Tom, the personal trainer who founded Waite Training in Leeds has many tips to help you get started on working for your fitness goals.
The day we've all been waiting for is finally here! Gyms are opening in England! Many people are thinking about making their return to exercise after the lockdown.
For most of you, this will be the first time you will have had access to equipment in 4 months. So in preparing for that first session back, what should you consider? Here are five tips to help you get started back at the gym.
Recognise Your Achievements
The first thing to remember is that you've been through a global pandemic. The virus has not yet gone away, and your time in the gym might look quite different now compared with how it was before the lockdown began.
Despite this, you've maintained your exercise routine at home - albeit a routine which has had to be adapted to accommodate the limited equipment you've had access to since March. Even just being conscious of your step count has been a significant achievement under the circumstances. It would have been easy to slip into excuses and not think about your health and fitness at all.
Follow The Guidance Of Your Gym
Before you head into the gym, make sure you're well informed about the new expectations. You may be required to wear masks, comply with strict hygiene procedures, adhere to specific social distancing measures, or even to book your training time slot ahead of arriving. Your gym will almost certainly have the expectations displayed around the place and probably will have sent it to you via email too. Make sure that you understand what's required of you to use the equipment and environment properly for your and everybody else's safety.
Manage Your Expectations
When you return to the gym, you may find that there are restrictions on how you are allowed to train. Gyms will have to make sure everybody has ample space to work out, which can be achieved in a few ways. Expect that your gym may limit the number of people in the building, restrict the length of time members can stay on the gym floor or introduce a traffic monitoring and management system. This will mean that the support and encouragement from others will be different; it may even feel quite solitary compared to how it was before.
Even though you did your best to stick to a regular exercise routine during the lockdown, you will likely be unable to lift the same weight you did four months ago. When you go back to the gym, you may notice significant decreases in strength and conditioning or even some soreness in your joints - but don't be disheartened.
Lower the intensity of your workouts for the first two to six weeks back, and build your way back to the strength and intensity you once had. It's not a race, so take your time. You will get back to your previous standards of performance quickly if you work at a sub-maximal intensity and take your time.
The goal of getting back into your training isn't to "make up for lost time" and live in the gym. Doing a bit less than you think you could manage would be preferable to doing too much. Overdoing it in the first month or so will likely set you up to get hurt. Don't risk injury from overtraining or going too heavy, which will extend the period it takes to get back to normal.
Sticking with machines for resistance training could be one method of bringing your strength up slowly and safety, before reintroducing barbells. A good guideline here could be to reduce the weights on a given movement to 40% of what you could lift pre-lockdown, and progressively increase the intensity/weight as weeks go on. Keep an eye on how your muscles and joints are handling the increase each week and also how it affects your recovery. Only progress to the next level if you are comfortable with the intensity by the end of the week. If not, take longer time.
Here's a very simple example of a progression plan:
Practice doing the basics with proper technique and making your gym routine a habit again. This will be particularly important in compound lifts such as bench press, squats and deadlifts. Where possible, aim to use safety arms or power cages for assistance since you won't be able to ask anybody, including staff members, to spot you for a while. Where social distancing allows, perform these compound lifts in a mirrored area or have a trainer watch your form.
Finally, remember to enjoy the process. You have already managed to preserve your health through the pandemic. Making this transition back to the gym will take some perseverance. Still, you will get back to previous levels of strength and conditioning.
For the vast majority of people who are training for their health, there is no need to hit personal bests or max out every session. There's no need to feel disappointed in any reduced performance in the weights room. Just enjoy being back in the gym, appreciate the journey and making a gym-based resistance routine part of your daily life again.