by Shelby Pitts

Many of us have been away from the gym since they closed their doors due to COVID-19, and some of us have avoided the gym for even longer. Whatever your reason, if you are returning to the gym after a long break, there are some precautions that need to be taken. When you are away from the gym for an extended period, your body becomes deconditioned and you become more prone to injuries. Below you will find different tips to ensure your safety and rebuild your training workload, along with different resources to help you along the way.

Getting Started

Getting started may be hard after a long time away from the gym.  You may want to jump right into your previous workout routine, but it is important that you start slow. Lyle McDonald, an exercise physiologist and health and nutrition author, recommends that you think of yourself as untrained or a beginner in the gym when you first return. You will improve faster than you did when you were a beginner, but it is best to start slow and work your way back up at a safe pace. Jesse Irizarry, an exercise science journalist for Juggernaut Training Systems, mentions that even if you feel just as strong as before the break, your body is deconditioned and will not be able to handle the same workload. Therefore, the first week should be the slowest with the least amount of exertion. It is best to begin your workout at “a load of 50-60% of your previous maximum, or even less (McDonald)” and not jump right back to what you were doing before.

During the first week you should begin with 30-minute workouts, making sure to exercise different muscles each day to avoid overusing one muscle. Gradually increase weight, reps or duration of your workouts. If the weight is too much, don’t overdo it. The most important thing to remember is that you are building yourself back up and that it is okay to go slow. Do not get discouraged!

If you need some guidance or additional instruction, the UAB Recreation Center has personal trainers available to assist you. If personal training is not what you’re looking for, URec also offers many group exercise classes, many of which are already available in a virtual format. They will also host several in-person group fitness classes that will require registration to attend. Blog Safe Progressions Backsqssm

Set S.M.A.R.T Goals

Before heading to the gym, be sure to set some goals for yourself. These goals may be what you want to accomplish performance-wise, physically or mentally. When establishing your goals, Lauren Bedosky, a freelance fitness writer who specializes in strength training topics, suggests making sure you follow the S.M.A.R.T goals guidelines. Listed below is what each letter of the acronym stands for and questions to ask yourself for each when making the goal:

Specific - What do you want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? What resources do you need?

Measurable - How much? How long? How will you know when it is accomplished?

Attainable - How can you accomplish this goal? How realistic is the goal?

Relevant - Is this the right time? Does this match other efforts/needs?

Time-bound - What can you do six months from now? What can you do six weeks from now? What can you do today?

If you need help finding the best goals for you, there are resources available at URec to help you get started.


Recovery is another important step in the safe progression back to exercise.  It will help avoid excessive soreness, which will also decrease your chances of getting hurt. Some recommendations to aid in recovery are stretching, yoga, rest, drinking water and eating right. No matter what exercises you do that day, stretching is a crucial part of a post-workout routine. “Stretching after a workout is a highly recommended practice. The benefits of stretching before a workout are often discussed, emphasizing its role in injury prevention (Pablo).” It is important to remember when stretching that it should never be painful. If a stretch is painful, you should loosen up for a bit. If the pain continues, stop the stretch and move on to another. The types of stretches may be different depending on the workout you did that day. So, if you did cardio or mainly legs you would want to stretch your different leg muscles, from your calves to your quads. If you focused more on upper body you would want to focus on your wrists, shoulders and even your back. If you have trouble doing the stretches or knowing which stretches to do, ask a UAB Personal Trainer for assistance or attend one of the many yoga classes offered at URec.

Along with stretching and eating well, drinking plenty of water is an important step in recovery. Lindsey Daryl, an author from The Everygirl health and wellness blog, suggests that you should eat within 30-45 minutes after working out to rebuild your glycogen stores. When eating post workout, you want to make sure you are refueling your body with the right foods because every workout depletes a different nutrient in your body. If you do “heavy cardio, you should be eating a higher quantity of carbs and a moderate amount of protein (Daryl).” If you do more resistance training, you should eat less carbs and more protein. Eating the right things can be difficult, but URec has a team of professionals willing and ready to help guide you in the right direction.

Recap Tips:

  • Start slow
  • Gradually build up in weight, duration, and reps
  • Get a personal trainer from the UAB Rec Center to help
  • Set S.M.A.R.T goals
  • Stretch often
  • Eat well and drink plenty of water

Whether you are coming back to the gym from a COVID break or you’ve just decided to restart your fitness journey for other reasons, remember — it is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time to rebuild yourself and you may be surprised how fast you get back on track.

Be sure to check out the University Recreation website for more resources, programs and services that are available to help you achieve your goals!


Bedosky, Lauren. “7 Tips to Get Back Into Exercise After a Break: Fitness: MyFitnessPal.” Under Armour, 31 May 2018,

Irizarry, Jesse. “Rules for the Deconditioned Lifter.” Juggernaut Training Systems, 11 Feb. 2016,

McDonald, Lyle. “Returning to Training after a Layoff.” BodyRecomposition, 15 Sept. 2009, undefined.

Pablo. “Benefits of Stretching after Workouts.” Diversified Integrated Sports Clinic, 18 May 2016,

Daryl, Lindsey. “This Is Actually What You Should Eat After a Workout.” The Everygirl, 6 June 2019,