How to ease back into the gym

Man getting ready to exercise

Blanche Clark

Posted January 20, 2022

If you’ve made a resolution to get fitter and healthier this year but feel nervous about visiting the gym, get started with these exercises.

January is usually boom time for fitness centres, but the latest wave of COVID-19 has many people delaying their new year's resolution to do more exercise.

Although that’s tough for the fitness sector, there are benefits to not rushing back to the gym.

RACV Club Personal Trainer David Renton says slowly building up to regular workouts will help you avoid common injuries such as muscles pulls and strains.

You’re also more likely to stay motivated and keep training, even after that new-year enthusiasm wanes.

“Many people start off with great intentions but lose motivation when they don’t see instant results,” Renton says.

“There are many ways of measuring your success. Setting a goal of being able to do a full press-up by the end of six weeks is an example. Make it simple and achievable, and keep building on each small success.”

Woman doing stretches at the gym

Slowly building up to regular workouts will help you avoid common injuries. Photo: Lucas Allen/ Coco Productions.


Key to regaining fitness

Renton says a long break in training can cause the loss of hard-earned muscle mass.

“Your heart and lungs become weaker if you previously did HIIT or circuit-style training, and you may have added some COVID kilos due to a change in circumstances,” he says.

“Your posture may have changed because your office set-up at home hasn’t been ergonomically correct. This could explain those backpains, knee pains and tight hips that you’ve been experiencing.”

Even if your fitness hasn’t deteriorated, it most likely changed in recent years.

“For instance, you may have used the free weights and machines at the gym but had to switch to light cardio such as walking, running, cycling, or bodyweight exercises that require minimal equipment,” Renton says.

So, what should you do if you want to go to the gym or start fitness classes, but would prefer to wait until the latest wave of COVID-19 has run its course?

Renton offers the following advice to help you ease back into the gym.

Exercises to start now

Warming up

Focus on stretching and a range of movement rather than static stretches. You want your body and targeted training muscles primed for your sessions. For guidance, follow RACV Club Group Exercise Instructor Fran Furci in the video below.

Strength training and toning

Keep it simple and stick to compound movements that use multiple muscles. For example, squats and push-ups or rows on a bar at the park, or alternatively some form of core workout. RACV Club Fitness Instructor Nate Wells shows you the correct technique in a series of videos.


If you’ve been walking during lockdowns, all you need to do is increase your pace on and off for half an hour and include a couple of hills. That will get your heart rate up without strain. Do this for a couple of weeks before returning to the gym. If you ceased strenuous exercise during lockdown, moderate your goals back at the gym. Your return cardio session isn’t about setting a new PB (personal best). Look at completing 60 to 70 per cent of your previous runs, and around 65 to 75 per cent of your previous pace.

Stretching and warming down

Focus on trying to open and release the hip flexor, quads, glutes and chest, which will all be affected by reduced activity or exercise.

Couple at gym

Make your return to the gym fun and enjoyable. RACV City Club (above) has a pool as well as a fitness centre. Photo: Lucas Allen/ Coco Productions.


Goal setting at the gym

Start off slowly

This is essential. Always start with lighter weights and build up, even if you’ve been a fitness fanatic in the past. The weights will feel heavy, so whatever you were doing prior to lockdown, reduce that to about 60 to 70 per cent. For cardio, lower your expectations and work at a reduced pace and see how your body responds.

Find exercises you enjoy

Make your return fun and enjoyable. Choose a class or set yourself a little program to follow for one or two weeks. If you’re having trouble staying motivated, consider getting a personal trainer.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

On your return, keep it simple! You will be back to your old training self in no time. Just aim to keep the body moving and injury free.

Consider shorter sessions

It’s best to build up slowly to give your body time to adjust. Think about keeping a little in the tank so that after a couple of weeks you can reset those goals and start aiming for some PBs again.

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