Jun 18, 2021

Returning to the gym after lockdown

Lowering your expectations is key – focus on building up slowly over a period of weeks, to get back to your pre-lockdown fitness. Chris Myers from Complete Physio outlines 7 tips to return to the gym after lockdown – safely and successfully.

Our exercise habits have changed significantly during the COVID-19 lockdowns and subsequent reduced access to gyms and sports facilities. Many of us have been cautious to return to the gym at all – and booking specific time slots and social distancing rules have been a de-motivator for many. However – once you have made the commitment to return, it’s really important to consider how hard and how fast you can safely go once you’re back in the gym.

Returning to the gym after lockdown

Home workouts vs gym workouts

If you are one of those people who has experienced a drop in activity levels over the last year or so, you need to fight the urge to rush back and try to take up where you left off. Even if you have managed to work out home, you may not have the resistance training equipment (or motivation) that you normally get in your gym sessions. Using body-weight resistance for home workouts is certainly effective, but doesn’t necessarily prepare you for returning to heavier weights.


Your muscles and tendons need to be eased into rebuilding strength and endurance, or you’ll put yourself at risk of injury, particularly overload injuries such as muscle strains and tendon damage. You may even suffer dislocations or cartilage damage if your joints are being overloaded without the muscle strength to stabilise and protect them. Stiffness and tight muscles due to lack of stretching and activity can also lead to injuries when you first hit the gym.

Cardio fitness

Your fitness levels may have dropped off, so you may see a marked change in your cardio/endurance capability. Lowering your expectations is key – focus on building up slowly over a period of weeks, to get back to your pre-lockdown fitness.

Chris Meyers from Complete Physio outlines 7 tips to return to the gym after lockdown – safely and successfully.

The main message is to set a solid foundation for yourself, and don’t worry if it takes a while to return to your previous standard. Don’t just jump straight back in where you left off, that is a guaranteed recipe for injury!

1. Take at least 48 hours between sessions.

Try to limit yourself to three days a week for the first two weeks. This will give your tissues time to adapt to the higher load you are placing on them.

2. Drop your weights to 50% of what you were doing pre lockdown, and increase by a set percentage each week.

Your early focus should be on form, not high loading/intensity. If you have remained active during the lockdown, a 15% increase per week should be manageable – aiming to get back to your full weights after about four weeks.
If you have been sedentary during the lockdown, stick to a 10% increase per week, – aiming to return to pre-lockdown weights by week six.

3. Gauge your number of reps by intensity levels, rather than numbers.

As a guide – if 10/10 is full intensity (meaning failure), start at 6/10 intensity, and increase by 1/10 per week.
– 10/10 = failure
– 9/10 = you could manage 1 more rep
– 8/10 = you could manage 2 more reps
– 7/10 = you could manage 4 more reps
– 6/10 = you could manage 6 more reps

4. A targeted warm-up, focused on mobility and activation.

This Instagram video for Complete Pilates shows a great warm-up to do at the start of a gym session. It focuses on mobility, and activation of key joints and muscle groups, as well as increasing blood flow to your muscles – this is particularly important after periods of injury or reduced activity.

5. Be careful with plyometrics.

Any jumping, hopping or skipping exercises should be re-introduced to your training programme very cautiously. Plyometric activities put heavy loads on tendons and bone, and, as shown above, recovery from these types of exercises can take up to 72 hours.

If you have stayed active, but haven’t done any plyometric exercise through lockdown, limit high-impact, explosive activities to twice a week and limit foot contacts (i.e. how many times your foot hits the ground) to 40 each foot. Increase the amount you’re doing by a maximum of 10% weekly.

If you have been inactive over lockdown, wait until three weeks after your return to the gym, and follow the guidelines above.

6. Sleep and eat well.

Sleep is by far the best recovery too – bar none. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night is important at all times, but especially when exercising.

Remember, if your calorie output through exercise goes up, you need to give your body the right balance of nutrients to recover from the higher level of exercise. Of course, if you’ve gained a few pounds over lockdown, a carefully managed calorie deficit can be a great way to safely bring your weight down.

How can we help with gym-related injuries?

When you return to the gym, you can expect some muscle soreness, but if you have any pain that persists after a few days of rest, it’s a good idea to get a diagnosis from a sports medicine expert. In most cases, the sooner you diagnose and treat musculoskeletal injuries, the less invasive the treatment and the faster your rehabilitation.

If you have any pain, stiffness or ongoing sports-related conditions, the Capital Orthopaedics team offers an expert diagnosis and highly effective treatment plans, including physiotherapy, shockwave and injection therapies and minimally invasive surgery. Contact Capital Orthopaedics here.

We work closely with Complete Physio – a group of seven independently-owned and operated clinics are all overseen by the same directors who have set the highest clinical standards, ensuring they provide complete care for all their clients. The clinics are located across Central London, with an elite team of highly trained and experienced physiotherapists who have expertise in a variety of clinical areas from post-operative, lower back, tendon and muscle rehabilitation to diagnostic ultrasound and ultrasound-guided injections.

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