Learn everything there Is to know about fItness, performance, fat loss and lifestyle from Adrian McDonnell.
The long awaited return is almost over! Gyms are getting ready to open their doors for the first time in 2021 tomorrow.
As exciting and all as this might be, figuring out how to start working out again after a long layoff can be a challenge.
You can be forgiven if you fell off your regular training routine these past six months. And while the temptation might creep in to rush the process of returning to strength training with all guns blazing, going too hard too fast is an easy way to injure yourself.
That is why it’s important to set yourself up for success & not failure. Here’s how:
1. Settings Unrealistic Expectations
Inevitably, the post-lockdown gym environment is going to look and feel different with people wearing masks and social distancing measures in place – and your body will likely have changed too.
A six month lay-off from the gym is twice as long as most off-seasons in GAA. If you played your last club game at the end of September, would you expect to have the same level of fitness come March time without any training? Probably not unless you continued a similar training schedule over the off season.
Now, let’s apply the same concept to the gym – particularly in relation to strength training. If you haven’t lifted a heavy weight in six months, it’s perfectly normal to have lost some strength, endurance and muscle mass.
So, if you find yourself worrying about how to start exercising again, the good news is that having a few months off doesn’t mean your previous hard-earned results are completely down the drain. However, you’ll likely be somewhat de-conditioned and you may not be at the same level as you were previously.
When you do return to the gym, forgive yourself if you’re not able to lift the same kind of weights you were doing six months ago. Bodyweight and light dumbbell workouts are extremely effective for conditioning. Maybe your conditioning levels are even better than what they were before lockdown!
But, in terms of strength, the most optimal way to get stronger is to lift heavy weights. And if you haven’t lifted heavy in six months, it will take a few weeks of training to build it back up – which leads me onto my next point.
2. Focus On Building Strength, Not Testing Strength
I wish I followed this advice when I was in second year in college.
I used to be the guy who would shake out my shoulders, warm up on 60Kg on the bench and then go straight into testing out my one rep max! Anyone else relate to this?
As I attempted to lift my max weight, I’d look like I’m about to have a seizure until I’d get buried by the bar! After failing a rep, I’d then mindlessly move onto the next exercise (bicep curls or different machines!) and call it a day on the bench press.
I was a classic example of someone who was solely focusing on testing my strength. Once in a blue moon, I did hit a new PR, but for the most part, my numbers stayed the same.
Why? Because I was testing my strength, not building my strength.
Suppose I performed 8 reps at 60Kg and then went straight up to 80Kg for a max effort attempt but failed. That is a total of just 8 working reps for the bench press I completed in that session.
Compare that to what I should’ve done - a traditional hypertrophy rep range of 3x10 = 30 total reps.
If you were also to do this for 4 solid weeks, you would have 120 vs 32 total reps performed by the end. Do you see the difference?
Don’t be the 20-year-old meathead like me who hops straight under a barbell and perform a max effort lift straight away. Instead, focus on building your strength. Get plenty of reps and plenty of volume in.
Don’t fail any reps and leave a rep in the tank. Do this consistently and guess what happens when you do test your strength? Your numbers will go up.
I cannot emphasise the importance of this enough – have some patience and you’ll build your strength levels back up in a couple of weeks. In fact, if you have been training for a while or had been training hard pre-lockdown, chances are you already have decent muscle memory.
In other words, it won’t take you near as long to build back up your strength levels if you had been doing it consistently before the pandemic – which leads me onto my last point.
3. Don't Try Do Everything All At Once
I remember back in 2018 when I was training for a marathon, from May all the way through to September, I had not done any marathon specific running.
After a 15-week layoff, I thought it would be a good idea to jump straight into a half marathon! To this day, that was the hardest run that I’ve done because I was so deconditioned.
Ironically, I didn’t do another run again for another four weeks – partly because I started to get shin splints again.
The takeaway? As I previously alluded to, a common cause of injury is doing too much too soon.
If you haven’t trained for any longer than 20 minutes recently, it might not be the best approach to walk into the gym and crush an hour long “HIIT” workout.
What I would recommend for the first 3-4 weeks is to do a combination of upper, lower or full body workouts instead of body-part splits. By body-part splits, I’m talking about the classic chest on a Monday and back and biceps on a Tuesday etc.
Why do I recommend against traditional body-part splits? Just like the bench press, doing upper, lower or full body workouts will allow you to get more reps and volume in compared to hitting just one muscle group a day. This is a great way to improve your technique on all the main lifts and to condition your brain as much as your body in getting back into the groove of training consistently.
Finally, another reason you shouldn’t try and do everything at once is you’ll almost definitely feel an increase in post-workout muscle soreness – the infamous DOMS.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is that aching (but somewhat enjoyable!) pain you get the day or even two days after a workout. If you’ve ever done a hard leg session and the day, or often two days after you’re struggling to walk up a flight of stairs, this is as a result of DOMS.
You experience more DOMS when you start a new program and change up your workout routine so just be warned – you’ll likely have more DOMS the first week you’re back in the gym training!
Be sure to incorporate goals and more importantly, have someone there to hold you accountable who’ll help you stay motivated and focussed on your training.
References: Jones, L (2020): “Getting Back Into the Gym.”
What To Do Next:
If you found this post beneficial, then join my Free Facebook Group for more training tips.
If you’d like a coach to help put a return to gym game plan in operation for you, then book your free consultation call today to see if you’d be a good fit for my Online Coaching.
Having the structure and accountability you need to get the results you’ve always desired will make your journey much easier and quicker.
What’s the purpose of the consultation call?
To deep dive into your health & exercise history, your goals and current struggles and from there decide if we’d be able to work together (note – I am not the right coach for everyone which is why I have consultation calls with potential clients of mine).
If we are a good fit, we can get working on your personalised program so you can finally make the changes you’ve always wanted.
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