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ePublication of Australian Fitness Network

With every challenge comes at least some element of opportunity. PT and exercise scientist Brooke Turner looks at how to be adaptive and use time away from exercise due to COVID-19, injury, illness or maternity leave, to your professional advantage.



  • The huge challenge of COVID-19 has also provided an opportunity for fitness professionals to assess, adapt and innovate 
  • Having a forced period of rest or de-training followed by a return to fitness can be beneficial for both your career and your clients 
  • Injury, illness or pre/post-natal periods for trainers can compel you try new forms of exercise and put you in the shoes of clients by reminding you how a lower level of fitness feels 
  • Benefits include strengthened relationships with other health professionals, more effective programming and fresh ideas 
  • Use of RPE and fitness checks are beneficial in programming to better understand a client’s exertion and training progress.


2020 has been the most testing year the fitness industry has ever faced. As an industry that thrives off personal face-to-face, small and large group classes and connection, we have had to accept, adapt, and make the most of the unchartered territory. 

From shifting to virtual or outdoor training, to losing clients, income and in some cases businesses, it has been an incredibly trying time. However, it has also provided an experience for growth and development. A chance to sit back and re-think your ‘why’. Opportunities to innovate and adapt. If we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward – and it is this adaptability that makes for a fantastic fitness professional. 

As gyms, studios and fitness businesses begin to gradually re-open, and you begin seeing your old clients and members (and hopefully some new ones too), it is important to consider how the period of downtime and, for many, de-training has affected everyone. 

Not only have our clients and members likely had time off of training or at least experienced a general decrease in physical activity due to social isolation measures, but so have many of us – their trainers and instructors. 

It may sound a little crazy, but returning to exercise following time off of training can actually be a positive thing for fitness professionals to experience. Most personal trainers and group fitness instructors lead by example and have a higher level of fitness and strength than our non-trainer peers, yet we can take our health and physical fitness for granted, not realising how great fit feels until that base level of fitness has been lost. There really is no better feeling than that of being fit, strong and healthy.


“We can take our health and physical fitness for granted, not realising how great fit feels until that base level of fitness has been lost


In addition to the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of other reasons may cause de-training and loss of physical strength and fitness throughout a trainer’s career, including: 

  • injury, surgery and/or rehab relating to a given injury 
  • major illness 
  • pregnancy, post-natal recovery and transition to motherhood 
  • extended travel or time abroad. 

As a trainer, while the training downtime caused by these situations may be frustrating and disheartening, the process of returning to training – both yourself and your clients or participants – can be beneficial to your career. Here’s why:


BENEFIT 1: You get to feel what it’s like to be ‘new’ to fitness

This can give you a better understanding of how a new client feels when starting their training journey. The shortness of breath, poor recovery between sets, feeling heavy on your feet, the lack of strength and endurance, the delayed onset muscle soreness that lasts for days and the mental battle that comes with it. All these things can be forgotten or greatly lessened when you’ve become a well-adapted athlete. You should also be mindful of this in the coming months as you start seeing clients and members return – ease them into their sessions to help avoid injury and use the principle of progressive overload. 

The benefit of returning to training after time away is that it can help you program more effectively and thoughtfully, because you have an increased awareness of how clients and members may be feeling physically during exercise. 

 Your programming can be improved by: 

  • appropriate use of progressive overload and planning of periodisation: ensure you apply this to all clients and members coming back from COVID closures. 
  • starting simpler and smarter: focusing on building sound foundational movement patterns, before progressing to more advanced moves that take strength and control to safely execute, lighter loads, more rest and offering more suitable modifications specific to your client that you may not have previously prescribed. 
  • better monitoring of your client’s rate of perceived exertion to gauge if you need to modify their sessions, increase rest or make them work a little harder. I recommend using a combination of a heart rate monitor if they have one, as well as the Rate of Perceived Exertion (Borg scale) – check what their number is a couple of times each session. 


“Your time away from the gym or studio provides the opportunity to add more strings to your bow – sometimes through choice, and sometimes through necessity


BENEFIT 2: You’re likely to experience different forms of exercise

Whether your experience has been due to COVID, pregnancy, injury, or travel, it is likely that your training has altered. If you’re a trainer who has experienced an injury, rehabilitation programs may see you spending more time in the pool swimming or water walking, cycling instead of running or focusing more on mobility and flexibility rather than strength. If you’ve gone through pregnancy and your own subsequent post-natal return to exercise, you’ll be aware of the need to reduce impact and load during exercise as pregnancy progresses, as well as the modifications needed when resuming training. This may see you participate in a different group fitness class such as water fitness, adopting an amended lower-impact training style like Pilates, or using equipment that you would not usually use, such as resistance bands and cardio equipment. 

The benefit of this is that you have the first-hand experience to recommend other forms of exercise to compliment and vary your client’s programming and help them maximise their results. 

BENEFIT 3: You build relationships with other health professionals

Depending on your reason for having time away from work, your period of downtime may involve seeing other health and wellness professionals such as physiotherapists, psychologists, naturopaths, nutritionists or others. 

The benefit of this is that you can expand your professional network and lay the foundations for future collaboration with individuals that you have gained trust in through first-hand experience of their services. This enables you to confidently refer clients to them when necessary – and vice versa. For example, if you are a trainer working with pre- and post-natal women, having an established relationship with a women’s health physiotherapist (what all post-natal women should see prior to returning to exercise) or a nutritionist can benefit all parties. 

BENEFIT 4: You strengthen your mental grit

The more days you have off from training, the harder it is to get back into your routine. Excuses can become stronger than effort and enjoyment from exercise may diminish. COVID-19, injury or reduced fitness levels following pregnancy challenge you to not only adapt to your environment, but also strengthen your mental grit and mindset and find how moving helps to manage and improve your mental health. 

The benefit of this is that you can consciously factor in your clients’ mental fitness in the training you deliver them. You know how tough it is not only physically, but mentally, to push through fitness barriers. Consider your inner dialogue during training and get your client to become more aware of theirs.


“Excuses can become stronger than effort and enjoyment from exercise may diminish.


Those who don’t live and breathe a healthy lifestyle often see movement as a chore, something they have to do rather than want to do. Offer ways to put a more constructive or positive spin on exercise to help them find it enjoyable rather than a chore. You will be all too familiar with the excuses for avoiding training – too sore, too tired, don’t have time… Chances are, you used some of them as you battled your way back to finding your fitness and love of movement. Use this to your advantage, and if your clients are coming up with them, offer practical solutions based on your own experience (without making it all about you, of course). 

BENEFIT 5: You up your skill set!

From learning how to deliver effective virtual training, or developing a greater understanding of anatomy, stretching and nutrition, to increasing your first-hand awareness of mobility movements and recovery strategies, your time away from the gym or studio provides the opportunity to add more strings to your bow. Sometimes this is through choice, and sometimes through necessity: regardless, it increases your skillset and the value you can provide clients. Your unique experience won’t necessarily make you an expert, but it will teach you lessons that you can transfer to your clients’ programming. 


Australian psychologist Fred Emery said ‘Instead of constantly adapting to change, why not change to be adaptive?’. By continually learning new skills and experiencing new ways of training, communicating and operating, we can do precisely that. The more we do so, the more resilient we become – able to handle whatever the world throws at us. 

As trainers, it is our job to help others move to a mindset of enjoying exercise and movement. Starting from scratch on a strength or fitness journey is never fun, but finding ourselves in this position due to a significant period of de-training provides us with valuable learnings that can help make us better, more empathetic trainers.



Brooke Turner

Brooke is a nutritionist, exercise scientist, personal trainer, writer, presenter and mother of two with over ten years’ experience in the health and fitness industry. Brooke’s programs include her six-week STRIVE program and Happy, Healthy Pregnancy eGuides. Brooke is a believer in striving for a balanced approach to health and fitness and aims to inspire and empower others to see that healthy active living need not be a hindrance, but a habit. / @balancefitnessandnutrition / 


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