Key Points:

  • Set realistic expectations
  • Use Reps in Reserve
  • Rebuild the habit of working out by combining it with habits you current do.

If you’ve been out of the gym for a while, you’re prob champing at the bit to get back at it.

I mean come on, bodyweight workouts are only so much fun.  There’s really nothing like throwing around some weights.

But how can you start working out again?

You could go all balls to the wall and just jump into the gym or you can have a plan to ramp up volume and intensity.  One will leave you a sore, broken mess and the other will make working out more enjoyable as you see consistent progress while managing soreness as best we can. 

So if you’re in the latter group here’s how I helped my online coaching clients ease back into the gym.  

Buckle up, it’s time to get swole again.


The first thing we should cover are realistic expectations.  It’s a kick in the nuts if the grandiose vision in your head and reality are miles apart.

Let’s start with strength.  Depending on how long you’ve been out of the gym and what you’ve been doing in the interim plays a big role here.  Let’s assume worst case scenario: you were out of the gym for 6 months and your workout routine consisted of walks to the fridge.

Going into the gym and expecting to lift anywhere close to what you were doing before your break would be completely insane.  Know and except you won’t be able to lift as well as you were.  Likewise, endurance is going to be way down.

This is not a problem, we can regain this back.

Now let’s look at what’s going to happen with your body.  Mainly soreness, hunger, fatigue and your weight.  

Soreness – If you haven’t done shit in 6 months even easing into it you’ll experience some soreness.  Even if you were doing bodyweight exercises, lifting weights is a completely different animal.  

Hunger –  You’re burning more calories so your hunger is going to shoot up to compensate for the extra calories burned during your workout.

Fatigue – You’re throwing a lot of stress at your body by lifting weights and your body is out of practice in dealing with it.  So you’ll likely feel more tired in the first couple of weeks.

Weight – In the initial few weeks of a workout program weight seems to plateau.  Does this mean you’re not gaining muscle or losing fat?  No.  It’s your body’s response to the added stress.  There’s inflammation and water retention which is making it look like you plateaued.  You didn’t, your body is trying to figure out WTF is going on and how to adapt.

Now that we know what’s going on under the hood, here’s how to ease yourself back into the gym.


Going to the gym and trying to go 0-100 is like you taking one mixed martial arts class and jumping in the right with Anderson Silva circa 2009.

Rather than getting face kicked by the gym, gradually increase weight and volume as the weeks progress.  

Mentally you’ll be able to hit the ground running but physically you have to allow time for adaptation. 

With that in mind here’s how I have my online coaching clients getting back into it.

Strength – We implemented Reps in Reserve (RIR).  Basically you’re going to lift based on how your body feels.  


I’ll dive into this more in a future post, but the Cliff Note version is instead of going balls out every set, you have a RIR target within a rep range.

So for instance, let’s say you could do 200 lbs for 10 reps on the bench.  On rep 10 you’re giving it a lot of body english and your ass is coming off the bench trying to maneuver the weight up.

^^That would be a 0RIR.  If you were to stop at 6-7 reps then that would be your 3-4 RIR. 

So when it comes to getting back into it, aim for 3-4 RIR for the first couple of weeks, then gradually increase RIR as the weeks progress.

Honestly it’s going to feel like you can do a lot more…and you can.  But that’s the idea.  This way you can ease your body back into lifting by not pushing it too hard resulting in debilitating soreness or injury.  

Cardio – Cardio usually comes back quickly, like in a couple of weeks quickly.  Even still, I would ramp up intensity.


Start with hitting 10k steps.

Then additional treadmill walking.

Then running on the treadmill or outside.

Then HIIT if wanted.

I would commit 2-3 weeks for each step just to let your body acclimate.

Mobility – Last but certainly not least, focus on mobility.  Specifically the back of your body.  Upper back, shoulders, hamstrings.  Odds are if you’ve been working at home your desk isn’t a model of ergonomic excellence.  You’re prob hunched over a desk and everything is getting pulled forward.

To prevent bad posture from fudging up your lifts, spend 5-10 mins before your first lift to really warm up those muscles.  

This is where bands play a YUGE role for my programming.

Facepulls, band spread aparts, band leg curls are all great ways to warm up without taxing your muscles.

My online coaching clients usually have warm ups that look like this.


This would be for an upper body workout.


Now comes the all important question…what should you do for a workout?

To answer this, I’ll ask you the same question I ask all my clients at the very beginning…What can you do consistently?

I don’t give a fuq what you want to do, I wanna know what you can commit to do constantly.  

For most, that’s 3 days per week.  Once you get into the swing of things then we can talk about increasing to 4 days but starting off 3 days/ weeks seems to be the best place.

With 3 days/week I like the Full Body/Upper/Lower split the best.  This way you can hit muscle groups multiple days which increases muscle protein synthesis which is what you want to do if building muscle is your goal.

To couple with the mobility section above, initially I like to focus on back of body.  So that means rows, pulls and hip hinge movements (like RDLs) to help strengthen and offset all the sitting we all do too much of.

If you want to get into the nitty gritty or exercise selection, jump over to this article where I outline (and give templates) for how I program workouts.


The final piece of the puzzle and arguably the hardest is getting back into the routine of working out consistently.

For this, I like to use something from Atomic Habits by James Clear called habit stacking.

Habit stacking is a way to increase the chances of a habit, in our case hitting the gym consistently.  Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit. This connectedness with current habits enhances the chances of the new habit sticking.

As a quick example here’s my morning before I setup my garage gym.

Wake up @5

Coffee while reading or surfing the internet


Day job

After my gym equipment, I subbed working in for my walk and it looks like this:

Wake up @5

Coffee while reading or surfing the internet

Working out

Day job

I didn’t have to set aside special time, add anything new in or get up earlier.  Just a quick switch with things I already have a habit of doing.  No bubbles, no troubles.  


Getting back into the gym can be a great experience or be the 3rd circle of Dante’s hell.  Just about all my online coaching clients have transitioned back into the gym from being off for almost 6 months seamlessly.  

Stop Googling “how to start working out again” and follow the plan I layed out for you above and your comeback will be just as smooth as theirs.

If you want a customized plan to help you get back into the gym, apply for online coaching.