Fitness and Performance

How to avoid injury when you get back to the gym

Aug 11 2020

Gyms are gradually reopening after lockdown, you’re itching to lift…but how can you avoid injury when you get back to the gym?

You’ve probably found plenty of other ways to exercise over the last 3 months, but most of us simply can’t replace a gym workout with home equipment.

However keen you are to dive straight in, remember that you won’t be where you were before. Getting back to lifting the heavy weights that you used to lift will take time. If you go straight back to the weights you were lifting pre-lockdown, you’ll very likely get injured.

Your first few weeks at the gym…

When you first get back to the gym, start with low-risk strengthening exercises. These will help you get back into tip-top condition and reduce your injury risk (while still being challenging and plenty of fun).

Aerobic-based sets. Squats, lunges and deadlifts. 20-40 reps bodyweight. You’ve probably been doing these at home and continuing them in the gym will help improve your skill and range of movement further.

Whole-body routines. Instead of isolating muscle groups, distribute the load. Reducing the volume on each muscle group will help you get stronger while staying safe.

Movement-based exercise. Sled push/pull and farmers carry. These exercises have a low skill requirement and are low-risk, but are heavily fatiguing and effective.

Isometrics. 30-60 second static holds or muscle contractions with low to moderate loads. These will allow you to reach fatigue, develop strength and improve tendon conditioning.

Time under tension. Slow down your movements. This will help keep your muscles under tension for a longer period, allowing you to reach fatigue with lower loads.

Work the Right Intensity

This is vital to reducing the chance of injury and keeping up your workout efficiency levels.

Use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to calculate work effort and load. This will help you find the right intensity, make progress and avoid injury.

The table below shows the RPE:

1Very easy
4Somewhat hard
7Very hard

Make a plan

Having a workout plan in place can improve your performance and gains while helping you avoid injury and overloading.

The table below shows a simple plan, including a recovery week when the loads are reduced (this is especially useful if you have a recurring injury).

Training PhaseSets & RepsRPEIntention
Week 1 - Volume8 - 12+ x 2 - 45 - 7Muscle growth + skill development
Week 2 - Volume8 - 12+ x 3 - 55 - 7 Progressive loading + low-moderate intensity
Week 3 - Strength4 - 6 x 3 - 57 - 8Increase strength + load tolerance
Week 4 - Strength2 - 4 x 3 - 58+Increase strength + load tolerance
Week 5 Power1 - - x 1 - 39+Peak power + strength
Week 6 - Recovery5 - 8 x 2 - 35Allow for development + reduce injury risk

If you do have an acute or stubborn injury that just won’t shift, please get in touch or book in for an assessment. Getting your injury professionally assessed and treated will get you out of pain and back to full fitness.

You can also check out some of our return to gym exercises on our YouTube channel here.


Burd, N.A., West, D.W., Staples, A.W., Atherton, P.J., Baker, J.M., Moore, D.R., Holwerda, A.M., Parise, G., Rennie, M.J., Baker, S.K. and Phillips, S.M., 2010. Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PloS one, 5(8), p.e12033.

Mitchell, C.J., Churchward-Venne, T.A., West, D.W., Burd, N.A., Breen, L., Baker, S.K. and Phillips, S.M., 2012. Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic