Navigating your return to training

With gyms starting to reopen, after what seems like forever, it’s time to work out your return to training. And if, like me, you’re super keen to get back in there and start lifting heavy (whatever that looks like for you), you need to remember that the last fourĀ  months or so have been very light in comparison to what you once were used to. Obviously, I]m assuming that you’ve been limited in your access to equipment and the loads you’ve used are a lot less than what you’ve used in the pre-covid gym world.

If you go back in, all guns blazing, then your return to training is likely to be pretty short lived before injury hits and forces you to back off again. Which would really suck. So, lets think about this a bit and make a better plan.

Lift well within your ability (at least to start with)

Don’t be one of those guys (or girls) who gets stuck talking about what they used to lift. That, for now, is irrelevant. Your goal with the initial return to training is to lift well within your ability to recover. While it’s tempting to push itĀ  little, doing so would increase your post-training pain and increase the likelihood of injury. Initially, your goal is reacquainting yourself with the movements and equipment you’ve been away from over the last few months.

There is evidence that even training lifters can gain size and strength from low training volumes. And, I would argue that after a long lay off, initially anyway, you won’t need a lot of volume to make good progress. You’ll benefit from the newbie gains that those new to lifting all get.

Staying within your ability to recover well between sessions not only maximises your bodys ability to adapt to the new stresses it finds itself under, but reduces muscle ache and injury risk. And nothing stops you from making the progress you want to quite like injury.

Instead of trying to get back to pre-lockdown strength levels as quickly as you can, focus on making a little progress each session and remember that you’re playing the long game.

Learn to autoregulate your training

Autoregulation is a technique I use with all my clients, basing the loads they will use on how they feel on the day rather than purely what they lifted in the last session. This will better allow for daily fluctuations in energy and ability, while keeping your technique quality high. So rather than jumping back in to estimate your maxes and working from percentages of these, start light, assess your effort level and adjust accordingly.

Using an RPE (rate of perceived exertion) or RIR (reps in reserve) scale can be a good way of judging the effort level of the session. Repmoji scale

Staying in the 7-8 range for most of your training, where you adjust the load you use to give you a set where you finish knowing you could do 2-3 good reps more if you needed to, will provide plenty of stimulus without increase risk. It’ll likely vary on a daily basis based on other stressors and your energy/ recovery levels.

Speaking of recovery…

Training is awesome, I think we can agree on that point. But it’s not where the magic really happens. While training provides the stress and calls for the body to adapt up to better handle it next time, that adaptation and growth happens when we get time and energy to recover.


There is a strong correlation between getting enough good quality sleep and reductions in injury risk. It also helps massively with recovery and getting enough sleep reduces the feelings of exertion during training sessions. So this is a really easy way for you to maximise progress and reduce risk, so it should be a focus for you going back into training in the gym.

For more info on the benefits of sleep and how to get the best nights sleep you can, go here. Also here.


After sleep, your next easy way to attack your recovery is by thinking more about what you put in your face. Increase protein and carbs will help provide your fuel for the session and power your recovery. Helping you maximise energy and muscle building to get the best out of your sessions and recovery time.

Taking care of these 2 factors is a simple way to make sure your return to training is well supported and keep you on track.

Finally, have a plan

With you time in the gym likely limited due to social distancing measures, you need to make the most out of the time you do have. So having a plan to guide you is essential. After all, you don’t want to rock up to the gym and spend 30 of your 60 minutes in there wandering aimlessly or spending them on the treadmill as a warm up.

If you would like my free return to training template, hit the link below and tell me where to send it!

Send me the template!

And if you have any questions, just pop them in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to help.



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