At some point in the near future (hopefully), gyms in our area will reopen.

Based on the discussions I’ve had in-person and seen on social media, they’re going to be flooded with returning members. Combine that with the influx of visitors to the area we normally see this time of year, and they’re bound to be bustling.

It is a near-certainty your future gym experience is going to look a little different than it did pre-COVID-19. There may be limits on capacity, enhanced cleaning protocols, measures in place to encourage social distancing and who knows what else.

While there probably won’t be a lot you can do about whatever protocols happen to be in place, you can control what your workouts look like when you return.

Here are a few things that may be helpful to think about.

What’s your plan if you can’t return to your normally scheduled workout time?

If your gym is swamped from 5:30-8 a.m., but they are forced to limit their capacity and you miss the sign-up, how will you handle that? What changes will your schedule allow? Can you go after work instead of before? How about on your lunch break?

What if you aren’t able to go on your normally scheduled days?

Can you tweak your home or work schedule with respect to the days of the week you go? Are weekends a possibility? Can you find a home workout routine to supplement your missed gym time?

Aside from disease prevention protocols, what can you personally do to limit your risk of exposure to any kid of illness?

Making sure you clean your equipment both before and after use provides every member with a safer environment. Relying on staff members to keep up may not be a wise move, as they are likely to be really hustling from open to close. Washing your hands several times in a 1-hour session would be a great idea. And yes, I’m going to say it; wear a mask if you’re in an indoor facility with limited air flow. Forceful expiration seems to be a factor in disease spread, so covering up protects both you and others. Think of it like good gym etiquette. I’d put it right up there with ‘Thou shalt re-rack thy weights when finished’.

If you’re symptomatic, will you stay home?

In the past, I have personally called my physician when I’m feeling some kind of crud coming on to ask some form of ‘I’m feeling kind of crappy, but can I still work out?’ Typing “can I exercise when I’m sick” into Google returns 59 million results, so I must not be alone. If there were any doubt before, I’d say the answer now is, when in doubt, stay home until your symptoms are gone. You’re not going to lose any significant ground if you have to take a few days or a week off.

I’ll leave you with a final question: If you haven’t been working out much in the past couple of months, what is your plan to set your body up for a successful return? When I’ve treated patients in the past who are off their normal regiment for awhile and then try to jump right back in to what they were doing before, they’re often surprised by how difficult their previous routine is.

Depending on your training experience and overall fitness, it might be a good idea to start back at 50-75% of your previous volume for the first couple of weeks. After all, it would really stink to jump in full-bore, strain a body part, then have to lay off for another few weeks as you let things heal.

If you were a consistent six day per week gym-goer, it may be wise to start with four days/week for the first two weeks, then progress towards your previous number of days. If you were benching pressing 100 pounds for sets of ten, you might start with 60-70 pounds for the same number of reps.

I know the temptation will be there to hit it hard as soon as we’re allowed to return, but I hope you’ll consider taking a few weeks to ramp back up to your previous regimen.

In the long run, you’ll most likely be thankful you did.