How to get back to the gym safely after an extended break

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·Features and Health Editor
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Extended lockdowns as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have wreaked havoc on our regular fitness routines, and for many of us have had a detrimental impact on our physical and mental health.

But whether you're an eager gym-goer celebrating the easing of restrictions in NSW this week - or looking forward to that very soon in Victoria - or maybe you've simply taken an extended break, the thought of getting back into the gym after time away can be daunting for many.

empty gym during lockdowns
The thought of getting back into the gym can be daunting for many. Photo: getty

"Whether you are a total beginner to exercise, or have just been less active due to the lockdowns, the prospect of hitting the gym can be a little overwhelming," Kate Kraschnefski, Head of Compliance & Training at the Australian Institute of Fitness, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

"Your motivation may be lacking and your physical performance may be less optimal. You may even find the notion of socialising and being around others particularly daunting as we are faced with our new normal."

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But Kate says to rest assured, what you are feeling is perfectly normal. 

"Establishing or rediscovering a healthy routine can be beneficial to help you get back into the swing of things, so see this as an opportunity to reset and renew on every level," she adds.

Here, Kate shares five helpful tips for hitting the gym post-break:

1. Revise and refresh your goals

"Even if you were able to keep relatively active during lockdown, it is unlikely you had the same routine or access to the same equipment. If you were lifting very heavy weights and regularly smashing PBs every week, you probably won’t be able to pick up exactly where you left off.

Young fit woman and man running on treadmill in modern fitness gym
The thought of being in a crowd can also be overwhelming. Photo: Getty

"You may have also just made the decision to begin your fitness journey and not know where to start, so having goals will be super important.

In both instances, decide on a realistic goal that factors in your starting position and how much time you can dedicate.

Once you have decided on your new goal or goals, sit down and bring them to life. View the process of working towards new goals as something that is an investment in your health and happiness. Set timeframes and imagine the emotions you’ll feel when you hit them.

See this as a new, exciting chapter in your life."

2. Rebuild habits

"Having spent so much time in isolation, even the thought of being in a crowd can be overwhelming. If that is the case for you, let the first few weeks be simply about getting into the habit again.

Rather than your goal to be a certain performance standard of weights or a full class, set yourself a target of the number of times you want to train per week. Lock them into your diary and just show up - that in itself is an achievement.

Once you are there, check in with your emotions and your energy. Choose activities that feel welcome in the body and nourishing to the soul. This could simply be some light weights and a nice stretch over 20-30minutes. Chances are, once you are moving you will want to keep going. With each visit, add a layer, such as increased intensity with your weights or duration of your whole visit.

Listen to a motivating playlist, stay present and enjoy yourself."

Close up of unknown woman whit a gym bag entering in training centre.
Focus on just showing up. Photo: Getty

3. Focus on the basics

"Whether you are a beginner or have been largely sedentary, establish a plan that revolves around achieving a high quality foundation of fitness and go back to basics.

If you are lifting weights, review your form and technique on the core lifts and movement patterns. Go for a light or moderate weight and 10-15 repetition range across 2-3 sets. For cardio, start with a shorter 15-20 minute session and add duration gradually.

Check in with your body after every session to really connect and create awareness on how you feel. Can you push harder next time? What intensity is your body welcoming?

Be okay with taking it slowly and see your health and fitness as a long term project."

Fitness woman lifting dumbbell at gym.
If you are lifting weights, review your form and technique. Photo: Getty

4. Apply mindfulness to your training

"Our new normal can mean heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Regular exercise can be a great tonic for this, especially if you stack mindfulness activities onto your renewed healthy habits.

Visualise parts of your body moving as you train. By utilising mind-muscle connection and consciously and deliberately focusing your attention on your muscles as they move, you will not only enjoy moments of deeply connecting with your body, but you will also improve the overall quality of your movements. 

For example, if you are working with weights, see the muscle in your mind's eye, emphasise your movement and really sink into the feeling of your body working its magic.

Practice gratitude. Throughout your session, take moments to thank your body for its ability to move, for being healthy and for keeping you alive."

5. Seek professional help if you need

"If you are experiencing 'paralysis by analysis' at the thought of heading back to the gym, book in for a few sessions with a qualified Personal Trainer. 

They will take care of all of your goal setting and programming needs, and provide you with motivation and accountability that you may be lacking.

Most of all, know that investing in your self care through exercise is going to bring so many benefits. You will soon be in a positive momentum that will reap rewards in all areas of your health and wellbeing."

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