Going Back to the Gym After COVID-19: 8 Ways to Make Gym Reentry Feel Less Scary


None of us are who we were before COVID-19. We have collectively and individually experienced so much loss, so much anxiety, just so much. We won’t ever, can’t ever, go back.

If you are a gym returner, you are not stepping in the gym as the same person physically, mentally, or emotionally as you were when you stepped out the last time before the world closed. Beginners, you are now stepping into a potentially new world, you’re not supposed to know it all right away. For all, know that if you find yourself in or around body-shaming conversations, it’s OK to step out.

5. Give yourself some grace.

This goes with the tip right above, but it’s a little different, because it goes beyond letting go of shame. Allow yourself grace as you combat all the things trying to impede your physical, mental, and emotional progress in returning to the gym. It’s OK to fail, make mistakes, catch yourself in shame spirals, catch yourself falling into traps.

Pandemic or not, you won’t have your strongest workout every single day. There are ebbs and flows to your strength, speed, and mobility, in your confidence and self-esteem, and in your ability to mute the social pressures around you. Recognize, allow grace, keep moving forward. It’s also OK that changes don’t come overnight. Patience and grace go hand in hand.

6. Start your workout reentry slowly.

Again, should go without saying, but trust me, I know that it’s far easier said than done. Start slowly in terms of frequency of workouts, amount of time spent in each workout, amount of weight you select for your exercises, and new movement patterns. You should always be thoughtful about easing into any new workout (whether you are brand new or a seasoned athlete) because your body will have an adjustment period. If you’ve been taking hikes at home and then change to strength-based programming, you’ll need some adjustment time. If you’ve been doing yoga and now want to try HIIT, same thing.

Also, start slowly getting into each individual workout. Make sure you are properly warmed up. This is extra important now and always. Warm-ups seem like something you can just rush through, but any athlete or fitness pro will tell you that warming up is critical to preparing your body for what you ask of it during a workout. If you’re taking a class and there doesn’t seem to be enough warm-up, warm up yourself before going in. I cannot stress this enough. Getting injured is never fun; getting injured in the beginning of your journey can be very disheartening.

7. If something hurts, stop.

The desire to come out the gate super strong and go hard right away is tempting. So is the eagerness to return to the level you were at before 18 months of pandemic. But it’s not going to happen right away, and pushing too hard before your body is ready can really set you back.

That’s why it’s so important to listen to your body. If you are new to working out (or it’s been awhile), it might take a bit for you to be able to distinguish between soreness and pain. This is a crucial distinction if you are going to try to remain injury-free, so really tap into your internal cues. If you’re a seasoned exerciser, you may already be pretty familiar with what feels right and wrong for you, but here’s a quick rule of thumb: Generally, soreness tends to be feel tight, achy, or burny, while something that’s more injurious can often be more sharp or stabbing, as SELF reported previously. (Of course, there are exceptions to this, so if something doesn’t feel quite right to you, stopping is going to be the safest choice.) This is another important tip for avoiding injury, which, as I said above, can be a demoralizing start to your gym re-entry.

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