As COVID-19 cases drastically drop, vaccinations against COVID-19 continue to go up, and most pandemic restrictions ease, many people are eager to get back to the gym and their pre-COVID fitness routines.
“While people are excited to return to their gyms and fitness studios, it’s important to do so carefully,” says Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare.
Hays shares four tips for getting back to the gym safely:
- Go slow and easy.
If it’s been a while since your last workout routine, it’s important to start out slowly and give your body time to adjust. Your body is most likely deconditioned, and you may not be ready to handle the same fitness volume and intensity. You also put yourself at risk of injury — such as muscle pulls and strains, joint stress and ligament tears — if you prematurely resume intense workouts.
Therefore, you should start with easier workouts — lighter weights, fewer reps and sets, shorter running intervals — and gradually build up your strength and endurance again. You may not be as strong, fast or fit as you were before the pandemic, so be patient. As long as you are consistent, you will be able to get back to your normal fitness routine in time.
- Focus on recovery.
Prioritizing recovery is important after a long break. Recovery means proper nutrition, hydration, adequate sleep, and taking rest days between workouts. To help with recovery, make sure you warm up before exercising, stretch during every session and cool down afterward.
- Maintain motivation.
After taking a long gym break, it may be hard to find the motivation to go back to your previous workout routine. Here are some strategies to help motivate you as you return to the gym:
* Don’t go to the gym with a complicated routine that makes you dread your workout. Create routines that are manageable and easy to follow.
* Set up an activity challenge with your friends. Adding a competitive element to your routine will boost your motivation.
* Set some SMART goals for yourself — for example, go to the gym 3 times a week for 1 month — and announce them on your social media to stay accountable.
* Try new workouts and classes to keep things interesting.
- Be COVID-safe.
While masks are no longer required indoors in California, you might consider continuing to practice some preventive measures. Many experts still encourage people to wear a face mask in the gym and to maintain social distancing, especially when it is crowded.
Other things to consider to put yourself at ease are:
* Wiping down equipment before and after each use
* Taking activities outdoors or into open spaces when possible
* Skipping the gym if you don't feel well
* Getting vaccinated and boosted
* Working out at times when it is less busy
Regardless, of local requirements, it is important to check with your gym about their specific guidelines — some are still requiring everyone to be vaccinated and wear a mask in certain situations.
“When returning to the gym, cut yourself some slack and don’t do too much too soon,” says Hays. “Try and give your body time to adjust to the change.”
And if you are still not comfortable with the idea of working out in a public place, that’s OK too.
“It’s all about personally managing your risks and expectations,” says Hays. “We are still in the pandemic, and if you are not ready to get back out there, continue working out from the comfort of your home or engage in some physical activity outside.”