It has been a very weird year for fitness. (And everything else!) Many gyms closed and reopened multiple times. We saw at home equipment go completely out of stock. Most of us have lost motivation largely due to our homes becoming the place where we work, eat, sleep, socialize, and exercise. If you have consistently stuck to your fitness routine for the last 365 days, you are in the minority.
However, my inbox has recently begun filling up with people wishing to get back to their fitness routine. The weather is getting warmer. Swimsuit season is approaching. COVID related restrictions are slowly lifting. People are coming to terms with the fact that they can’t just keep waiting for things to fully return to normal.
I am so glad that people are taking the first step towards making fitness part of their lives again! But when returning after such a long hiatus, there are some steps you will want to take and things to keep in mind to ensure that your first weeks back at the gym are smooth and injury free!
Your body will respond to just about any stimulus right now.
If you haven’t worked out in months, anything you do at the gym will be more than your current activity level, right? This means that you need to do very little right now in order to build muscle, gain strength, and boost your metabolism. There is no need to go super hard at the gym right now and doing so will likely do more harm than good. You’ll be able to make progress off of far less volume and intensity than you might be used to. That’s a good thing! That means you can spend less time in the gym doing a less intense workout and you will still get great results. Pushing yourself too hard right now will likely do more harm than good.
Cut the volume in half.
Too much training volume will harm you more than anything else right now. Too much volume will leave you debilitatingly sore and prone to injury. If you’re injured or extremely sore, you won’t be able to train. If you can’t train, we go back to square one. My advice is to cut your normal training volume in half. If you would normally perform 4 sets of squats, perform 2. Spend 30 minutes in the gym instead of an hour. Slowly work your way up to a full training session as you regain your strength and stamina.
Stick to full body days.
Bro splits can be fun. Upper and lower days are great. However, breaking up your training in this way will leave you feeling more sore than necessary. If you perform a leg day, for example, you’ll likely end up performing somewhere between 9-18 sets of exercises for your legs. There is nothing wrong with performing that much volume for your legs on one day if that’s what you have worked up to. But if you’re just coming back from a few months or a year off of training and you destroy your legs with a brutal 15 set leg day, you likely won’t be able to walk the next day. You might be too sore to hit legs again for well over another week. If you stick to full body days, you might perform one leg exercise for two or three sets during each workout. You’ll barely be sore (which is the point) and you will be able to come back and perform another leg exercise two or three days later. In the long run, you will get where you want to be with your training faster with this approach and you’ll experience less pain along the way.
Forget about your old PRs.
It can be disappointing when you step back into the gym after a few weeks, months, or years away and realize that you have lost most of your strength. This discouraging realization can lead trainees to either risk injury by loading too much weight on the bar, or quit their workout entirely. Feeling like you’ve lost all of your progress can be difficult. The good news is that you haven’t lost all of your progress! Muscle memory is a very real thing, and it will take you far less time to rebuild your strength than it did the first time around. Before you know it, you’ll be back to your old personal bests. In the meantime, just worry about whether or not you are stronger than you were last week. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself.
Treat yourself with kindness when returning to the gym. Take things slow. Ease back in during your first weeks, or even months. Start with significantly less volume than you are used to. Reacquaint yourself with the movement patterns. Trust that your body is getting stronger during each session. Remember that often, less is more when it comes to training.
Need help easing your way back into fitness? Fill out my application here and I would be happy to help develop a comeback plan that works for you and your goals! Personalized online coaching is available, as well as personalized in person training sessions for those who are local to Boston, MA!