We've all heard the old gym phrase, "No Pain, No Gain". Well, there's some truth to that, but things have changed in the fitness world since those words were first coined. Sure, in order to encourage muscle growth and strength we do need tax the muscle. But there's a fine line between "the burn" we feel when we've really worked the muscle to its limit and injury.
In my gym, we used to say, "Stimulate, don't anihilate". We want to stimulate the muscle for further growth, not anihilate it rendering it unusable for a period of time. Unfortunately I would often see the latter when people would come in to begin their New Year's Resolutions. Of course I never want to discourage anyone's enthusiasm when they're embarking on their new fitness routine, however I'm a pragmatist. And as a pragmatist I want people to come back to the gym to work out another day rather than being laid up at home with an injury because they over did it at the gym.
Remember, the muscle is usually stronger than the connective tissue (ie. tendons and ligaments), and it's the connective tissue that usually gets injured in the gym. So when returning to the gym after a long layoff the connective tissue needs to be strengthened just as much as the muscle does. So go easy on the weight you're lifting at first. Allow the tendons and ligaments to get up to speed before you increase the load. Start with higher repetitions seeking the "pump" in the muscle rather than trying to impress everyone with how much you can bench press. After a few weeks add additional weight gradually. I once read an article about Arnold Schwarzenneger and how he trained during his Mr. Universe days. Arnold said that he would increase the weight on his exercises by as little as 5 pounds. The additional 5 pounds was enough to STIMULATE a response from the muscle, but not so much that he would risk injury. No one wins Mr. Olympia sitting on the couch nursing an injury.
So whether you're just getting back into the gym after an extended "gymcation" or you ARE training to be the next Mr. Universe, remember to STIMULATE your muscles to gain additional strength and size. There's no need to ANNIHILATE them and risk injury or incur such severe muscle soreness it renders you immobile.
Here's to your health!