Planning on returning to the gym?

The gym is such a vital part of most people’s weekly healthcare routine, and most of us who train regularly are now planning on returning to the gym. The abundance of weights you could push, the variety of cardio machines and the countless classes that make you get that 20% extra from your workouts will all become available again.

When they reopen, we still need to be cautious of the virus and use the best hygiene practices. But what are the best practices to avoid injury, resulting in further time away from the weight rack? This blog explores why you are more likely to injure yourself during time away from the gym, and we’ll give you the best tips to avoid another lengthy spell out.

Why are we more likely to become injured during time away from proper training? And how do I avoid injury while returning to the gym?


Humans are not designed to store fitness, which makes our bodies prone to ‘’deconditioning’’. This is where the body loses muscle mass, strength and aerobic fitness within just 10 days of inactivity (1).

Muscle injuries are common in athletes, accounting for 10-55% of all acute sporting injuries (2). The injuries to muscles often occur in muscles that cross 2 joints, such as:

  • Pectorals
  • Biceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves (3)

Furthermore, you are more likely to tear a muscle in a non-contact situation during the eccentric phase of muscle contraction (4), which makes recreational gym users highly prone to suffering muscle tears.

Because a lot of us are unaware of this, many gym visitors assume that they can return to the weights they were lifting, or the miles they were rowing, quickly. This type of thought process can lead to muscle strains and even tearing.

Concerning strength loss, here is a timeline of bed rest and how it affects you:

  • 1 week:
    • 7% quadriceps strength loss
  • 10 days:
    • 13% quadriceps strength loss
  • 21 days:
    • 0.9% bone density loss
  • 60 days:
    • 41% quadriceps strength loss 


Tendons that become damaged can cause a very painful ailment called a tendinopathy. Tendinopathies are highly prevalent, costing the NHS £250m a year and accounting for 30-50% of all sporting injuries.

Tendons require constant load to avoid deconditioning, so if you’re returning to the gym after months away you start again with unprepared tendons. When you engage in resistance training the structure of the tendon improves, making it able to tolerate a higher load. Studies show that if you stop training, the improvements made to the tendon reverse. This leaves the tendon more vulnerable and can result in pain and dysfunction (5).

If you are deconditioned, what type of exercises will most likely incur an injury? Studies show that sudden changes in energy storage load put more pressure on the tendons and disrupt them the most. These movements include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Punching
  • Falling onto an outstretched limb.

How fast does my body react to deconditioning?

  • Muscle: As mentioned previously in this blog, your body will start to lose muscle strength in 10 days, but it will become significant after around three weeks (6). The older and less fit you are, the more muscle strength you will lose. This can be a problem when heading back into the gym after three months, expecting to return to lifting similar weights to previous numbers.
  • Cardio: Cardio fitness is something we haven’t mentioned in this blog, but it can be significant because if your activity of choice is cardio, your muscles and tendons will have to work harder if your cardio fitness has become worse. Research shows significant cardio fitness loss after four weeks of no training (7)
  • Tendons: It takes roughly three weeks for the improvements in tendon strength to reverse if you train for cardio, and three months if you mainly train for strength (5, 8).

How do I avoid injury when returning to the gym?

So, it seems that the body likes to self-decompose your exercise gains after three or four weeks to two months (less for athletes). Due to this adaptation, the body requires you to maintain your fitness. This can be done by following some simple rules:

  • The 10% rule:
  • The 1:1 rule:
    • If you’ve been out of strength training for 4 weeks, allow 4 weeks to get back to where you were. Anecdotally, drop 10% off your max weight when you stopped training (so 4 weeks = 40%) and build up from there (9). If you’ve been out for over 12 weeks, you should work to no more than a 12-week plan as you should only require this much time to get back to where you were.

If you were to follow the above advise, the chances of avoiding injury during your return to the gym would be much higher.

For any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask:

0161 209 2980

Ed Madeley M.Ost


  1. Kortebein, P., T. Symons, B.,   Ferrando, A.,  Paddon-Jones, D.,  Ronsen, O.,  Protas, E.,  Conger, S.,  Lombeida, J.,  Wolfe, R.,  Evans, W. J Functional Impact of 10 Days of Bed Rest in Healthy Older Adults The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 63, Issue 10, October 2008, Pages 1076–1081,
  2. Chan O, Del Buono A, Best TM, Maffulli N Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. (2012) Acute muscle strain injuries: a proposed new classification system. Nov; 20(11):2356-62.
  3. Garrett WE Jr (1990) Muscle strain injuries: clinical and basic aspects. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1990 Aug; 22(4):436-43.
  4. Corazza, A., Orlandi, D., Baldari, A., Gatto, P.,  Stellatelli, M., Mazzola, C.  Galli, R., Longo, S.,  Sconfienza, L. M., Silvestri, E. (2014) Thigh Muscles Injuries in Professional Soccer Players: A One Year Longitudinal Study Muscles Ligaments Tendons J Feb 24;3(4):331-6.
  5. Cook, J. L., Purdam, C. R., Is Tendon Pathology a Continuum? A Pathology Model to Explain the Clinical Presentation of Load-Induced Tendinopathy Jun;43(6):409-16.
  6. McMaster, D. T.,  Gill, N., Cronin, J.,  McGuigan, M., (2013) The Development, Retention and Decay Rates of Strength and Power in Elite Rugby Union, Rugby League and American Football: A Systematic Review Sports Med;43(5):367-84.
  7. Pedlar, C., R, Brown, M, G. Shave, R. E., Otto, J. M., Drane, A., Michaud-Finch, J., Contursi, M., Wasfy, M. M., Hutter, A., Picard, M, H., ewis, G. D., Baggish, A. L., (2017) Cardiovascular response to prescribed detraining among recreational athletes J Appl Physiol 124: 813–820,
  8. Kubo, K.,  Ikebukuro, T.,  Yata, H.,  Tsunoda, N.,  Kanehisa, H., Effects of Training on Muscle and Tendon in Knee Extensors and Plantar Flexors in Vivo 2010 Aug;26(3):316-23.
  9. Blocquianx, S., Gorski, T., Van Roie, E., Ramaekers, M., Van Thienen, R., Nielens, H., Delecluse, C., De Bock, K., Thomis, M., (2020) The effect of resistance training, detraining and retraining on muscle strength and power, myofibre size, satellite cells and myonuclei in older men Exper Geron Vol 133