Making A Comeback: Returning To The Gym With A Purpose

Making A Comeback: Returning To The Gym With A Purpose

This week has been one hell of a roller coaster ride.

First, news of fitness centers reopening. Yay!

Then, a center that I serve at chooses to keep fitness training held back.


Pissed as I am, mind as well channel that energy into something productive. This is for you, my long lost clients. Fitness must go on, with or without a trainer.

A Strategic Comeback

There was a long queue outside of Louis Vuitton and Gucci when I was in The Gardens over the weekend. “Revenge spending” in action?

Not sure.

However, judging from forum comments and chat groups, “revenge training” is coming.

“The gym better be ready with puke buckets and ambulances because the only time i’m leaving the gym is after I bicep curled 3 months worth of missed bicep curls.”

Commendable, but far from the strategy i’ll be employing with my clients.

We don’t often we get a second chance at “resolutions” in a year, so let’s do it right. Here’s are 2 rules I’m adhering to in designing clients’ “comeback” programs.

Rule 1: Plan Long Term

The goal with my training has always been to get clients stronger, defined as the ability to to perform more weights, more volume (sets and reps), and with better technique. Even if it’s just a tiny gain, the differences seen and felt are drastic

Bodyweight? To maintain, lose or gain weight depends on the client. They tell me how they’d like to look aesthetically, and we come up with a solution. The solution usually involves some form of subtle caloric manipulation, because a crazy reduction from baseline food intake is unsustainable.

The overarching theme here is long term. Focusing on small lifestyle shifts that over time, produce asymmetrically large, lasting steps towards fitness goals.

“Fitness doesn’t have to consume your life to transform it” is a clichéd ending I use in most of my talks.

Missing out on the past 3 months doesn’t mean you have to chase it back in the next 2 weeks. Going back to pre-covid training intensity is a disaster waiting to happen. So, here’s a quick guide to programming your training:-

Week 1: Train 3 days a week, with a day gap in between sessions. Perform 3 sets of each movement you plan to include in your training over the next 6 weeks. Perform till about 4 Reps in Reserve.

Week 2-3: Train 3-4 days a week, ideally some gap in between sessions (e.g., Mon Tue Thu Sat). You can add an extra set (from 3 to 4) to the some of the movements you perform. Perform till about 3 reps in reserve.

Week 4-5: Similar to week 3, but you can bring sets closer to 2 or 1 reps in reserve.

Week 6: After accumulating volume and intensity for the previous 5 weeks, your body should be more primed tobe pushed to it’s limits. Aim for 0 reps in reserve. Get a spotter for riskier compound movements (squat, bench press). Theoreticaly, after 5 weeks of build up, you should be able to handle more intensity, however, in certain cases, fatigue may have built up rendering that impossible. Be mindful of that and adjust weights according to how you feel.

Week 7: Deload. Train at 60-70% of your weight, and 50% volume to recover for the next cycle.

New Week 1: You should be able to lift more than your previous week 1 when you try to hit 4-5 Reps in Reserve.

Protip: Write this shit down. Use a physical note book or just track it in your phone. Unlike “no pain no gain” or “you are what you eat”, “what gets measured gets improved” is one of those rare cliches that work in fitness.

Rule 2 Self inquiry

3 important questions to explore: What do I need? What do I enjoy? Why am I doing this?

Best explained through examples:

1. What do I need?

My medical report says I need to put on muscle mass to assist with my weak knees. I also need to lose 5kgs, although I can never quite sustain a strict diet.

2. What do I enjoy?

I really enjoy hiking and taking walks! I was going twice a week until my knees started worsening.

Up to this point, Q1 and Q2 are sufficient to create a KICKASS plan that can achieve all the client’s wants and needs. Cliff Notes: Knee friendly, lower body strength/ hypertrophy work, 20% caloric deficit but still include client’s favorite foods. With time, incorporate walking and hiking at low intensity on her rest days.

However, to solidify this, Q3.

3. Why am I doing this?

Other interpretations of this question: “Why change?”, “Why better my fitness?”, “Why build muscles?”, “Why lose weight?”.

On the surface, sure, it’s health, but there’s always a deeper seeded need that requires fulfilment—Love, security, salvation, self-regard, choice, community, peer recognition, sexual fulfilment, desirability, control… pick your poison.

Here’s mine: I’ve never felt like I “mattered“.

I thought lifting weights (or achieving anything) was going to solve this and all of my problems. But it doesn’t matter how I look, if I don’t figure out how to accept myself for who I am, I will never “matter”.

I’m merely escaping from one body to to another.

While I’m still in the midst of figuring this out (not sure if it’ll ever end), the worst is behind me.

What I saw in myself, I now see in my clients. Our obsession with “being the best version of ourselves” has taken away space for enjoyment.

The societal narrative of “go to the gym, exercise, be healthy” is great. But for many, the reality is that exercise—a “tool” to enable us to pursue the more important stuff—has now filled up the time and space that was meant for the important stuff.

Step outside the crossfit box. Your fitness routine doesn’t define you.

We should have priorities besides just “going to the gym” and lifting. You have reasons you want to be fit, look good, build muscles, lose fat. What are those reasons? Because whatever you’re lifting for, make sure we don’t sacrifice it for the sake of lifting.

Our lack of freedom has been harshly exposed over the past 3 months, these questions need to be explored.

There was this member at the gym, he came to me with backpain. He’s at the gym 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day. After thorough assessment, I concluded that he was overtraining.

He admitted it, too, “I think I’m spending too much time at the gym, I should spend more time with my family.”

2 days later, he died of a car crash on a business trip.

That’s the first time I’ve ever cried at a funeral of a non-family member.

The fitness industry is lifechanging, but in the process, we have to ask “what are we changing our life for?”

Training shouldn’t just make you fit for the sake of being fit, it’s larger than that, it is to enable, and enabling means building your capacity to pursue your “real” goals.

Building a better body may help with your self-regard, recognition, security, love, and confidence to ask your crush on a date, but it’s still only step 1.

If it doesn’t get you to step 2, somewhere along the road, something went wrong.

For the sake of your happiness, be honest, “Why?”

For the client in Q1 and Q2, her desire for freedom was finally met in a successful hiking trip in Japan.


“Why so serious? Training only what, need to ask ‘why’, ‘real goals’ one meh?”

Perhaps I’m getting old. Is this the proverbial mid-life crisis?

Whatever it is, these past 3 months have been a deep personal exploration into what it means to be a Coach. Through 15 classes of ICF certified program, with future coaches from various fields, I realized how much more impact I can enact by being more than an “advice giving” fitness coach.

I’m not fully qualified (yet! 13 more classes to go), but if you’re willing to have a go being coached by a junior, do drop me an email at

At the time of writing (12th June 2020), we’re not completely out of the woods, yet. Stay safe, everyone.

† To clarify, as trainers, we are in no position to advice you on what your “real” goal should be, and arguably, shouldn’t care what it is. But with that knowledge (or even just a glimpse of it), we can more effectively align training sessions with that goal.

Also, the argument is that doing it for an “end goal” will take the fun out of it. Highly agreed, hence, we incorporate Question 2: “What do I enjoy?” to balance this out. The destination is important, but so is the journey.

2 thoughts on “Making A Comeback: Returning To The Gym With A Purpose

  1. my goal is to achieve total financial freedom! stonks-a-wae yeah!

    jokes aside, awesome insight on the self inquiry part. should’ve got this advice from you sooner


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