Four tips to ease back into your workout routine

You may be raring to go to the gym again, but do not be too quick to plunge back into your pre-circuit breaker routine.

Ms Lim Fen Ru, a physiotherapist at Singapore General Hospital, says aspects of one's physical fitness - including strength, stamina and flexibility - are likely to have taken a hit during the circuit breaker period.

"Many people have been more sedentary, and those working from home may have missed out incidental exercises like walking to bus stops or workplaces," she says.

"Suddenly engaging in high intensity movement or loads again too quickly can increase risk of injury."

Personal trainer Filbert Kwek, 29, agrees.

He says: "Exercise should be thought of as a marathon, not a sprint. Always going all out to push your limits with no regard for safety is a surefire way of getting injured, or at the very least, burnt out."

Some gymgoers, such as undergraduate Melville Huang, say they have experienced and overcome similar periods of being less fit.

The 21-year-old lost about 6kg of muscle mass while serving national service, as his training was rigorous but focused on cardiovascular activities such as running instead of weight training.

He learnt to adjust by stretching for 15 to 20 minutes before doing any heavy lifting, and always makes sure he has the correct form and technique at each progression before moving on to the next weight.

To help you ease back into your workout routine, here are some tips from Mr Kwek, Ms Lim, personal trainer Norizwan Rozila, 33, and Mr Saravanan Nadarajan, 39, director of health and fitness company EzFit Singapore.

1 SET REALISTIC GOALS

Mr Kwek says the weights he used to do were "a lot more challenging" when he returned to the gym on June 22, the first Monday of phase two.

"I just had to leave my ego at the door and not get caught up in it," he says.

Mr Saravanan adds that even those who have kept up with a home workout routine should "never attempt their personal best", unless one has "the perfect gym set-up at home, bundled with immense self-discipline".

On a hopeful note, however, he says: "If you have been training for years, you should bounce back within six to eight weeks as your body remembers what to do."

You may also experience an easier recovery if you have been eating healthier or sleeping better recently.

2 GRADUALLY INCREASE INTENSITY

Do not skip the warm-up, Ms Lim says. Warm-up exercises should target the specific muscle groups you intend to train.

They raise the muscle temperature, making it easier for them to contract and expand, thus reducing risk of pull or strain.

She also suggests reducing intensity or weights to about 70 to 80 per cent of your previous efforts for your first few weeks back at the gym.

In any case, it is important to monitor how your body feels before, during and after any workout.

If you do not have a fitness tracker, Ms Lim recommends using the Rate Of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, which runs from zero to 10 and is used to measure how easy or difficult you find an activity (with 0 being at rest and 10 being maximum exertion).

She advises those who are starting out on their strength training programme to not go beyond an RPE of 6 to 8.

3 TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS

For sufficient rest, Ms Lim suggests pausing for at least one to two minutes between each set of exercises if you are doing strength training.

Between each gym session, you should also rest for at least one to two days before doing another workout that targets the same muscle groups, she says.

While it is common to experience muscle soreness - and you should continue staying active while that muscle heals - do seek help from a physiotherapist or medical doctor if the pain worsens after a few days.

4 LASTLY, DO NOT WORRY

"Remember the phrase, 'been there, done that'," says Mr Norizwan.

"Too many people start overthinking about how much their fitness levels have fallen once they return to the gym, but if you've been there, you'll be able to do it again for sure."

Instead of becoming discouraged, use this as a motivation to get back to where you were before,` and go even further.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2020, with the headline 'Four tips to ease back into your workout routine'. Print Edition | Subscribe