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getting back to the gym

Getting back to the gym

23 Nov 2022 • 4 min read

If you’ve been away from the gym a while, going back can seem like a daunting prospect.

Even the thought of setting foot inside the building is suddenly provoking major anxiety.

Relax! This is something absolutely everyone with a gym membership has dealt with. Life gets in the way, fitness levels dip and we all need a little extra help in getting back up again.

In this article we’ll offer our very best advice for getting back into the gym after a break. We’ll consider why it can be so hard to return, discuss ways to overcome this fear and offer practical tips on how to ease yourself back in.

Why it’s so hard going back to the gym after a break

Since your first time at the gym you’ve had euphoric moments, sweat, tears and self-improvement. It’s where the best version of yourself hangs out.

And whether the cause is a post-baby body, weight gain, illness, an injury or simply lost motivation, you’re definitely not feeling your best right now.

Why you should go back

If you haven’t felt your best during your absence, getting back to the gym can help. Here’s why:

  1. Support mood

Exercise is wonderful for your mood. It helps reduce anxiety and depression while improving self-esteem and cognitive function.1

  1. Better sleep

Regular exercise is known to improve both the quality and duration of sleep.2 And who doesn’t want to sleep better?!

  1. Improved health

Exercise strengthens your muscles, improves bone density and reduces your risk of diseases including cardiovascular diseases and cancer. It also reduces your risk of premature death.3

  1. Improved mindset

If you’ve felt a little out of control for whatever reason – returning to a regular exercise routine will help. Making time to prioritise your health helps you feel proactive.

  1. More energy

Although you might feel exhausted after a good workout, exercise actually gives you more energy. In fact, regular exercise plays a significant role in increasing energy levels and reducing fatigue according to studies.4

Why you shouldn’t worry about getting back in the gym after a break

  1. Nobody will notice

The first thing we want to make clear is that nobody will be looking at you, judging you or wondering where you’ve been. Take it from us – our minds are so wrapped up in our own workouts and lives that we barely notice our fellow gym-goers.

It might sound harsh, but unless you’re a well-known celebrity or are working out in your birthday suit, nobody will bat an eyelid.

  1. Good vibes only

Gyms are positive places, filled with people who understand that self-improvement is a process and progress rarely follows a straight upward line. Anyone who DOES notices you’ve returned after a break will simply be inspired by your drive, and glad to see you back.

  1. Progress is a journey

Repeat after us – progress is not linear! Fitness is something you must maintain throughout life, it doesn’t get gifted to you magically with your first gym membership.

You’ll naturally have periods when you’re at a high level of personal fitness, and other times when you’re less so. Rejoining the gym is part of that.

This is true for even the most elite athletes, so don’t feel guilty if your fitness levels have dropped.

  1. The fear is worse

As with so many things in life, the fear of going back to the gym is far worse than actually going back.

We’ve actually found that any nerves about returning to the gym dissolve once we’re through the doors and once we’re working up a sweat, all those familiar endorphins and positive vibes come flooding back.

  1. Taking it easy is encouraged

When starting up a routine gym schedule again after a break, it’s advisable to start slow and not exert yourself as you’ll risk burnout or injury (more on this later). With this in mind, it helps make getting back in the gym less daunting. Remember – you’re actually encouraged to ignore personal bests and go slow.

Our top tips for getting back in the gym

  1. Refresh your kit

Are your workout/ gym clothes looking a little worn-out and rumpled? More importantly – do they still fit your body well? If your workout clothes don’t make you feel good, it’s going to make you feel more reluctant to get back in the gym.

Invest in quality, well-fitting gear, and ensure you’ve got a spare so washing day won’t be an obstacle.

It doesn’t need to be pricey or even brand new – charity shops and online second-hand communities are full of nearly new or new exercise clothes.

  1. Start slow

Whether you’ve spent the time away from the gym eating biscuits in bed, or could just use a little tune-up, it’s important to start slow. This approach reduces the risk of injury and is a better bet for sustainable motivation.

Adjust your previous gym routines for ease. Use a lower weight, run shorter distance, walk up fewer stairs on the machine, row fewer metres, use a lower gear in spin class… less is more. Remember – it took you lots of hard work to get to your previous level of fitness so don’t expect to pick up where you left off after a break.

  1. Embrace ‘failure’

Only able to manage a 1km run where before you were running 5k without stopping? Well done! You’re one step closer to running those 5km again – and by re-introducing your body to exercise after a break, you’ve set the intention to make fitness a priority again.

Remember – ANY exercise is better than if you’d never left the sofa.

  1. Warm up

To increase your range of motion and reduce risk of injury, make warming up those muscles a priority. A warm-up increases your heart rate, gets blood flowing, activates your joints and muscles and promotes good coordination during the workout to come.5

Warming up prior to exercise is associated with a decreased injury risk.6

Warm up for around five to 10 minutes before every gym session (see examples below).

  1. Cool down

You’ve ended your workout on a high and you’re feeling invincible. Time to hit the showers? Not so fast.

Much like warming up, cooling down properly after a workout helps prevent muscle soreness and injury and is especially important if you’re returning to exercise after a break.


  • Regular exercise and improves mood, sleep, overall health and energy levels
  • Get your body used to regular workouts again – don’t stress about personal bests.
  • A warm up and cool down will improve flexibility, reduce soreness and decrease risk of injury

Gym routine for returning after a break

Take a look at this beginner gym routine to prepare for going back to the gym.

Warm up

A good warm up should include some light aerobic activity and dynamic stretching of the key muscle groups you’re about to use.

A truly effective warm up requires you to move your body – and incorporate stretches into light aerobic activity such as the following:

  • Squats (unweighted) – these warm up your buttocks, thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings), groin, hips and calves.
  • Lunges – these warm up the abdominals, buttocks, thighs, calves and back.
  • Jumping jacks – these work the calves, abdominals, hips, lower back, thighs, arms and chest (practically the whole body!)
  • Side stretch – with your hands above head, fingers interlaced, push upwards with your palms. Keeping your back straight and chin up, bend at the waist to the left and right. This works your intercostal muscles (the ones between your ribs)
  • Marching on the spot – this warms up the buttocks, thighs, calves, abdominals and shoulders.
  • Side steps – these rapid side-to-side steps wake up the buttocks, thighs and calves.



Cardio should be scaled back from what you were doing at your fitness peak. There is no one-size-fits-all approach – it’s about your own limits and capabilities. For the first session back in the gym, try setting yourself the same goal you did when you first began training.

Your fitness is unlikely to have returned to square one, but it helps you get an idea of what level you’re comfortable with before upping the time/ distance/ intensity.

  • Running – try a shorter distance, and a flat or low incline
  • Spinning – use a lower gear and don’t be afraid to take breaks
  • Cross training – turn down the resistance, or set a shorter time
  • Step machine – choose a slower speed, or set a shorter time
  • Rowing machine – reduce the resistance, or set a shorter time

Strength training

Whether you used to lift heavy or not, try strength training exercises using just your body weight. They’ll still cause you to break a sweat and begin the process of strengthening your muscles.

Strength training exercises that you can ease into include:

  • Planks – try shorter sets and more recovery time in between reps
  • Squats – start unweighted if you’re struggling to maintain your form
  • Chest press – using either a machine or a flat bench, start with a lower weight
  • Shoulder press – using free weights or a machine, start with a lower weight
  • Leg press – using a machine, start with a lower weight
  • Deadlift – start with picking up the lowest weight which still offers resistance, before adding a little more each week

Cool down

The idea behind cooling down is to relax, improve flexibility and gradually bring your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure down to a resting rate.7 In endurance training such as marathon running, the cool down also helps regulate blood flow.8

Cool down exercises include:

  • Walking – if you’ve been running, stepping or cross-training, walking is ideal to cool down
  • Buttock stretch – if you’ve been strength training this area, lie on your back with your knees against your chest, place your right ankle on your left thigh, grasp the back of your left thigh and gently pull towards you.
  • Downward facing dog – this yoga stretch is great for if you’ve been training thighs, calves or buttocks. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend over so your palms are on the mat below your shoulders. With your bottom in the air, keeping your hips high, relax your head so you feel a stretch along your spine.
  • Chair pose – another yoga move, this stretches out glutes and thighs, perfect for after squats. With a straight spine, bend your knees and lower your hips like you were about to sit in a chair. Hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Overhead arm stretch – a basic stretch for tired triceps. Drop your right arm behind your head with your elbow in the air. Pull your elbow and feel the stretch along your tricep and ribs.

Read more: The benefits of dynamic stretching

How often should I go to the gym after a break?

No matter how many times you were going to the gym before your break, 3 times per week is plenty while you’re still getting into the swing of things.

Of course, you can do more than this, but aim for sustainable progress, not burnout.

Working out routines can become stagnant, so switch up your exercises so you’re not doing the same thing every session.

Choose your rest days to fit in with your schedule, but try not to exercise on three consecutive days to minimise muscle soreness.


Knowing what to do at the gym is half the battle, but don’t forget your diet. The right foods can help you build lean muscle, minimise muscle soreness and promote recovery.

These include:

Weight training weekly plan

  Warm up Exercise Cool down
Mon Jumping jacks x 10 reps - 3 sets

Unweighted squats x 10 reps – 3 sets

Plank for 20 seconds – rest for 20 seconds, then repeat - 3 sets

Lightly loaded leg press x 15 reps – 3 sets

Jog for 10 – 15 mins

Downward facing dog – hold for 30 secs

Chair pose – hold for 15 seconds ( rest and repeat)

Tue  Rest day

March on the spot for 2 mins

Side stretch x 3 on each side

Chest press

Shoulder press

Row for 10 – 15 mins

Downward facing dog – hold for 30 secs

Overhead arm stretch x 3 on each side

Thu Rest day
Fri Side steps x 15 reps-3 sets

Lightly loaded leg press x 15 reps – 3 sets

Unweighted squats x 10 reps – 3 sets

Buttock stretch x 3 on each leg

Chair pose – hold for 15 seconds (rest and repeat)
Sat Rest day
Sun Rest day


Cardio weekly plan

  Warm up Exercise Cool down
Mon Jumping jacks x 10 reps - 3 sets

Run for 10 - 15 mins

Sprint for 2 – 5 mins

Run for 10 – 15 mins

Walk for 10 mins

Downward facing dog – hold for 30 secs

Tue  Rest day
Wed March on the spot for 2 mins

Row for 15 mins

Run for 10 mins, sprinting for 2-5 mins

Row for 15 mins

Overhead arm stretch x 3 on each side

Walk for 10 mins

Thu Rest day
Fri Lunges x 10 on each leg

Step machine for 15 mins

Static bike for 15 mins

Run for 10 mins

Walk for 10 mins

Buttock stretch x 3 on each leg

Sat Rest day
Sun Rest day


Last updated: 04 May 2021



Author: Bhupesh PanchalSenior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.

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