Gyms are slowly and carefully reopening across the country. If you were an avid gym-goer prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, you’re probably chomping at the bit to get back into your workout routine. The thought of one more at-home bodyweight workout makes going back to the gym seem like a dream come true.
But before you pick up where you left off, remember: It’s been 3–4 months since most of us stepped foot in a gym. Chances are your strength levels aren’t quite what they used to be, even if you’ve been consistently working out at home.
Diving in headfirst with the same pre-quarantine routine might be too much, too soon. Rather than risk an injury, here are five tips to ease back into your gym workouts for sustained success.
First and foremost, be safe and be smart. COVID-19 still exists and the possibility of becoming infected or spreading the virus is real. Gyms are doing everything they can to keep members safe, so help them by following all safety protocols.
Beyond the well-known CDC guidelines (wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing, wear a mask, etc.), you can take extra steps to keep yourself and others safe. For example:
- Go to the gym at low-traffic hours.
- Limit using high-touch objects like foam rollers and mats by warming up at home.
- Limit your need for a spotter by choosing exercises that don’t require spotting (or use light enough weights that a spotter isn’t necessary).
It may be tempting to look at a barbell or machine and load it up with the same weight you used before quarantine. Going too heavy too soon leaves you frustrated at best and leads to injury at worst. Now’s the time to embrace a beginner’s mindset and go back to basics. Remember the first time you ever stepped foot in the gym? Did you lift as heavy as possible, or did you start light?
The good news: Strength is largely a product of our nervous system. In other words, strength is a skill, and with a little practice, you’ll be back to your strongest self. The cliché, “It’s like riding a bike” applies here. You may feel a little rusty the first time you pick up a barbell or kettlebell again, but if you start light and focus on perfect technique, your strength returns quickly.
Many gyms are reopening with finite timeslots for workouts to control foot traffic. This allows for stricter safety protocols and thorough cleaning. So, if you were used to working out for 2–3 hours at a clip, it’s time to condense your efforts into shorter workouts.
Luckily, you don’t need to train for hours at a time to get results. Yes, rest periods are important, especially if you’re lifting heavy weights. And long, steady workouts are great for improving cardiovascular health. However, with some careful planning you can get the results you want in less time. For example:
- Use compound exercises instead of single-joint movements to work multiple muscle groups at once (i.e., bench press instead of chest flyes and triceps extensions).
- Superset opposing muscle groups to save time (i.e., squats for lower body and lat pulldowns for upper body).
- Use a stopwatch or timer on your phone to track your rest periods (2–3 minutes for heavy strength training and 30–60 seconds for lighter strength training should suffice).
- Do your cardio and mobility workouts at home (more on this in the next point).
Remember what it felt like walking into a toy store as a kid, marveling at the tall shelves of colorful games and stuffed animals? That’s what it’s going to feel like seeing strength and cardio equipment again.
Reacquainting yourself with squat racks and ellipticals may bring tears of joy to your eyes, and rightfully so. After months of training with no equipment, these luxury items could be just the boost your workouts need. To jumpstart your gains, focus your workouts around exercises you couldn’t do at home.
If you did enough walking lunges to circle the planet, park yourself in the squat rack or on the leg press. If pushups were your go-to upper-body movement, opt for the bench press or the chest press machine.
Just because gyms are reopening doesn’t mean you have to give up your at-home workouts. Whether you enjoy the convenience of staying home or you’re a little nervous about returning to a crowded gym, you can certainly combine gym workouts with your at-home routine.
READ MORE > 10-MOVE AT-HOME CORE WORKOUT
As mentioned, strength and cardio equipment are likely the main things you’ve been missing. Consider going back to the gym for two workouts a week while continuing to train a few days at home. For example:
Monday: Strength workout at the gym (free weights and machines)
Tuesday: Cardio (run or bike outside)
Wednesday: Yoga or stretching at home
Thursday: Strength workout at home (body weight and core)
Friday: Cardio at the gym (rowing machine, treadmill or elliptical)
Saturday: Yoga or stretching at home
Sunday: Day off
We have the rare opportunity to start a new chapter in our fitness journey as gyms reopen. Rather than dwell on the progress you’ve lost, embrace the opportunity to approach fitness like a beginner again. A slow and steady approach helps you build consistency, avoid injury, and recapture the motivation that got you started in the first place.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the app to discover and log a wide variety of routines, or build your own routine with exercises that fit your goals.