How To Safely Return To The Gym – Sets, Reps & Tempo

How To Safely Return To The Gym

Gyms are back open as of Sat June 13th. You’re keen. You’re probably more than keen! You’re going to go full bore back into it aren’t you? My suggestion is to plan this return intelligently to minimise your chance of getting injured.

Yeah I know you want to go pull a 1RM deadlift, do some box jumps and do some mental HIIT assault bike work. But ask yourself do you want to do an ankle or shoulder and have to sit out for ANOTHER 12 weeks watching everyone else train? Nope, nope, nope.


Everyone thinks muscles and few people think connective tissue like tendons and ligaments. Tendons and ligaments dramatically assist with muscular extension and contraction. The reality is muscles get stronger at a faster rate than tendons and ligaments. So whilst you’ve been resting your muscles you’ve also been resting the tendons and ligaments. When it comes to developing strength your tendons and ligaments are the runners at the back of the pack struggling to keep up with the race leader, the muscle.

My Suggestions

Start slow. A very simple method that will require very little thought is to simply go from high reps to low reps over the course of 4 weeks.

Eg Block 1

Week 1 – 15 reps – 3010 tempo

Week 2 – 12 reps - 3010 tempo

Week 3 – 10 reps - 3010 tempo

Week 4 – 8 reps - 3010 tempo

This will give the connective tissue time to adapt to ever increasing loads when you go into a more relative strength phase of 6-8 reps.

Slow Tempos Before Fast Tempos

In order to produce force you need to be able to absorb it. This means controlling the weight slowly. Look around any gym and watch the majority of people “bomb drop” the weight down and blow the weight up paying zero attention to tempo.

Something like the following would be a good start if you were to focus on eccentric strength

Beginner lifters – 4010 tempo for 3 weeks on all primary lifts, 3010 and 2010 type tempo’s on assistance lifts

Intermediate Lifters – 5010 or 6010 tempo for 3 weeks on all primary ensuring sets last no longer than 40 secs time under tension ( 5-7 reps ). 3010 and 2010 type tempo’s on assistance lifts

Advanced Lifters – 7010 or 8010 tempo for 3 weeks on all primary ensuring sets last no longer than 40 secs time under tension ( 4-5 reps). 3010 and 2010 type tempo’s on assistance lifts

3-4 sets per exercise and 12-15 sets per muscle group leaning towards lower sets per exercise and lower sets per muscle.

Not only does the slow tempo condition the connective tissue, the slowness of the tempo forces you to use a lighter load than doing the same amount of reps with a fast tempo. So you’re getting a double pay day in terms of minimising the chance of injury.

Methods To Avoid For 6-8 weeks

Forced reps, plyometrics, explosive concentrics, drop sets, giant sets, fast eccentrics, sprint training, jumping, bounding, depth jumps, hops.

Why? They require extremely good connective tissue strength to ABSORB the force needed to explode and be overloaded.

What To Focus On

If you don’t use it you lose it. You’ve most likely been sitting down for way more than you’re used to getting very little steps in and playing no sport so, focus on all the things that deteriorate by doing that :

Core training

Joint mobility prior to training

Aerobic base Training for cardio

Example Lower Body Deadlift Focused Workout


A1) Deadlift of choice – 3-4 working sets – ramped - 8 reps - 4010 tempo – 120 – 180 sec rest

B1) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat Db's– 3 -12 reps - ramped– 3010 tempo – 75 sec rest

B2) Lying Leg Curl – 3 sets - 12 reps – ramped - 3010 tempo – 75 sec rest

C1) Seated Calf Raise – 3 sets – 15 reps – constant weight – 2111 tempo – 60 sec rest

C2) Pull through – 3 sets – 15 reps – constant weight - 2012 tempo – 60 sec rest

D1) Rotational Abdominal Variation – 3 sets – 12 - 25 reps - 60 sec rest

If you have been lucky and have had access to weights and have managed to continue training through out this period then you don’t need to be as cautious but still be wise.

Enjoy your return to the gym!  We've all had an amazing lesson into the importance of exercise in our life.  Lets give it the attention it deserves and do it the smart way.

Training Help

For long term strength training programs check out my online training option HERE

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