Top 5 Don’ts for When You Go Back to the Gym

a woman working out after going back to the gym

In some parts of the U.S., gyms are starting to open back up after being closed for over a month. If you’re reading this in a year that’s not 2020, gyms closed as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19. Anyway, lots of people are going back the gym, getting ready to go back to gym, or chomping at the bit to go back as soon as their local government says it’s okay.

Gyms in my area are opening back up right now, but I, honestly, don’t feel good about going back yet. I want to wait a few more weeks (at least) to ensure that things don’t get worse with more people out and about again.

That being said, I have still been doing some thinking about how I’m going to transition back to working out in a gym after working out at home with minimal equipment for almost two full months. This, in turn, has got me thinking about what I shouldn’t do when I return to the gym, and I thought I’d share what’s been going through my mind here in case it helps someone else.

Listed below are some of my top tips on what not to do when you go back to the gym after a long break. These tips will help you actually feel good about your workouts and not find yourself hobbling out of the gym like a newborn fawn.

Don’t Go in Without a Plan

After taking a long break from the gym, whether it was government-mandated or not, it’s understandable that you might feel a little intimidated when you go back for the first time. I think I’m going to be a little “deer in the headlights” when I return, even though I don’t expect my gym to have changed that much.

One thing that can help if you’re feeling anxious about returning to the gym is to go in with a plan. If you have a workout program to follow or even just a general idea of the exercises you want to do, you’ll feel more confident and won’t find yourself just wandering around and doing random exercises.

Don’t Assume You’ve Lost All Your Muscle

I think, right now, a lot of avid gym-goers are feeling like they’ve lost a ton of muscle and strength after spending so much time away from the gym. In reality, though, you probably haven’t lost that much, if any, especially if you’ve still been moving.

It takes about three or four weeks of no training to start to lose some muscle. If you’ve been exercising during your break, just in a different way, chances are you’ll bounce back fairly quickly and won’t notice significant decreases in the amount of weight you can move or your overall strength.

With this in mind, don’t go back to the gym with the attitude that you’ve lost all your muscle/strength and have to start over from zero. This mindset could keep you from trying at all, or it could lead you to take on too much, too soon.

Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations

Don’t return to the gym with a defeatist attitude. At the same time, though, be realistic with what you expect from yourself. You likely haven’t lost much, if any, strength and muscle mass during your time off as long as you were still doing some kind of exercise (remember, your body doesn’t want to lose muscle — it’s not just going to ditch it the second your routine changes).

That being said, it will still take a little time for you to adjust to gym workouts again. I don’t recommend trying to jump right back into lifting the weights you were lifting before your break. You might technically be able to still lift them, but you’ll probably be super sore the next day because your body has gotten used to not using those weights.

Instead, I would recommend easing your way in with lighter weights while you get used to training in the gym again. Within a couple of weeks, you’ll likely be back to lifting the way you were before.

Don’t Forget to Rest

In the same vein, make sure you’re also still scheduling rest days for yourself when you start working out in the gym again. After a long break, you might be tempted to adopt a “no days off” mentality to try and “make up” for the time you took off and “reverse the damage” you caused.

I don’t like this attitude, personally. I don’t think it’s productive, and it causes you to view exercise as punishment, rather than something that’s good for your body and elevates your life. That’s why I recommend still scheduling rest days and giving yourself adequate rest between exercises.

Remember, you’ve got plenty of time to get back to training the way you were before. You won’t reach your goals any faster if you get hurt because you refused to rest.

Don’t Be Super Rigid

Finally, don’t be super rigid with yourself. Yes, you likely have a plan that you want to follow and you might have specific targets you’re trying to reach. It’s okay to be flexible, though, especially as you’re working on getting back into the gym-going groove. Give yourself grace and be willing to adjust your plan or switch up your workouts when necessary.

Are You Ready to Go Back to the Gym?

These are some things I’m going to avoid doing when I eventually go back to the gym. I’m curious, though, what you’re going to do or not do when gyms reopen in your area. Comment below are let me know!

2 thoughts on “Top 5 Don’ts for When You Go Back to the Gym

  1. David Earley says:

    I think there are going to be three types of mentalities as gyms reopen – some will jump in with no concern, some will stay away to play it safe, and others will not return. I know some gyms have tried to adapt to the current state of things by doing things remotely. I think gyms will need to continue that, maybe for a long time.

    Cleaning will be taking place every hour, or half hour even in places where the risk can be high due to shared equipment. I imagine the larger gyms will restrict the amount of people inside because machinery, locker rooms and sports areas get crowded. It’s going to be interesting, and most gyms will feel negative effects.

    You mentioned not going into the gym without a plan. I think that applies all the time. It’s a common mistake people make. However, now it’s going to be about exercise AND cleanliness. When do I wash my hands? How close am I to that person? Did I just touch my face? Should I grab a set of weights and keep to my own space the whole time?

    I’m not sure how things will be managed, but they will probably want people wearing face masks. I don’t think I could workout like that.

    1. Natalie Thongrit, CPT says:

      That’s a very good point about making a plan for cleanliness. I’m not sure how I’ll handle that when I eventually do go back. I will probably try to limit the amount of equipment I use at the very least, though, and wipe everything down really well before using it. I can’t stand the idea of working out in a mask, either.

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