Day 1

Returning Back To The Gym

And here we are, finally. It's felt like a like a lifetime of social distancing, masks and lockdowns - but we have finally reached a point were we can start to see an end to all this.


Whilst this might still be a little way off, the good news is that the gyms have finally been reopened and they are keeping the iron gates open. 

The bad news however, during this time in lockdown you have been barely moving (besides the occasional trip to the fridge), or you've simply just fallen out of your usual exercise routine. 

Even if you have maintained a form of previous training frequency, you may have nevertheless significantly altered the types of exercises that you do. For example access to squat racks, rowing, ski ergs and dumbbells and perhaps placed greater emphasis on lighter exercises such as walking, running or cycling. 

If it hasn't deteriorated then, your fitness will have likely changed over lockdown.

But after several months, you might be feeling the urge to get back in the gym and feel the fitness groove once again or you might be feeling more of a tightness in your jeans. 

So what are the correct steps you can take in order to have a safe and effective return to the gym?

Richard Sellers

I'm a fully qualified personal trainer, spin instructor, GP referral instructor and an all round fitness motivator and promoter of...  


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Your Key Takeaways

Your main goal during your first few weeks back in the gym should be to train just enough to improve your muscles ability to resist soreness and to improve your technique. 

To this, you will want to train with relatively light weights, low volumes and a variety of rep ranges and a higher than normal frequency. 

Keep reading to learn what your workouts should look like and find your Day 1 Workout Plan.

Would you rather listen than read Day 1? Click the play button below!

Are Even Ready To Return Back To The Gym Yet?

This will depend on your health. 

If you're free of Covid-19 or any other respiratory disease or you think you might of been exposed to someone who has the virus, don't ruin it for us all - stay at home. 

You might of heard the "neck check", which states that so long as your symptoms are above your neck, it's safe to start working out again. 

That is, as long as your symptoms are limited to your head, runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes, etc - you can start training, but if your symptoms are below your neck like a deep chesty cough, you should rest until your better. 

Unless you've been tested and you're sure you don't have Covid-19, be on the side of caution and stay at home until your symptoms are gone. Not only is this the right thing to do for the people around you and society at large.

Summary: If you’re healthy, symptom free, and haven’t knowingly been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the past week or so, you can safely return to the gym once it opens.

How Do We Get Back To Our Workouts?

When returning to your first day back to the gym, your first inclination will be to jump straight back into your old workout. 

And honestly, thats a bad idea! 

First and foremost, your muscles have become much more sensitive to the effects of your workouts, which comes with its pros and cons. 

On one hand, you'll quickly gain back any strength and muscle you may of lost. On the other hand, it also means you're more susceptible to muscle damage, and you'll get a lot more sore after your workouts. 

This is true even if you've been doing home workouts, because challenging resistance training produces much more tension in your muscles and this causes significantly more muscle damage and soreness. 

As you learnt a moment ago, your muscles will be primed to get bigger and stronger and in the beginning, you won't have to train that hard to make rapid progress. 

Muscle soreness from your first few workouts will likely interfere with your ability to add weight and improve your technique and it may even force you to skip a few workouts.

It's clear to see, the cons of jumping straight back into your old workout routine far outweighs the pros. 

So what should you do instead?

What's more, your technique on most exercises will be a bit rusty, increasing the risk of injury and limiting how much you can actually do. 

And finally, you probably won't progress any faster by diving into your old workout routine if you were to ease back into heavy work for two reasons:

During your first few weeks back in the gym, your primary goal should be to workout in a way that prepares your body for progression and improves your technique. 

Work At 50 - 80% Effort

Thanks to a phenomenon known as the repeat bout effect, this is a process in which your muscles become significantly more resistant to damage from resistance training after just a few workouts. 

This is why you got so incredibly sore after your first gym session or the first time you worked with a Personal Trainer but stopped getting sore after the first few weeks. 

Here's the thing, which flies in the face of all logic. You don't have to train all that hard to reap the benefits of the repeated bout effect. That is, training with relatively light weights will protect your muscles from damage caused by heavy weightlifting. 

So what does this mean for you?

You'll want to use lighter weights for the first few weeks back in the gym. This will cause very little muscle damage or soreness, but it will reduce the amount of muscle damage and soreness you experience when you experience when you start using heavier weights again. 

Here's how much weight I recommend you use in your workouts during your first week back in the gym:

Use about 50 - 70% effort on your compound movements 

Use about 60 - 80% effort on your isolation movements

Unsure on your compound and isolation movements? Click here for a basic breakdown of each movement.

How Many Sets & Reps?

How many sets you do in each workout also determines how much muscle damage and soreness your workouts cause.

And like intensity, you don't need much volume to help protect your muscles from damage and soreness.


Moreover, doing relatively short, low-volume is a great way to improve your technique. When you're only doing a handful of sets, you never get fatigued enough for your form to start falling apart, thus the overall quality of your workout tends to be higher.  

As your body grows accustomed to working out again, you'll want to gradually increase your workout volume to make your workouts more challenging. (Gradually increasing your volume like this is also the best way to prevent overuse injuries)

Here's the best way to do it:

During your first week back in the gym, do just 1-2 sets per compound exercise and 2 sets per isolation exercises.

In your second week in the gym, do 2 sets per compound exercise and 3 sets per isolation exercises

During your third and fourth weeks in the gym, do 3 sets for all your compound and isolation exercises.

This will ensure muscle damage, soreness and fatigue never gets out out of hand, reduces your risk of injury and helps you rapidly improve your technical form.

Do 5 - 8 reps per set on compound exercises

Just as doing to many sets in a single workout can cause excess muscle damage, soreness and fatigue - doing too many sets can produce a similar effect. This mainly true of compound exercises like squats, lunges, press ups and deadlifts, where high reps tend to be disproportionately damaging and fatiguing. 

5 - 8 reps are also ideal for improving your technique, because they allow you to get in quality repetitions with minimal fatigue.


Using a variety of rep ranges is likely to be better your for muscle growth.


Many isolation exercises (like lat pulldowns and tricep pushdowns) are better suited to higher reps than lower reps. 


It adds some enjoyable variety to your training. 


It exposes your muscles to multiple rep ranges, which ensures you're well prepared for whatever program you decide to follow after the first month.

Specifically, I recommend you begin your first week back in the gym by doing 8 reps per set for your isolation exercises, then 10 reps per set on week on your second week, 12 reps per set on your third week and 12 - 15 reps per set on your fourth week.

Workout Frequency

Your workout frequency refers to how many times per week you train a particular muscle or exercise. 

Normally a good rule of thumb of maximising muscle growth is to train each muscle group twice per week. That said, one of the best ways to get better at any movement, whether it's swinging a golf club, swimming lengths or squatting with a barbell, is to practice frequently.

Break Out 5 Day Plan

Let's recap the key points of getting back into the gym: 

Use 50 - 805 of your working effort for your compound exercises

Do 1 - 2 sets per compound exercise and 2 - 3 exercises per isolation exercise.

Complete 5 - 8 reps per set on your compound lifts and 8 reps on your isolation exercises.

Workout all muscle groups twice per week. 

Here is the general outline of your sets, reps and the intensity should look like for you compound and isolation exercises. 

Day 1

Day 2

Here is the set up of your Day 1 workout plan 

Here is the set up of your Day 2 workout plan 

Click here to download a full editable copy of your workout plan

Click here to download a full editable copy of your workout plan

Day 3

Here is the set up of your Day 3 workout plan 

Click here to download a full editable copy of your workout plan

A Few More Notes

Warm Up Before Each Workout

Before your first set of your first exercise make sure you do a thorough warm up. A good warm up will accomplish several things: 

It helps you troubleshoot you form and feel proper technique, which is particularly important when you're relearning an exercise.​

It can significantly boost your workout, which can translate into more muscle and weight loss potential over time. 

A good standard of practice, a warm up consists of doing one or two light sets of an exercise, followed by one or two heavier sets until you're using a weight that's about 70% as heavy as the heaviest weight you'll use that day for that particular exercise.


Here's how warm up properly

Do several warm up sets with the first exercises for each of the muscle groups you're working out in that day's workout. 

For example in Day 1, one of your exercises is the shoulder press which trains deltoids, triceps, trapezius and pecs. Thus, warming up for the shoulder press will directly warm up the triceps for the tricep pushdowns, but not seated row. 

So in this case, you can do a few warm up sets for your shoulder press, then your working sets and then you would warm up for the seated row and do your working sets for that exercise. 

Then you can do your tricep pushdowns without any additional warm up sets (since the muscles trained in this exercise will still be warmed up after the shoulder press).

Here's the protocol you're going to follow for the workouts: 

Estimate roughly what weight you're going to use for your three sets of squats (this is your "working set" weight)​

Do 10 reps with about 50% of your hard set weight and rest for a minute. 

Do the same 10 reps with the same weight at a slightly faster pace, and rest again for a minute. 

Then complete your working sets, or repeat another 10 reps at a fast pace if you feel you need another warm up set in order to be ready.

Rest 1.30 minutes to 2 minutes

This will give your muscles enough time to recoup their strength but keep the intensity enough that muscle growth will occur.

The Bottom Line 

Although you may feel significantly weaker after the lockdown, you probably didn't lose much muscle or strength to speak of. 

What's more is if you did home workouts during lockdown, you probably didn't lose much of your pre-lockdown progress but this doesn't take away that your muscles are likely much more susceptible to damage and soreness caused by lifting heavier weights. 


 As a result, you want to gradually ease back into your workouts. 

During your first few weeks back into the gym, your primary goal should be to train in a way that prepares your muscles for heavier weights and polish your technique. 

Here's what you should do:

Use 50 - 80% of your maximum weight for your compound exercises.

Do 1 - 3 sets per compound exercise and 2 - 3 sets per isolation exercise. 

Do 5 - 8 reps per set on your compound exercises and 8 reps per isolation exercise. 

Gradually ease back into your workouts, slowly progress each week.

Learn right here, why so many people love this programme!

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