Principles & Tips for a Successful Gym Comeback

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After a long layoff due to the circuit breaker & phase 1, here are some principles & tips for a successful gym comeback.

If you don’t like to read, watch me explain this here!


Phase 2 has started yesterday and most gyms are opening or in the midst of reopening. It is indeed a joyous time for many of us as we have a little more freedom now and a little more of our normal routine back.

Eager as we are to get back to the gym, I do know that many of us might not have been able to train as consistently or as often as before. Some of you may not have trained at all during the past 3 months. Of course this might not be your fault. These has been challenging times for many of us. Some of us have to work extra long hours from home, some of us have to look after our kids and work and some of us have to find extra jobs to supplement our income. So it is very necessary to plan our training properly in order to maximise our return. We simply won’t be as fit or trained as we were prior to this period so doing the same things might not be the best for us.

So let me help you by giving you some guiding principles and practical tips to make your gym comeback a successful one.

Main Guiding Principle 1: Stimulation VS Recovery

Taken from the NSCA CSCS Textbook

If you want to maximise your training when you come back to the gym, you have to realise that it is a delicate balancing act between Stimulus and Recovery. Following the concept of General Adaptation Syndrome, we usually follow one of two pathways after training (the Alarm Phase).

If you push too hard and there’s over-stimulation, you will end up in the Overtraining phase. Your body won’t be able to recover, your performance will decrease and you might end up getting burnt out or injured. Most of all are at risk of falling into this camp as we are feeling raring to go and to go hard! We want to come back into the gym and smash all the weight. On the other hand, if you provide just the right amount of stimulus, your body will adapt and most likely improve to a new and higher level of performance.

So it’s very important to not fall into the trap of rushing back into training hard and to make sure we provide the right amount of stimulus to our body.

Main Guiding Principle 2: Start Afresh

You don’t want to try to do the same things as you previously did. You are simply not that same person anymore. Do not attempt to use the same weights, intensity, volume or frequency that you did 3 months ago! If you haven’t been training or only training minimally, you would have most likely lost strength and muscle size. You might even have lost some of your technical ability and movement skills just because you have not practiced those movements or touched a barbell for so long!

So come back with the mindset of a beginner, as someone who is trying to start off his/her fitness journey again. Set the right expectations that things are not the same so you won’t feel demotivated or disappointed. Train carefully, safely and most importantly, enjoy the process!

Photo: PTDC

4 Practical Tips to Make Your Gym Comeback Great!

Smart training is more important than hard training during this period like we discussed earlier. Let me share with you 4 practical tips to help make your gym comeback training more effective, efficient and a successful one!

Tip #1: Begin with a Preparatory Period.

Utilise a preparatory period to get you back into the groove. This is a common phase used by athletes in their Periodisation Program. The preparatory phase is a period of time where trainees focus on developing a base level of conditioning. This helps increase your ability to tolerate more intense training in the future. Low intensities, low impact and high volume training modalities are usually utilised during this training phase.

What You Can Do:

Some good examples of training types you could start with includes:

  • Long and slow cardiovascular training such as jogging, cycling or swimming
  • Low intensity plyometrics such as non-maximal jumps and hops
  • High repetition resistance training with light to moderate resistances. According to NSCA, 3 to 6 sets of 8 to 20 repetitions of a 50 -75% load would be recommended. However, I personally feel that it would be good to err on the side of caution and start off with a 50 – 60% load instead.
  • Low impact exercises utilising machines, bands and cables can allow you to recover more quickly as they put less stress on your soft tissue, joints and ligaments.
600Recommendations on training for the Preparatory Period. Taken from the NSCA CSCS Textbook

Tip #2: Don’t Rush for Success. Muscle Memory Will Help.

Research has shown that it is possible to gain back lost strength and muscle size quickly due to muscle memory. In one study, a group of women were detrained for 30 – 32 week after training for 20 weeks.

Their maximal muscular strength and size decreased but not to pre-training levels. So most likely, you won’t be completely detrained and have to start all over. So don’t worry that all your gains are lost!

The study also showed that retraining for as short a period of 6 weeks could bring them back to trained levels. This shows that while you might have not trained for a lengthy period of time, it will probably take you less than that amount of time to return to your original strength and muscle level.

What You Can Do:

Give yourself some time to get back into trained levels. Trust your body and muscle memory! My personal recommendation is anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks depending on how long you have not trained for. The longer you haven’t been training, the more likely you might need more time to get back to your original levels of strength and size. Rushing to come back would more likely hold you back than allow you to progress faster.

#Tip 3: Avoid Exercises That Might Cause DOMs

Photo: CoachMag

You will most definitely feel some level of muscle soreness if you start training after a long period off. However, this doesn’t mean that we should be chasing the DOMs (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Remember that muscle soreness is not a good indicator of how hard you train. Furthermore, having serious DOMs will only hinder your progress by reducing performance, motivation and recovery time. By avoiding exercises that might cause heavy DOMs, we will be able to maximise our training time and efforts.

What You Can Do:

Avoid exercises that will cause heavy DOMs. These include:

  • Exercises with eccentric activities which induces micro-injury more than other types of muscle actions. An example would be utilising a lot of negative repetitions.
  • High impact and high intensity exercises such as sprinting, intervals or HIIT.

If you would like to include these exercises into your routine, they should be progressively introduced over time. Also, if you are feeling some DOMs, it is more efficient to then target less affected body parts during your next training session in order to allow the most affected muscles to recover.

Tip #4: Don’t Forget Your Mobility Drills.

Photo: Healthline

Most of us have not been active in a while and have been sitting at your desk all day while working from home. This sedentary lifestyle makes it highly likely that your muscles and joints might not be as flexible as before. They would not have the same range-of-motion as they had prior to the circuit breaker. Working out with a decreased range of motion can hinder our performance due to

What You Can Do:

Try to focus on some mobility work before heading back to the gym, or at least take some time to focus on mobility work during your workouts. Most people who spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer might have some shoulder and hip mobility issues. So it might be a good idea to work on the flexibility and range of motion for these parts!

If you need some tips on Foam Rolling, Dynamic Stretching or Hip Mobility Drills...Check out those links!


Armed with these guiding principles and practical tips, you will be better equipped to making your gym comeback a successful one! I understand the urge to go all out on your first week back! But refrain from that and train smart if you want your training to be effective and efficient. Remember, we are in it for the long haul! Keep up the hustle and grind!

Author: Leon Tan, CSCS

I'm a certified Fitness Coach with a degree in Sports Science. I am passionate in Health, Fitness and helping people become a better version of ourselves.

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