The hardest part about returning to the gym is controlling the excitement. We all want to run to our favourite machine or barbell, load up the plates and attempt to smash some personal bests in the first session, but should resist the temptation. Lockdown has been tough and a roller coaster of emotions. It feels surreal to say that 1 year ago we were entering the first of 3 lockdowns. So let’s celebrate, enjoy the moment and get excited to be back in the gym environment.
For me, one of the biggest things I miss is the community. Training in a CrossFit box, there’s a big community spirit and togetherness. I’m sure the vibes will be high the day those gym doors reopen. Obviously the stimulus is different when training at home compared to the gym – so here are some key ways to ensure you get back to gym training in the best possible way.
Setting Yourself Up For Success
One of the biggest contributors to a lack of success in training, is a lack of planning. Stop going into the gym and doing a different workout every single week expecting to see big results. ‘You have to switch it up to shock the body’ is something I am sure you have heard before. In reality, that is not necessarily true. Yes, the body adapts and you have to constantly create new stimulus to ensure consistent progression. However, do not fall into the trap of doing a million different exercises every week.
Stick to a plan and execute that plan. Progress your movement quality first and earn the right to put more weight on the bar. When I say a plan, I don’t just mean a workout plan but nutritional goals, setting calorie targets, daily step targets, water, sleep etc. I like to call these my daily non-negotiables. Tasks that have to be done every day without fail.
Day One Back In The Gym
Once you have the correct plan in place, my best advice is to start slow. With a lot more weight and equipment at our disposal in a gym, the chance of injury is high. The worst thing to happen would be to injure yourself the first week back and be stuck at home while your gym buddies crush their workouts. Having potentially not used heavy weights in a while, allow your body time to adapt to the new stimulus.
Decrease the volume and increase your rest periods – even if you don’t feel like it. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness – the soreness we get from training 1-2 days after) will likely be more intense than before. Include plenty of full rest days in your plan, restricting any urge to go 15 days straight without a rest.
I am a big believer in the upper, lower and full body way of training rather than the push, pull, legs method, which absolutely batters one muscle group. This way, focusing more on compound movements, you get more ‘bang for your buck’ with each workout. For the first week back in to training, I suggest a split of upper, lower, rest, upper, lower, rest, rest or a full body, rest, full body, rest, full body, rest, rest.
How To Ensure Injuries Are Unlikely
As previously mentioned, the risk of injury is likely to be high upon your return to gym training. I cannot stress enough the importance of effective movement prep (warm up) before your workouts. This was something that I neglected for years of my training, it was only when I focused on pre-workout mobilisation, activation, preparation and replication, did I see an increase in overall strength and performance.
With return to the gym, warming up effectively with dynamic movements (thinking to lengthen and shorten the muscles about to be worked) before jumping into our workouts is key. At the end of the day, rest and recovery will be the most efficient way to avoid an injury. Also be sure to prioritise sleep (7-9 hours) and consume a sufficient amount of protein (1g per 1lbs of bodyweight) so the body can recover, repair and therefore grow. This is where regular protein shakes or supplements can really come in handy.
Structuring Your Workouts
Obviously your movement prep comes first. A simple 5-10 minutes is all it takes at the start of your workout. Go through exercises to focus on mobility first, such as shoulder rotations, low lunges, ankle work and hip rollovers. Following that, think about exercises to replicate movements in the workout and activate primary muscles with exercises like walk outs, lunges, straight leg deadlift, squats, push ups, side planks and glute bridges.
Your workouts should then move into some sort of compound strength component (working multiple muscle groups at once) focusing on key movement principles (squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull). I recommend starting off in the 6+ rep range and slowly build back to lower rep ranges.
From there you might bring in a superset (moving through two exercises back to back with no rest). Slowly, you can phase the workouts into higher volume with increasing rep ranges and more intensity.
For the bodybuilders out there this will mean isolation exercises (working one muscle group at a time) and for the functional lifters out there, this will move into more metcon finishers. Most importantly, at those initial stages of gyms opening, whatever you do, keep it light.
Patience Will Pay Off Down The Line
Don’t be frustrated when you can’t hit close to the weight numbers you were lifting before. Firstly, they will come back quickly by sticking to the correct plan in place. And for two, if your home training has been effective the body will adapt even quicker. Be patient and never lose your consistency. These two factors will play a big role in you being back to weekly personal bests performing your best. Controlling your excitement and allowing the body to adapt will pay dividends down the line.
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