We talked to experts in our community about a safe, smart return to the gym and compiled their best advice for athletes and coaches.

Every January, our mass return to good intentions typically takes us straight to the doors of the nearest gym. This year, there’s a *faint* light at the end of the global pandemic tunnel, and you may be feeling ready to dust yourself off, pick yourself up and get back to work.. After 2 years of quarantines and gym closures, it’s likely that your routine has been disrupted (if not obliterated), maybe more than once. We talked to experts in our community about getting back to a regular training routine, and compiled their best advice for athletes and coaches. Whether you (or your athletes) have taken two years off because of COVID, a few weeks for the holidays, or 10 days (or 5, or whatever) to quarantine, this advice is for you.



The most important thing you can do in re-starting your fitness journey is also our best advice for life in general: be brutally honest with yourself. At Gym Jones, we make a regular habit of this and call the practice “ruthless self-assessment.” Our Founder Lisa Boshard is no stranger to this process and has helped many athletes face their own realities in the gym. “Ask yourself the hard questions,” she says. “ Do it with accuracy. Figure out what you need to change and why you need to change it. Then take action. Find the problem, fix the problem.” This may be particularly painful in a fitness context following a long hiatus from the gym. You’re likely not where you once were and probably not where you want to be. But clinging to that 1RM from two years ago isn’t going to help you hit it again. Be realistic about where you’re starting from and commit to move forward. Oh, and resist the urge to test your new 1RM in the process (more on that in #4)


Once you know where you’re starting, make a plan for where you’re going! Our best advice for success: outsource this step to someone else. “When you’re writing your own training program, it’s very easy to fall into your own bad tendencies. Even if you have an extensive knowledge of programming, you’re going to tend to focus more on what you’re good at and just make that gap between your strengths and weaknesses even bigger. A good coach will help you bridge that gap,” says Matt Owen, our Director of Programming here at Gym Jones. Putting someone else in charge of your program will also help you avoid second guessing things when the going gets tough. “The second something gets hard, the likelihood that you’re going to give up on your pace, skip a rep, drop your accessories or whatever it may be… is very high if you wrote that program yourself.” Says Owen. Hire a coach to keep you accountable, on track, and balanced in your comeback.

The heaviest weight you lift in your first week back to the gym might be an empty bar. That’s okay.


It’s important to understand that you may not be able to take on the same training load that you once could, even if you’ve only taken a few weeks off. As you add volume, make sure you overcompensate with recovery; but that doesn’t  mean adding new treatments, supplements, or recovery tools to your routine. Dr. Stephen Bird, our go-to sports chiropractor in Salt Lake City, says to stick with the basics. “Everyone is always looking for something other than sleep, nutrition, and hydration,” he says. “But honestly, it’s those three things. There’s nothing else that is better and certainly nothing else that can replace those things. There’s no new pill, tool, or treatment that will allow you to avoid taking care of yourself and not suffer the consequences.”


Even if you’re a high level athlete, an extended break from the gym is going to mean going back to basics. Resist the urge to max out, overload the volume, or generally try to make up for lost time; a smart return to the gym is a slow one. “In the beginning, especially the first week, we’re going to focus on Fundamental movements,” Matt Owen says. “We have to make sure everything is working okay in terms of movement quality and make sure that you don’t have any tightness or bad habits you’ve picked up during the time off. No maxing out in those first three weeks, just make sure that you’re getting in some really solid reps.” Don’t be afraid to spend time re-training good movement before you add load. Dr. Bird tells us that bad movement is the root of most injuries. “Almost all of the injuries we are seeing lately are tied to an athlete’s movement patterns, so the first step in my assessments is always: let’s see your squat, or let’s see your deadlift” He says. “Remember good movement patterns depend on training just as much as the strength of the muscles themselves depend on training. So when we’re not squatting, we tend to lose that ability to maintain tension in the torso if we aren’t stressing that weekly, and we’re then more susceptible to a low back injury.” Finally, remember that time spent working on foundational movement is never wasted. In fact, it could save you the time of recovering from an injury later. “The goal would be to just not completely obliterate yourself in weeks 1-3. Don’t push yourself so hard that you get hurt and set back another two weeks, or even just so sore that you have to take three days off, you know? Easing back in is the most important thing.”

It’s your job as a coach to explain the programming to your athletes and encourage them to take it slow.


1. Perfect (and expand) your assessment

After an extended break from training, treat every athlete like they’re brand new to the gym, no matter how experienced they are. And don’t assume that they haven’t picked up new injuries or tightness while they’ve taken time off. “Everyone started running during quarantine, even people who had never run before,” explains Dr Steven Bird. “I would always ask these patients if they liked running before quarantine, and almost all of them said no. I was shocked at how many people picked up new activities during their time away from the gym and subjected themselves to all these new stressors and potential new injuries.”

Another important thing to remember is that your athlete’s whole life may have changed in the last year or two, so your assessment may need to go beyond their movement patterns and fitness levels. “The things that have happened in the last couple of years are affecting every part of a person’s life,” Dr. Bird says. “People are thinking and feeling differently about themselves, so that’s going to show up in training. You have to be able to assess not only physical performance, but also mental health,” he says.  You also may need to encourage and motivate where you never had to before. Our Director of Programming Matt Owen is reaching out to his athletes more outside of the gym than he was before “Make sure to follow up with your athletes more often than you might usually need to. Remember that people have gotten out of routine. So try to help them get back into a routine, follow up the day before training, remind them that they’re capable of consistency,” he says.


The first week (or weeks) back to training is likely to be frustrating for everyone involved. The best way to quell unnecessary frustration: program a slow and steady return. Adherence to this kind of program might be a particular challenge for athletes in the Gym Jones community, who may have been performing at a very high level before they took a break. “When you’re training regularly, you’re building capacity as you go, you’re getting stronger and more capable, and you’re getting used to feeling that way. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean it will stay indefinitely without maintenance.” Dr Steven Bird explains. “It’s okay for an early training session to look like warmup and mobility, and maybe a little cardio and that’s it. Jumping back into a full training program might be hard for someone, even someone who was very very capable before they took some time off.”  Remember that it is your responsibility to not only prescribe the right program, but  to educate your athletes on why you’re asking them to take it slow. “A lot of the draw to Gym Jones is these people that want to get in there and go really hard. Everyone’s going to want to see if they’re still as strong as they were two weeks/months/years ago,” Matt Owen says. “So we have to be really good at motivating athletes, of course, but we also have to know when to pull them back. A really good coach knows how to do both and, more importantly, teach an athlete why there’s a time and a place for going hard and for taking it slow.” Remind your athletes that the frustration associated with taking things slow pales in comparison to the frustration of injury and burnout.

Helping your athletes stay positive will help them be more resilient inside and outside the gym.

3. Add CARs to your coaching toolbox

While your athletes are building a strong base, add something new to their routine to make them even more bulletproof. If you don’t already, add Controlled Articular Rotations to the list of things you prescribe your athletes on a daily basis. When we asked Dr. Steven Bird the one thing he wished coaches would encourage their athletes to do regularly  to help avoid injury, he said CARs. “Controlled Articular Rotations is a full body approach of looking at how well each joint moves at its end range in rotation,” he says. “When we rotate  the spine, we need range of motion in three different planes: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. So CARs is fantastic because it’s assessing each joint’s regional capacity, not in isolation. So it’s a way to maintain the health of a joint and the tissue of a joint by assessing what your range of motion is.” If you’re new to this, there’s plenty of educational material online to get you started, but Dr. Bird recommends getting in person training. “It’s best to have someone who understands what they’re doing to show you in person,” he says. “ Instagram or YouTube could help but it’s usually just a snippet of the coaching you might need.” He recommends KinStretch if you’re interested in learning more.


Perhaps the most important part of supporting your athletes in returning to the gym is helping them stay positive. The fact that they’ve lost some strength in the gym, while discouraging, might actually be the least of their current disappointments (refer back to #1). A stressed out athlete is easy to spot: “They’re going to question their abilities, second guess how much they have in the tank, quit sooner than they might otherwise,” says Owen. As a coach, you may not feel like you have power to address every stressor in your athlete’s life, but never underestimate the impact of your positive attitude in the gym. Dr. Bird points out, “Reassurance from a coach, positive feedback, that ability to see that light at the end of a struggle; that helps an athlete move forward. Not  just in their workout but all day long.” Gym Jones has always been about helping athletes develop the physical strength and mental fortitude for everything life will bring them outside of the gym. Today, helping your athletes practice resilience inside the gym is more important than ever.

Need help getting back into the swing of things? Drop us a line and let us know how we can help you as an athlete or a coach. One of our Certified Instructors will be in touch!

Drop us a line!