• Physio Physique

How to prevent injuries when returning to the gym

Did you know that changes in your physical activity levels can affect your tolerance to physical stress?

Your body is highly adaptable to the stresses placed on them. Your tissues become stronger when they are placed under increased stress and load. On the other hand, your tissues become weaker when you decrease stress and load.

Physical Stress Theory (PST) suggests that changes in the relative level of physical stress causes a predictable response in all biological tissue. The 5 responses to physical stress are decreased stress tolerance (atrophy), maintenance, increased stress tolerance (hypertrophy), injury, and death.

Phys Ther, Volume 82, Issue 4, 1 April 2002, Pages 383–403, https://doi.org/10.1093/ptj/82.4.383

Why you could be at risk of injury?

When you become less active and have less stress on your body, the threshold for adaptation and injury lowers (table below). This means that although you feel the same physically, your body is less likely to tolerate the same amount of stress as it did a few months ago.

Phys Ther, Volume 82, Issue 4, 1 April 2002, Pages 383–403, https://doi.org/10.1093/ptj/82.4.383

Common Scenario

We had a patient attend our clinic with lower back pain after returning to weight training. The patient was previously exercising 3-4x per week but had been inactive for a few months when gyms closed. When he decided to return to the gym, he performed exactly the same exercises as he did before, with the same number of repetitions and same weights.

Unfortunately, due to decreased stress tolerance (de-conditioning) his body could not tolerate the intensity of exercise and resulted in a back injury. Fortunately the patient got on top of the injury quickly and has made a good recovery.

3 tips to prevent injuries

Take it slow

I know you're eager to get back to the same level of strength and fitness as you were previously. Remember that your body is less able to tolerate stress like before therefore you need to reduce your training intensity.

I would suggest you lower the weight and focus on form and technique for the first 1-2 weeks. A 30-50% decrease in weight with higher repetitions is a good place to start. Gradually increase the weight over the next few weeks until you are back to your pre-COVID condition.


Recovery exercises are often overlooked by most people because let's face it...they are boring!!

Recovery exercises are an essential part of any training program not only for injury prevention but performance. When your muscles are well rested, they can function properly and give you that added performance.

A simple well-rounded foam roller massage and stretching program that targets the muscle groups being trained is highly recommended.

Change it up

If you are returning to the gym after a period of inactivity, now could be a great time to have a new program designed with your current goals and fitness in mind. You may need a completely different exercise program to address weaknesses or deficits that you are unaware of.

Did you know, that prolonged sitting causes hip tightness and gluteal weakness? This may be an issue that did not exist before isolation. If left unaddressed, can contribute to an injury in the future.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and have taken away a few important tips for injury prevention.

Warm regards