7 Tips for a Successful Return to the Gym
It’s been a while. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
With the latest post-pandemic reopenings, it seems many of our daily activities will soon return to normal: dining indoors at full capacity, no mask mandates and, of course, returning to the gym. If you, like many others, haven’t stepped foot inside a gym since last year, the thought of returning can feel daunting. Working out indoors may take some getting used to and remembering your old training routine could be difficult. And your pandemic-weary muscles might be lifting weights for the first time since, well, it seems like forever.
Before we get into it, first congratulate yourself on making the decision to return to the gym. According to one study, over 50% of Americans say they won’t return to their gyms when they reopen. If you’ve made the commitment to your health by deciding to go back to the gym, let’s set you up for success when it comes to getting back to the gym.
Tip #1: Set Small, Attainable Goals
“All fitness programs should start with the end goal in mind,” says Nicole Haworth, celebrity trainer and cofounder of The Workout LA. “It's all about where you want to be—and that's not just from a physical or aesthetic perspective. Your training regimen should take into account your mental and emotional well-being, too. If your weekly exercise routine leaves you feeling drained rather than rejuvenated, we should chat. If you’re not in your best shape and hit the gym too hard, you’ll burn out.”
Personal trainer and fitness studio owner Shad Hart couldn’t agree more. “Aim small, miss small,” he says. “Six-month goals are great but generally we have trouble reaching them because we don’t have a realistic understanding of how to get there. Micro-goals are so valuable. Set a new goal every two weeks and focus on achieving it. This will also help you feel empowered to attack the next one.”
Victoria Williamson, co-owner of BodyBlast Personal Training & Nutrition, recommends getting a pen and paper and actually writing out your vision. “Identifying your ‘why’ goes well with some other visual goals you want to achieve,” she says. “Get a cardiovascular mile marker—something like measuring time or distance while running—and a specific exercise routine to benchmark your progress.”
Tip #2: Smarter > Harder
Remember that working out smarter is always better than harder. “Everyone has different goals and different bodies so there isn't really a "one size fits all" approach to the gym,” says Haworth. “It's important to first be really clear with yourself about your fitness goals and plan accordingly. For a beginner, start with 30 minutes of exercise a day for five days a week. If you're more physically fit and looking to lean out or tone up, I recommend doing at least 45 minutes for six days a week. Mix it up, try to get in a good amount of cardio and have fun with your workouts. Exercise is all about sustainability and creating new habits that lead to real lifestyle change. That, combined with a balanced and healthy diet, will elicit big results.”
Tip #3: Outsource What You Need
“The greatest part of the gym is its resources,” says Hart. “Trainers, childcare, maintenance staff and endless amounts of cutting-edge equipment allow you to be super creative about your fitness. When it comes to classes, look for a great instructor and sense of community. It’s awesome to be pushed by an engaged teacher and by the person working hard next to you. Just remember that the instructor has twenty other people to focus on, so it’s up to you to push yourself hard enough but also know when you might need to step back a little.”
Tip #4: Ease into Weight Training
“A great plan of attack for reintroducing weight training into your life is to start from a high repetition base,” says Hart. “This helps build your muscle endurance capacity and allows you to really focus on breathing, which is the most underrated and important part of weight training. Challenge yourself with twenty repetitions per exercise. And when it comes to free weights versus machines, always opt for the free weights. Machines are fine but they put you in a set position and you’ll never improve your range of motion and flexibility training that way.”
Tip #5: Polish Up on Your Gym Etiquette
“After a year outside the gym, you may have forgotten how to conduct yourself around others,” says Hart. “First, don’t linger around equipment. Stay focused and get through your sets in a reasonable amount of time because you aren’t the only person trying to get in a good workout. Acknowledge people, smile and say hello. And practice personal hygiene. You may not care how you smell in your garage, but other people do.”
Tip #6: Consider Overall Lifestyle
Fitness isn’t just about what happens inside the walls of the gym. “Sleep is vital for performance and recovery,” says Williamson. “Give yourself the opportunity to get a full night's sleep each night. With a good sleep schedule, you’ll see better gains at the gym.”
As for nutrition, Hart says a healthy balance of carbs, proteins and fats are key to reaching specific fitness goals. “You can’t build lean muscle or lose weight without proper macronutrients,” he says. “Eat with intention and exercise with intention. Whether you’re focused on strength training or cardio, make sure you know why you’re training the way you’re choosing to train.”
Tip #7: Pack the Essentials
Hart never leaves home without a water bottle, deodorant and exercise bands for glute work. In Williamson’s gym bag, it’s all about the right clothes, a towel, sanitary wipes, a cell phone charger and a snack in case her blood sugar gets low. “Most importantly, I carry a small note pad to track which exercises I did: the weight, reps and how I felt,” she says. “It’s also a great place to jot down ideas on how I can continue to make progress towards my goals.”
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