How to manage your return to the gym

With gyms in the UK set to re-open their doors on 12th April there are a lot of questions being asked around how to get back into the swing of things as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Whilst my underlying message has always been for sustainable approaches to fitness and trying to avoid ‘quick fixes’ for things – there are some simple principles we can follow to get ourselves back up to speed once the big reopen happens.

An efficient exercise regime should address all five ‘pillars’ of wellness:

  • Strength
  • Cardiovascular Fitness
  • Mobility / Motor Control
  • Body Composition
  • Emotional Wellbeing.


How much emphasis we place upon each one will depend upon our current wants and needs – our wants are simply our current goals and desired outcomes, our needs are an understanding of our current status within each of those categories.   It is completely okay for a plan to ‘dial up’ the level on one or more aspects of wellness, and in turn ‘dial down’ one or two of the others – but none of them should ever be ignored altogether.


In returning to a regular exercise program it’s important to remember that we will have regressed in various aspects of our wellness, therefore when building our plan we should be looking for exercise choices and combinations that give us the most ‘bang for your buck’.


Being smart about how we organise our workouts across a week, the exercises we choose, how we group them together within each workout  means we can maximise the efficiency of our program and get back to our bests in the quickest time possible.



Organising a workout week


Most research shows us that frequency rather than intensity is the most efficient way to build progress when we are either new to exercise,  or returning to exercise after a layoff.

Frequency is best achieved through following a full body training plan, rather than a ‘split’ routine (those that focus on one body part or muscle group per workout).   A full body training plan allows every muscle group to be worked multiple times per week, whereas a ‘split’ routine may see each muscle group worked much more intensely, but just once every seven days.

Split routines tend to be more popular with elite level bodybuilders and physique competitors, who will perform multiple sets on a specific body part in one workout  – designed to cause the maximum metabolic damage to that muscle which will then require the full week to recover.

Full body routines are the most effective way of working for pretty much everyone else!




Exercise choice


Every movement of our bodies is built up of the fundamental movement patterns of Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, and Lunge.  We can think of those as our exercise periodic table, or the key ingredients in our cooking cupboard!


When choosing specific exercises, the most effective and efficient way is to focus on multi joint or compound movements.  These are exercises that cause us to use the most muscle tissue, and so both build the most strength, and require the most energy to perform.


Examples of compound exercises would be:


Push: Press up, shoulder press, Bench press


Pull: Bodyweight row, pull up, Dumbell Row


Squat:  Goblet squat, back squat, Front Squat


Hinge: Romanian deadlift, hip thrust, TRX Leg curl


Lunge: Step up, split squat, Reverse Lunge

Barbell step ups would fit in to the ‘lunge’ category, and are an excellent compound exercise for the lower body



How we group them together


How we put exercises together can have a big impact on the efficiency of our program.


A technique I often employ with clients is to pair upper and lower body exercises together in supersets:  so performing one set of the upper body exercise, then immediately performing a set of the lower body exercise – then rest – and then repeat that superset.


Grouping exercises together in upper-lower supersets makes use of a phenomena called venous shunt.  This means that your cardiovascular system has to move your blood quickly from the upper body to the lower body as you move between the two exercises.  Working out in this way means that we are training our cardiovascular system at the same time as training our muscular system.


I call this style of training Peripheral Heart Action

An example Peripheral Heart Action training workout plan using the exercises above would be:


Workout 1


A1  Back squat

A2  Bodyweight row


B1 Romanian Deadlift

B2 shoulder press (overhead press)


C1 Step Up

C2 Deadbugs


Workout 2


A1 Goblet Squat

A2 Bodyweight Row


B1 Hip thrust

B2 Push up


C1 Split Squat

C2 Side plank


Workout 3


A1 Front Squat

A2 Dumbell row


B1 TRX Leg Curl

B2 Bench Press


C1 Reverse lunge

C2 Woodchop

Alternating between upper and lower body exercises creates a Venous Shunt in the body and a demand on the cardiovascular system

I would then look to rotate clients through these two workouts across their week so each was performed twice.  An example schedule may look like:


Monday: Workout 1

Tuesday: Low intensity aerobic training

Wednesday: Workout 2

Thursday: Low intensity aerobic training

Friday: Workout 3

Saturday: Higher intensity aerobic training

Sunday: Rest

2021-03-27T16:29:15+00:00March 27th, 2021|0 Comments

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