage, and add a little back each session). Are you a first-timer in the gym? Go at about half of the effort you think is your maximum - your body needs time to adapt to this new stimulus! It's better to (re)build a foundation than be sore for a week and not be able to train for a while. This tip is number 1 as it's probably the biggest mistake when starting back at the gym. (Secret - even the professional trainers and coaches go too hard when we come back).
2. Revisit those goals! You may choose to jump straight back onto your old workouts, but it's possible that the time away from the gym has given you a different perspective on how you want to feel and look. Instead of just saying you want to 'lose weight' or 'get big', try figuring our why exactly you want this. Focusing on getting stronger, and eating the right food to get you to your destination is a lot easier when you know where you are heading. Need a little inspiration to question those thoughts about exercise? Watch this video from Joe Rogan and Dr. Rhonda Patrick on the benefits of physical exercise.
3. Create a schedule. 3 times a week? Perfect. Put it in your calendar and tick them off. Depending on your goals, time availability and preference, you may want to exercise just once a week or every day. I believe that the more you can do some physical activity the better, so factoring it into your week is a must if you want to be consistent. Print out a calendar, write up your workouts for the month and mark them off as you complete them. If you have to change the days each week due to your circumstances, just aim to complete X number of sessions a week and mark those off. If you can't get to the gym - take a 30 minute brisk walk or try a home workout from Buzz Gym instead. There is something to be said for having a piece of paper up somewhere in your house to keep you accountable for your physical activity.
4. Don't go shopping for all the latest gym kit. Nobody cares what you are wearing as they are most likely too concerned with looking at themselves in the mirror. You are better off using that money for something that will really benefit you. Create memories with your family, buy vegetables and wear whatever you have in your wardrobe! Just make sure that you are comfortable, and pop in any cheap headphones if you want to be left alone. If you must go and buy the latest lululemon® leggings for £100 then it's your choice, but nobody will judge you if you spend £10. Magazines, Instagram showing you this seasons 'workout essentials' is all designed to make you spend more, or unhappy so you keep digesting their material. When you get to athlete status, buy all the tech and expensive gym wear you want. For now, I would urge you to concentrate on what could be your biggest win - putting on whatever you have and start exercising. Show others what you are made of by the sweat dripping off of you, not your clothes, makeup or headphones.
5. Get a training partner! Finding someone to keep you on track, preferably with similar goals to yourself is a fantastic motivator. Training partners not only help push you harder during a session (if you find a good one), but will create some awesome memories too. The pressure of relying on each other can turn your 'I'll see how I feel' into a 'YES I will see you tomorrow'! No accountability buddy? No problem. Turn up for a regular class, say hi to those familiar faces, or meet with a trainer regularly to keep you on track.
6. Record your workouts. No I don't mean taking a video of your bicep curls, but the logging of the work you did during each session. To get fitter and stronger you will need to build on or maintain what you have done before. Write it down or use a free app! Get a notebook, write today's date and list each exercise with the sets, reps and weight you did. Here is a good source of info covering how to record your workouts easily and effectively.
7. Work with an expert. You might want to consider working with a professional trainer. Personal trainers are experts in their field and have the technical knowledge and intuition to ensure a personalised experience. Accountability, technique, and momentum with your targets are all benefits. Your trainer will also be able to ascertain whether your goals are realistic, and strive to get you to them in the fastest, healthiest way. If results are what you are after, having someone in your corner with you ensuring every workout is on the right path for you is extremely beneficial. Check out what some personal training clients have said about having a personal trainer.
8. Fuel your workouts. Focus on the essentials, and prepare your nutrition. Stay hydrated throughout the day and take a water bottle, have a banana 30-60 mins before your session. If you're eating after your workout - get some cheap Tupperware and fill it with something homemade so so you don't need to buy convenience food! Need some inspiration? Download my free 5 Ingredient Recipe Pack.
9. Be patient. You won't see immediate results. It takes time to get out of shape. If you have spent years being consistent with a lack of physical activity and a diet that doesn't make you healthier and stronger, it will take a while to bring you back to your best self.
I'll repeat - you need to be patient.
10. Plan your sessions! While wandering around aimlessly will certainly let you see new kit and is better than no exercise, planning your session will ensure you smash your workout. There are many guides online, just be sure to pick one suited to your level. Don't try a workout that an athlete of a film star did to get ready for performance if you are not at that level. Stick to the basics - compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press, bent-over row, shoulder press and pull ups) and isolation for any lagging body parts. Unsure on what to do? Contact me and I will get you started with a free plan. Being consistent, disciplined and not changing your workout every session will instil greater control and better results.
So, when you return to the gym from some time away try to focus your excitement on the fact that you have a place to go to make yourself healthier both inside and out. You have chosen to make an investment in yourself. Whether it be time away from other important things, money for memberships or personal training, this decision to be healthier is your choice. You get to decide the type of person you want to be, and the body that you have. Your clothes, ego-lifting and comparing yourself to others is out. Becoming stronger, fitter and happier is in.
Have an amazing time at the Gym!
"Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live." - Jim Rohn
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Personal Trainer, Online Coach and Nutritionist
Tribe Oxford is a personal training service based at Buzz Gym Oxford committed to support people to lose body fat, become stronger and boost their confidence.