Return of the gym!

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We all know what its like. The gyms have been shut for months and we’re eager to get back and get training. I’m as guilty of this as everyone – first session back and we’re trying to take on the world!

It’s key at this point that we plan our return to reduce injury risk, reduce soreness, and implement a plan that will provide long-term benefits.

Lets break down some of the key areas for consideration;

Cardio: Now unless you’ve been diligent with your cardio training during lockdown, now is not the time to jump in with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as a starting point.

HIIT training consists of bouts of near max effort exertion, followed by periods of rest as your heart rate recovers in between bouts. We can look into HIIT training in more depth over the coming months, as I very rarely see this type of training being done correctly. For a start, if you’re not using a Heart Rate Monitor to judge your rest periods, it’s unlikely you are doing this training method effectively.

This training is intense and places a high demand on the body both during and after the workout. Without a good base of fitness, this training load will place too much of a demand on the body, having a negative impact on other parts of your training and recovery.

So your programme back should prioritise building a base of fitness using aerobic training. This is steady, ‘slow’ paced cardio training keeping your heart rate at around 70% of your maximum heart rate. If you are interested in getting a heart rate monitor, my recommendation is the polar H10 (check out our kit & tech page). If you don’t have one, aerobic training is around a 7/10 on the effort scale, and you should be able to finish a sentence without pausing for breath whilst exercising.

You should be including 2, perhaps 3 aerobic sessions a week, each one lasting around 45 minutes.

Stick to this for the first few months before introducing HIIT into your programme.

Weight training: The warm up. Making sure you start your sessions with a warm up is always crucial but even more so as we enter back into the gym.

A warm up many years ago was simply 5-10 mins on a piece of cardio equipment to raise heart rate and blood flow. Although I’m not against this at all, your warm up needs to be more specific than this. 

You need to mobilise the areas you are about to work. This doesn’t need to be a 15-minute yoga flow routine! But some simple drills will prep the area needed.

For the upper body, some banded shoulder dislocates, banded pull aparts, thoracic extension/rotation, and don’t shoots are a good starting point to mobilise the upper body ready for some weight training.

For the lower body, hip mobility is key and some basic hip opening exercises such as ‘opening and closing the gate’ are a great place to start.

Weight training: The workout. Continue the warm-up by practicing one or two sets of the exercise you are about to do on a light weight. This grooves the movement and continues the warm up process.

When starting back, the top weight you should be lifting during each set should be at most 50% of what you were lifting pre-lockdown. This is a ballpark, and you should always err on the side of less.

Soreness after your first few gym sessions can be extremely painful, and will limit what you can do for the rest of the week. Soreness isn’t a great indicator of how good a workout is. If soreness if limiting or effecting subsequent gym sessions, then it’s too much and you have overdone it! Less is more when starting back.

Lifting to failure: This is a topic we will dive into more depth in the future, as it’s an interesting area to explore. The main point is that you don’t need to lift to failure to elicit strength or muscle growth. There are times where training to failure can and should be done, but especially in these early stages back, not lifting to failure is critical.

Always make sure you have at least 3 reps in reserve (RIR). As with everything at this stage, err on the side of ‘less is more’.

Progressions: Add 5-10% each week onto your lifts in these early stages. Do so if your soreness was manageable, your form was solid, and you had at least 3 reps in reserve.

Goal setting: If your goal is to lose weight, prioritise nutrition first and then add in resistance training 3x weekly once you’re confident with your diet plan. Once you’re confident with your resistance work, add in aerobic cardio 2x weekly (as discussed previously), then after a period of time, you can look to add/swap in HIIT if needed.

If your goal is to build some muscle post lockdown, prioritise whole body sessions 3x weekly rather than ‘bodybuilder’ style workouts where you are focusing on specific muscle groups in each workout. This will mean you train the same muscles at least twice weekly which is better for muscle growth, especially in the early stages of returning back where your training volume doesn’t need to be as high.

Conclusion. Whatever your goal, remember that long-term weight loss, muscle gain, or fitness improvements come from consistency over a period of time. Killing yourself in week 1 will not help, and in fact, could set you back weeks! Start slowly, and progress gradually!

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