Going back to the gym is not an easy task, and a lot of former gym-goers that switched to home workouts are going through this process right now. Whether you had to step away due to illness, parenting, school, work, the pandemic, or even just because you wanted a break… Getting back on track can be just as difficult as the first time you stepped into your local gym! The good thing is: you’re finally doing it. You need a little motivation and self-discipline when beginning a new fitness journey, but that’s not the only thing that you’ll need to keep in mind. From creating a realistic gym plan to packing up your gym bag in a smart way, there’s a lot you can do to make this process easier for you. We’ve compiled a list of a few things that you should do to prepare yourself for your big comeback, as well as some tips to get you through your first week smoothly — and make it into a habit in the process so you don’t have to take a long unplanned break again!
How to prepare yourself before hitting the gym
Preparing yourself before the big day will help you have the best experience possible, so try to use your last gym-free week to set everything up and get physically and mentally ready for this new journey! Here are some of the things that you should do before hitting the gym:
Make a workout plan
Before you do anything else, you need to have a plan ready! Having a workout plan helps you know exactly what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, and what to expect from it. If you just go in and wing it, chances are you’re going to be all over the place and you could even injure yourself after not planning according to your current fitness level. But a planned routine helps you focus and get the most out of your workout.
First, write down what you want to achieve this time at the gym. Is it weight loss? Do you want to build muscle or resistance? Reach a certain fitness level and maintain? Write it down! Then, according to your specific goals, start planning the exercises that will help you move closer to those goals. Don’t go too crazy adding a bunch of killer exercises, try to be mindful, and write down just a few key exercises that you know you’ll be able to do after taking a long break from the gym. Stick to the basics, and don’t reach for the heavy barbells just yet… Your gym plan will evolve as you make progress, so don’t worry about how heavy you can lift at first, you’ll get back on track in no time!
Set smart and realistic goals
Being ambitious about your return to the gym is important, but don’t forget to be realistic about it. You’re probably thinking about all of the things that you want to achieve as soon as you hit the weights, but you need to keep in mind that you’ve been gone for a while and that you won’t perform at the same level as you did before — at least not at first! When you’re just starting out again, your focus should be on hitting small but important milestones, such as being able to do a specific number of reps or lifting a certain weight that may have been easier back then. Don’t push yourself too hard or try to perform just like you did before right away. Instead, ease into your workouts carefully and gradually make progress until you’re able to set bigger and more difficult goals for yourself. The small steps along the way are what’s going to help you attain those ultimate goals!
Fuel yourself properly
Your body needs energy for your workouts, so you need to make sure you’re fueling up accordingly. If you maintained a balanced diet during your time off from the gym, then you don’t need to worry too much about this aspect, just keep it up! But if not, you need to start eating enough proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats so that your body has enough fuel to crush each workout. Tracking your macros is a great way to do this since it’ll give you exactly how much of each macro you need to eat daily to keep up with your goals. You can calculate them by using the Fit With Iulia Macro Calculator, you just need to answer a few questions about yourself, such as your age, body type, weight, and fitness level. After you get your results, you can start organizing your kitchen and getting some groceries ready for your first week at the gym! You’ll want to make sure you have nutrient-dense foods that will help you recover effectively, achieve your goals, and overall, keep you healthy!
Do some stretching
Stretching is always a good idea before any workout because it helps your muscles loosen up before beginning your exercise, but after a long time away from the gym, your muscles won’t be in the same great shape as they were before. For a few days before you actually start going back to the gym, do some stretches at home to get rid of the stiffness and make your muscles feel active once again. You can do some static stretches, which are great for flexibility, and dynamic stretches that mimic the movements that you’ll be doing at the gym. This will help your body get used to a new level of physical activity, and the change won’t be too sudden so it won’t be as taxing for you after each workout.
Have the essentials ready
What you’re bringing with you to the gym is very important, but many people tend to overlook this aspect. In order to have a good workout experience, you’ll want to have all bases covered. First, gym clothes! Your clothes are going to be a big part of your experience since you’ll need to be able to move properly while working out and let your body breathe. Wear clothing that allows you to go through the whole range of movement of any exercise that you have planned, and make sure the fabric is light and breathable so that you’re comfortable during your workout session. Wearing athletic shoes with proper cushioning is also important since you’ll probably be standing for some of the exercises if not all (depending on how your routine is set up), so make sure you choose a good pair that you feel good in!
Aside from comfortable clothing, your gym bag should also include a water bottle or flask with enough water to hydrate yourself during your session, and pre or post-workout snacks for fueling up or recovering, such as protein bars or a protein shake! Bringing a towel and a change of clothes is also a good idea to freshen up after.
Tips for a successful first week (and how to stick to it)
Now that you’re ready and have everything prepared to crush it at the gym, the next step is making sure that your first week goes as planned! If you follow the previous steps, you’re already going to have an easier time at the gym, but here are a few tips to ensure that your actual workout experience turns out great:
Earlier we went over being realistic with your goals and pacing yourself, but now let’s talk about how you can do this. Since your fitness level is not the same as before, your body won’t be able to keep up with your previous routine, so don’t push yourself too hard! Begin by lifting lighter instead of heavier weights, and reducing the number of reps, or doing shorter sets. Stick to the basics, and don’t get too crazy with your exercise list at first, you don’t want to burn yourself out. So, pick a few compound and isolated movements to do for each muscle group and stick with them for the first few weeks before moving forward to more complicated variations. You need to build your resistance and muscle strength again to be able to get to where you were before and even further, and you’ll achieve this by being gentle with yourself and taking one step at a time.
Going to the gym 5-6 times a week when you’re just starting again may be too much for your body at first, so start by going three times a week. Do three full-body workouts a week, and space them out evenly to allow your muscles to properly recover for the next workout. Then as you adjust to your routine, you can gradually start getting into high-intensity exercises and increasing the number of weekly gym visits as you go!
Warm up and cool down properly
In order to prevent the risk of injury during your workouts, you need to warm up before! If you’re going to be doing cardio, your warm-up focus should be on increasing your heart rate and breathing so that you don’t fatigue yourself in the middle of the workout. For strength training, warming up by doing dynamic stretching and movements that mimic the actual exercise without the weights is great for practicing your range of motion and preparing your muscles and joints for the workout. After you’re done, you need to make sure to cool down to get your heart rate back to normal and your body to its usual resting state. Don’t just stop on your tracks, instead try taking a walk around the gym after you’re finished or do some light stretching!
No matter how bad you want to come back after a good workout, you need to listen to your body first to see if you’re actually ready to hit the gym again. When you’ve been away for a while, your muscles take some time getting used to being active again, and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is something you’re probably going to deal with the day after a workout. Not everyone experiences post-workout soreness equally, so you need to assess yourself to see how your muscles are doing after each workout and take enough time to recover before you exercise again. You can speed up your recovery process by resting properly, as well as stretching and even foam rolling to relieve your muscles from all the stress. Active recovery is also recommended, but be careful with this, you want to rest, not burn yourself out even more!
Don’t make too many changes at once
One of the biggest challenges at the gym is actually sticking to it and not quitting after the first week. If you really want to make a habit of going to the gym and enjoying it, you need to ease into it by changing up your routine one step at a time instead of doing everything too quickly. You’re probably highly motivated and want to give it all at the gym while also changing up your diet and improving your daily habits… But is that really going to work? A sudden change in your daily routine can be difficult to get used to, let alone changing everything at once. When you’re just starting, focus on getting yourself to the gym. Your diet is also very important, but if you prep a week in advance, and you calculate your macros, you’ve got your healthy groceries and meals already planned, then your main focus can actually be on working out! Trying to do everything all in the same week will just cause you too much stress - so prep a week in advance!
The key is to make small changes around your life that will help you get closer to your goals, such as getting better sleep and snacking less. But remember to take it one step at a time!
Finally, nothing is going to work out if you’re not patient! Patience is key in any fitness journey because big changes don’t happen in a day. Don’t rush into your workouts thinking that’s going to make a difference, instead focus on being consistent and dedicated. Depending on your specific fitness goal, it could take weeks or even months to get to where you want to be, but the good thing is that you’ll start noticing small changes and progress along the way that’ll help you stay motivated throughout your journey. And if you feel like it’s starting to get too tough for you, remember that your workout routine is yours only, so feel free to change it however you want to make it easier for you!
By having these tips in mind you should be able to smoothly transition back to your fitness life in no time. Just remember to be mindful of your current fitness level and don’t push yourself too hard — you got this! And if you need help planning your back to the gym routine, make sure to check out the Fit With Iulia app! Iulia plans goal-focused home and gym workouts to help you get back on track and achieve better results. You can try your first workout for free, no subscription required, by downloading the Fit With Iulia app, going to Goals & Workouts, and trying the first workout for any goal!