Many people around the world are facing situations where they have not had access to a gym for a very long period of time. Many places, such as where I live, STILL haven't opened gyms back up. Some of the people I know in smaller gyms have opened them anyway in a very underground fashion just to family and friends. They are running a risk of course but at least in the circles that I run in, we are not afraid of Covid, we are just sick of it and feel as though there are "other reasons" behind why it is still going on. Anyway, that is another story for another day - and probably another person. Here are some tips to returning to the gym after a long break - from a normie who has done it incorrectly several times.
#1 - Lift like a beginner
If you have been doing the correct thing and keeping a log of what you lift - which is essential for growth anyway, you really should play it safe on your first week. What I would recommend is doing 50% of what you were doing the last time you made an entry into your journal even if it seems absurdly easy when you are there.
I have made a mistake with this many times even when I went in with a plan. I reduced my stacks, then felt like it was way too easy and also my ego took over. I ended up lifting what felt like a still easy amount of weight, only to wake up the next day and not be able to move comfortably and I was very sore. Even if the 50% limit seems like a waste of time, I promise you that it is not a waste of time.
#2 - Mix in some calisthenics
Particularly for men, there seems to be an urge to head straight back to the very specific muscle group exercises such as various bench presses, flys, and other various small-muscle-group exercises rather than overall core stuff such as pullups, dips, and squats. You could do yourself an immense favor by instead focusing on the wide-range muscle group stuff which is exactly what pullups, dips, and squats are. You also should not do these weighted if that is what you were doing prior to the government-enforced breaks.
The idea here is to not hurt yourself right on day one, which is what I have done on several occasions in the past. If you are simply using your own body weight, injury is far less likely and therefore a it is a wonderful place to start.
Many people say that you don't need a gym for most of these and you are correct by saying that but let's be honest ok? You weren't doing those things during the break and it is much easier to get motivated to do them now in an exercise-rich environment
#3 - Just do 1 or 2 sets
The rule of 3 sets is an arbitrary rule anyway but it does seem to be what everyone, including me, does every time in the gym. When rejoining strength-training after a long break this could actually lead to over fatigue of your muscles, make you crazy sore, and prevent you from going back to the gym anyway. Therefore, especially on your first week back it is extremely important that you take it easy and one way to ensure that is to limit your sets until you are sure you can handle the load.
Trust me.. I've done this wrong many times and your body will thank you for it later.
#4 - Stretch a LOT after finishing
I normally don't stretch at all after a session at the gym which is probably a mistake. However, I alter this rather dumb routine after a long break and will actually spend about half the amount of time i spend lifting on stretching at the end. If the gym is busy you can always find an area that isn't being used like the studio rooms to get out of the way or you can just do it at home. I don't really feel that stretching is all that important (especially for body-building) but during this crucial time, I feel as though it is absolutely essential.
#5 - Don't try to do EVERYTHING
Many times I hear about people returning to the gym after a long break and while they do adhere to the above advice they also try to hit every single machine during their first trip back. Even at a reduced weight that can be very problematic because there are several muscle groups, particularly your shoulders, that are going to be activated during multiple exercises. If you try to do every single machine you are going to overwork your shoulders, biceps, and probably your back as well and 2 of the 3 of those are very susceptible to injury, especially after a long break.
The main idea here is to get back into good habits that you have not been allowed to take advantage of for several months. Hurting yourself or even just ending up very sore the day after your first day back is going to discourage you from going back on day 2, or even day 3 depending on how much you overworked and this is precisely what we are trying to avoid.
I feel as though it is far more important to get your body gradually used to lifting again after being away for so long and if you do it right that famed "muscle memory" will kick in some time in week two and you can see for yourself how quickly your body "remembers" how to endure this punishment. This is a marathon not a sprint and if you follow these tips you will get back in the game much faster than the people who head back in there like the gym was never closed in the first place.