How to Get Back to the Gym after Quarantine

Did you pack on the quarantine 15?

Looking to get into the gym and get your fitness back?

Excited to gain a semblance of normalcy again?

For most people quarantine was a huge derailment in their fitness journey. Whether for the fact that you lose access to the place you commonly exercise, falling out of your regular schedule and gym routine, or just struggling with the motivation that comes with home exercise, you likely experienced this to some degree.

We’ve written about the challenge that we have dealt with through quarantine in a few of our blogs and recently opened up in a youtube video.

You can check those out here:

Some people have gone from being devoted gym goers, pristine nutrition eaters, and dedicated health advocates to inconsistent exercise, whatever is in sight nutrition, and not concerned with their physical health.

It’s understandable, this is a completely new situation that none of us has ever gone through and brought tons of stress.

Depending upon where you live, your gym is either back open, opening back up, or may open back up in the coming weeks/months. An important discussion is how to get back to the gym after it opens up. Most people are pretty stoked, and while it is exciting, we need to be considerate of the past few months.

First and foremost, don’t go and try to make up for your lost gainz. For most people, getting back to the gym in general and returning in a gradual format will get you back anything you lost in a few months.

Now we want to offer a bit more guidance as we’ve had a lot of people ask for suggestions on what to do as they return to the gym. This blog is going to tackle this topic from a number of different angles:

  1. General safety precautions following COVID-19 quarantine

  2. Practical solutions for training within precautions

  3. Recommendations for returning to training in general for different people

    1. Those who worked out regularly before quarantine and trained throughout

    2. Those who worked out regularly before quarantine but didn’t train throughout

    3. Those who didn’t workout regularly before quarantine

General safety precautions following COVID-19 quarantine

These recommendations are a summary of the ones that are being made by most local health organizations and are a starting point. You should look into what is being recommended and try to implement things smartly. Here are a few key points of consideration for health safety:

  • First and foremost, if you’re not feeling well, don’t go to the gym.

  • Maintain 6ft of separation from others – this should be obvious, but we will note it.

  • Disinfect everything prior and after usage. In a dream world every is putting in equal efforts to make sure things are cleaned and everything is safe, but it’s not a guarantee and that’s where cleaning before comes in. Most gyms should be supplying cleaning equipment, but if your gym doesn’t, you can pick up various disinfectants that have an appropriate mixture at most hardware stores.

  • Minimize equipment usage – this is something we will go into more detail in the practical section next.

  • Consider wearing a mask. This is dependent on where you are and the risks, but for a lot of people being in gyms with a lot of traffic, this is a good idea. You can’t inherently control others and them respecting the 6ft rule or cleaning guidelines, so this allows you some additional regulation for your safety.

  • Gradually work your way back to the gym. It’s wicked the gym is open again, but if you have to take a few weeks or months to gradually get back to a full regular routine of going, that’s not a huge deal. You can still keep doing home workouts and other activities and ease your way back into the gym a few sessions at a time.

  • Wear specific clothing to the gym and get changed afterwards. This is not mandatory, but for those who are in areas with higher risk, every step is worth taking.

Our goal here isn’t to reign over the rules that are being put in place by your gym or claim that these are the only things to consider. If your gym has strict rules in place, then follow those and focus on the following recommendations to encourage a good return to physical activity.

Practical solutions for training within precautions

If you’re trying to minimize exposure or work within a lot of gym regulations, it can make for a tricky workout routine. We tried to think of some helpful practical solutions for thing that you can do though to still get an effective workout in.

  • Try to do movements that require the same piece of equipment. If you’re used to going around the gym and using different pieces of equipment – dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, machines, etc. – this can be a big change. Since you should be cleaning equipment after finishing using something, if you rotate through a lot of equipment, you’ll be spending a lot of time cleaning. If you can instead just use a barbell for a few movements in a row, then you’ll be more productive in the time you’re there.

  • Do supersets with the same piece of equipment – or equipment and bodyweight. This builds off the last point. If you’re used to doing supersets and being time efficient, for instance doing bench press and chest supported rows together, then you may need to re-evaluate the movements you’re pairing together. Depending on the rules of your gym, you may not be allowed to take up multiple items at once and this will be even more important. Figuring out exercises you can pair well together that use the same equipment will be a clutch move. Using the prior example, you could do bench press and bent over rows together instead of chest supported rows. If you are doing something like lat pulldowns and don’t have a viable movement that you can do with the machine, then consider picking a bodyweight movement to pair with it – like push ups – and that way you’re not using up more equipment.

Recommendations for returning to training

There is no single best way to get back to the gym for everyone. The recommendations for what to do should match up with what you’ve been doing previously.

For instance, what someone who wasn’t working out during or before quarantine should do is very different from what someone who was a regular gym goer before and crushed bodyweight workouts during quarantine should do. Now if we broke this article down for every situation, it would be extremely lengthy and difficult to find what’s best for you, we divided things down into three major chunks of recommendations.

  1. Those who worked out regularly pre-quarantine and crushed home workouts during

If you’re a regular citizen athletics reader, then you likely fall into this category. A lot of people were hitting the gym 3-5 days a week for months before quarantine and then when the lockdowns started to kick in, began to transition over to home workouts in a smooth flow without missing a beat.

For most of these people, you likely experienced a bit of deconditioning, a bit of strength loss, some fat mass gain, but not a ton of changes over all. This is the best case scenario and allows for a minimal concern return to the gym. You should follow all of the safety precautions, make a gradual return and be diligent about monitoring your health, but you don’t need to follow an extended plan

The best thing that you can do is take the first few weeks easier and progress into exercises you weren’t training at home. Think about how much volume you were doing during quarantine and then try to stick close to that as you get into the gym.

Don’t rush into doing more sets, more reps, or layering on the intensity – you’ll work your way there. Instead, try to match up as well as you can for volume, and then stick with lower RPE sets and increase it over time. Most people will be fine with doing sets of RPE 5 or 6 for 1-2 weeks and then getting back to the standard RPE 7 or 8 following that.

With this approach you shouldn’t find yourself experiencing insane levels of soreness or possibly experiencing an injury. You can focus on technique and dialing in your positioning and then building into your regular program.

2. Those who worked out regularly pre-quarantine but didn’t regularly train during quarantine

This is likely the vast majority of people who went to the gym. Training at home isn’t everyone’s thing and most people report struggling with motivation to do it. For these people, you’re likely more deconditioned, lost some muscle mass, and gained more fat mass. Don’t stress, you can get back to your pre-quarantine peak condition soon, do not rush back to the gym and try to make back everything you lost in the first week.

For this group of people, it’s worth implementing a few key strategies:

  • Extended warm ups. Take more of your session and put it towards warming up and getting some lower intensity movement in.

  • Lower volume and intensity. No you can’t just jump back in to what you were doing before. Remember when you first started working out and how sore you were? Well it’s going to be similar. You’re going to be out of shape compared to where you were, but you might not realize it fully. Jumping in hot is a sure fire to burn out quickly. Start lower and build up each week. Take the first month easier so you don’t have any set backs.

  • More lighter accessory work. Here’s a perfect time to target some of the stuff you’ve neglected. Get your upper back stronger, your hips, your trunk – whatever you normally skimp on.

  • If you’re a lifter, do some cardio. If you’re a cardio junky, do some lifting. Get in some work on the area that you normally don’t address and that way it shores up weaknesses like the prior point, but it also helps to ease you back into training.

    3. Those who didn’t workout regularly pre-quarantine and didn’t train during.

If you fall in this group, you essentially need to just start! Since you are at your relative prior fitness level, you just need a good fitness plan to follow and get going. You still need to be smart and work your way up, but that’s where an intelligent program comes in.

For anyone who needs a good program, we do have a specific base program that is in our sustainable and foundations groups that ramps up the effort, volume, and movement challenge and is an excellent place for new lifters to start!

Hopefully this helps you find a good direction to go with returning to the gym. Don’t rush into it, remember the long term matters more than short term. A year from now you’ll care more about what your progress across the year than specifically how fast you got results in a week or two.

Be smart, lift safe, and good luck in the gym!

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