How to get back into exercise after months off during lockdown

When it comes to working out, the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything.

When lockdown restrictions first started, gyms were forced to close and a nation committed to outdoor exercise, long walks and at-home workouts in order to stay fit.

Many gyms are now back open – albeit with social distancing and strict cleaning measures in place – and people are slowly returning.

However, if you haven’t been keeping up with your usual fitness routine during these past few months, it’s best to ease into it.

Perhaps this time has changed how you work out – with more cardio and less weights during lockdown, which could mean that your body isn’t prepared for a full-on weightlifting session in the same way that it was before.

Or maybe you were shielding, had minimum space – or mental energy – for exercise or just didn’t fancy working out.

Whatever the reason, in order to avoid injury and get back into the fitness mindset, we ask personal trainers to share their top advice for returning to the gym after a long time off.

Give your body time to adjust to the gym again

Joe Mitton, personal trainer and owner of MittFit, recommends that you go at half speed until your body bounces back.

‘The biggest tip I can give is for people to be mindful of the fact that they’ve had months off exercising. so trying to repeat what they were doing pre-lockdown isn’t the best idea,’ he says.

‘In order to reduce the risk of injury, I have been advising people to go at 50-75% of their usual intensity for the first one or two weeks.

‘So avoiding lifting really heavy weights and focus a lot on technique and getting back into a routine.’

Warm-ups are also very important, as is stretching after your workout to avoid injury – though this is vital for anyone exercising, not just those returning to the gym.

Don’t guilt-trip yourself if you’re not feeling it

Going to the gym isn’t just about what you do when you’re there, but your mindset towards the experience.

And it’s easy to guilt-trip yourself if you’re not going at full speed or are suddenly surrounded by people who appear to be running faster/working harder/lifting more.

Try not to compare your progress to anyone else’s and be kind to yourself.

‘Working, living and trying to exercise in your home can be tough, especially if you lack outdoor space,’ says Matt Smith, a specialist PT, yoga instructor and co-creator of The Hour Fitness.

‘So don’t feel guilty and try not to let the anxiety of going back into a fitness environment overwhelm you. The first rule is: low expectations, high hopes – that way whatever you achieve is a win. 

‘Turning up is the hard part.

‘Second rule. Start light and just focus on moving the body. You can always add more resistance. You can’t take away a muscle strain.

‘The biggest mistake I see as part of my rehab/injury work is people going from one extreme to the other.’

Katie Anderson, head of training at FLY LDN, agrees; rushing into the gym won’t be beneficial in the long-term, because you risk burning out.

She says: ‘I know some people might be excited to throw some heavy weights around again or try to attend every class available to them all at once.

‘Take a step back and enter with ease. If you do too much in a short space of time you’ll burn out and get put off.

‘Create a new plan that is sustainable, enjoyable and accessible.’

Katie also recommends the followings exercises for those getting back into the swing of things after some time off:

  • Barebell deadlifts
  • Barebell row
  • Dumbell squat thrusters
  • Dumbell bench press
  • Assisted pull-up machine
  • Hanging leg raises

Don’t forget your diet

As you work out, you will burn a different amount of calories and energy – so you need to adjust your diet to match.

Joe adds: ‘You want to ensure you’re consuming sufficient protein to help you recover as well as starchy carbohydrates post workout.

‘For proteins, think: Eggs, fish, lean grass fed beef, turkey and chicken, Greek yogurt, whey protein and vegan/veggie alternatives.

‘Starchy carbs are pasta, couscous, rice, potato, sweet potato and quinoa.

‘Then plenty of green leafy veg at each meal like broccoli, spinach, asparagus, kale – 75% green veg and 25% colourful ones like mushrooms, peppers and other vegetables.’

And avoid using caffeine or sugar as a way to boost your energy levels.

Katie adds: ‘Don’t opt for quick sugar fixes to give you the energy to get to the gym, focus on adding that energy naturally in your diet throughout the day/week.’

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