Lockdown has kept most of us out of the gym. Some people have stayed busy by doing workouts at home, but many have not. Of those who did manage to exercise during quarantine, most were limited to bodyweight-only workouts.
It’s important to note that during this time, some detraining and loss of muscle and fitness were inevitable - that’s what inactivity and sedentarism do to your body.
The good news is that lockdown is being eased, and it won’t be long until you can return to your beloved gym if you haven’t already done so.
But, before you go rushing back and try to take up exactly where you left off, take a moment to think about the best way to ease yourself back into training.
After all, if you do too much too soon, especially after a lengthy layoff, the least you can expect is some genuinely epic DOMS! You could also end up injured, which, after such a long-enforced layoff is the last thing you need!
Here’s how to avoid making your post-lockdown return to training any more painful than it needs to be.
1. Forget the past – for now
Don’t base your gym comeback on what you did before lockdown. After a few months of easy living, your body is not ready for that level of stress.
Instead, adopt a beginner’s mindset and use workouts and training methods aimed at novices. Also, forget about the weights you lifted or the intense HIIT workouts you used to do – you can’t compare your past performance with where you are currently.
The good news is that, because of muscle memory, you’ll cruise through these beginner level workouts and will soon be back to where you were before lockdown. Use the next few weeks of training to rebuild your fitness foundation so that you can create a bigger peak over the coming months. Don’t aim to match your previous achievements, but to exceed them!
2. Warm-up and mobilize – a lot!
Before you jump into any kind of workout, make sure you spend plenty of time warming up and mobilizing your muscles and joints. If you’ve been mostly sedentary over the last few weeks or months, you will have stiffened up. Jumping straight into deep squats, dumbbell flyes, Romanian deadlifts, and other large range of motion exercises could result in injury.
Instead, extend your warm-up and make sure it includes exercises specifically designed to restore lost mobility. Bodyweight mobility circuits are ideal for this.
Try the following warm up circuit to get you feeling mobile and warm, and don’t be surprised by the end if you’re also feeling quite tired! Take your time and slowly increase your range with each repetition.
1. Prisoner sumo squats x 15
2. Prisoner good mornings x 15
3. Dive bomber push-ups x 10
4. Band pull aparts x 10
5. Lateral lunges x 10 per leg
6. T push-ups x 5 per side
7. Bulgarian split squats x 10 per leg
8. Standing wall angels x 10
9. Hip thrusts x 10
10. Skydivers x 10
For a week or two, you may even find that warming up is all the workout you need. That’s ok; restoring lost mobility and flexibility is the first and arguably the most crucial step to making your gym return as painless as possible.
3. Nutrition & Diet
Before getting back into the gym, you need to make sure that you’re fueled correctly not only for your sessions, but more importantly for your recovery. Remember that recovery comes not only from rest, but also your diet - if you haven’t been eating well during isolation, you need to get started before getting back into full training mode.
Focus on lean protein sources, healthy wholegrain carbs, healthy fats, and a lot of veggies. If you need that extra protein hit or a filling snack on the go, instead of candy, grab a Lust Protein Bar or have a protein shake using OxyWhey lean whey protein or IsoPept Zero. These clean protein sources will make sure you have the required amino acids for repair and recovery, so that you can focus on getting back into your workouts.
4. Focus on frequency and not intensity
After weeks of being confined to your home, you’ll be more than ready to get back in the gym and return to training. Don’t make your first workout an all-in marathon. Instead, limit yourself to just 20-30 minutes after your warm-up.
The aim of the game is to end your workout feeling like you could have done much more.
Then, tomorrow, do it all again.
Frequent but relatively easy workouts will get you back to full fitness faster than long, intense, but less frequent workouts.
Don’t do the exact same workout from one day to the next. Instead, employ some variation while still working all of your major muscles each time you train.
For example, if you do squats on Monday, do leg press on Tuesday, lunges on Wednesday, take a rest on Thursday, hack squats on Friday, step-ups on Saturday, rest on Sunday, and then repeat.
Don’t worry about overtraining; you won’t be working hard enough for that. Instead, you are simply dividing your normal split workout training volume out across an entire week.
5. No training systems!
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that training systems like drop sets and forced reps will help you get back into shape sooner. They’ll probably have the opposite effect. These sorts of methods cause massive microtrauma, which is bad enough when you are in good shape. When you haven’t been training, using these methods will lead to the worst DOMS of your life!
For the next few weeks, focus exclusively on straight sets, such as three sets of 10, 12, or 15. And speaking of sets, three should be more than enough. Stop each one 2-3 reps short of failure.
After 3-4 four weeks of this sort of remedial training, you can start taking your last set to failure, and maybe adding a few extra sets to your workouts. However, slow progress is the key to maintaining your momentum. If you let your enthusiasm run away with you, you are much more likely to hit a wall and end up too sore or injured to train.
6. Go easy in the impact
Don’t be tempted to try and make up for your easy strength workouts with intense cardio – it can be just as damaging to your body. Running, sprinting, and jumping are hard on your joints, and even more so after a layoff.
By all means, start getting back into cardio but take it easy on the impact. Instead, spend more time on low impact activities such as cycling, swimming, rowing, elliptical trainers, and steppers. They’re every bit as effective as running but are much easier on your body.
After weeks spent on your sofa watching Netflix, you won’t just have lost strength and fitness, you’ll have lost flexibility too. Tight, short muscles are much more prone to injury, so you need to win back that lost flexibility as soon as possible, and that means stretching.
In the same way you extended your warm-up, extend your cool down too. Spend 15-20 minutes stretching every major muscle so that, by the end of your workout, they feel loose and relaxed.
Then, on the days you don’t work out, make sure you stretch everything again. It’s going to take a concerted effort to restore lost flexibility, but the sooner you get it done, the more productive your workouts will be.
8. Re-establish your healthy habits
With no gym to go to, you may have fallen into some less than healthy habits during the lockdown period. For example, you may have swapped eight hours of quality sleep for Rick and Morty marathons, fruit for candy, water for soda, or yogurt for ice cream.
If you want your workouts to be productive, it’s time to give your entire lifestyle an overhaul and bring back all the healthy habits you need to support your training. After all, what exercise takes out of your body, healthy habits put back in.
Focus on the big three of sleep, nutrition, and hydration. Get those in order, and everything else should naturally fall into place.
It’s perfectly normal to feel like you have lost your training mojo during the COVID-19 crisis. You’ll have lost fitness and strength, fallen off the workout wagon, and may have even picked up some unhealthy habits, like drinking more alcohol than you know you should.
This is all perfectly understandable during this unprecedented time.
But, as things start to return to normal, it’s time to get back on the horse, return to the gym, and start earning back your fitness, strength, and health.
Yes, it will take time, especially if you spent the last few months being mostly sedentary. But, you did it before, and you can do it again.
The good news is it’ll be even easier the second time around!
So, make a start, but don’t rush it. Instead, ease yourself back into training and increase workout duration and intensity gradually over the coming weeks and months. That way, it won’t be too big a shock to your body or your mind, and your comeback will be all the more enjoyable because of it.