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Getting Back to The Gym After Years with No Training

Whether you went to the gym and had to stop because of the pandemic, an injury, or you quit a sport, getting back into training or the gym becomes even harder than normal. You don’t stand with the same strength you used to have or the same confidence. It’s scary, intimidating and disheartening. But, it’s possible; you just have to put in the work

I went through a similar experience in which I had been doing a sport 24/7 and then quit training for it and working out altogether. After years of no substantial activity, I resolved to get my old strength back.

So, I present to you my qualifications:

  • I was a national swimmer doing Artistic Swimming (formerly known as Synchronized Swimming)  
  • I was an athlete for eight years
  • I coached my sport for five years
  • And I got major burnout from it

The sport I was doing had us training 45 hours a week, from 6:30 am to 11:00 am, five days a week. It’s no wonder I got burnout. After the eleventh grade, I had stopped swimming for two years. Then I went cold turkey and stopped working out altogether.

During the entirety of those two years, I had an itch to go to the gym or swim but wouldn’t let myself. I gave excuses, saying I wouldn’t be good enough and using the classic pandemic excuse to avoid it. I lost a lot of muscle, strength, progress, and confidence over the two years I spent without movement.

But, with restrictions in Ontario having been lifted slightly, along with the people I’ve surrounded myself with (some real gym bro types), I’ve finally done it and gone to the gym. And let me tell you, it sucked at first. The feeling you get when you go back (either to the gym or a sport), knowing that you were once capable of performing at a higher level but physically can’t anymore, is extremely disheartening.  

I knew I could do heavy-weighted exercises; part of Artistic Swimming is lifting and throwing people out of the water. But I couldn’t anymore. I was back at square one, working on basics and using light weights.

But, here’s the thing. It’s okay to take a break and get back to something, and to be worse at it in the beginning of your return. Life is full of ups and downs and that’s just the way it is. Changing my mindset to how I was going to approach “starting over” has been the toughest hurdle. Building everything from a foundation up was even harder. I just wanted my old strength back!

I started out slow, going to the gym at least three days a week and building upon foundational skills, along with making sure to do lower, upper, and full-body cycles. I set these goals to work around the time restraints in my life, as well as to account for my body not being used to training anymore. It was only after about seven weeks of the same routine that  I stepped it up. I included more explosive movements, heavier weights and hypotrophy movements to build muscle.

The first time I saw progress was when I realized I could do more reps, managing to do 15 without tiring out. I tried a higher weight with the goal of 10 reps, and though it was way harder, I managed to achieve the rep count. I was elated to see progress! Not necessarily in visible muscle growth, but rather, just to see that I was in some way stronger.

The entire progress was slow. There were no shortcuts, and returning to activity is a never-ending experience with no clear end goal. But, if I can do it, so can anyone else. There is progress to be made, and you can get back your strength; there’s just no quick remedy for it. Start out small, and don’t expect to do similar rep counts or weights like you used to.


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Hi there! I'm Stefania. I'm a second-year English major at Western University. I love writing poetry, editorials and short stories. When I'm not writing, I love reading (most of the time when I shouldn't be), anime, working out and cuddling my cat Bea.
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