Lockdown Is Easing… Time To Go Back To The Gym!

by Jai Sappal


The End (of Lockdown) is Nigh!

We know it’s been a crazy time over the last few months being in lockdown with no way to get to the gym. It’s tough! We at Peak Health are right there with you. We know how keen you are to get back, but we also want to remind you it’s easy to be too enthusiastic and want to do everything again the same as you used to. The problem is – even if you have been training, chances are it has looked a little different to what you were doing when you were at the gym, whether that is some awesome HIIT classes, or heavy lifting, or anything in between. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable to the loading we put through them so you would have become conditioned to what you have been doing during lockdown, rather than what you were doing before. Which also means, I’m afraid, that if what you were doing during lockdown was “not much”, then that is unfortunately what your body is conditioned for right now…

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the (Exercise)

There are a few factors to consider when deciding how you want to return to your sport/activity of choice. Have you kept in the same shape as when you first started, or would you say you’re in less than optimal condition to continue at the same intensity you were before? If you want to say yes, but your back is saying “dude, you’re lying” then it’s probably time for some preseason training.

You’re the Apple of My (CORE!)

A large part of your sense of balance and movement comes from the core. If you’re currently struggling reaching for the remote to tell Netflix that you’re still watching, then it might be unrealistic to return to a full match of squash or go into the ring and spar with one of your mates without a higher risk for injury. Here are a couple of little exercises that you can try:

  1. Planks: Aim to build up your time. Try aiming for 30 seconds at first and progress yourself accordingly. This is a big foundational exercise

  2. Side-planks: You can try these from the knees if from the feet is too difficult

Exercise is super specific though, after doing these the next step would be to look at what it is you are wanting to get back to and regressing it (making it easier).

(HIIT) Me With Your Best Shot

Oh it’s time to go back to 6 days a week of high intensity interval training after having the last few months of only going on walks? NO! Check yourself before you wreck yourself. It’s important to give yourself and your body time to adjust to return to the same exercises you used to do. If you go back to the same schedule right away after not having done it for months, you’re setting yourself up for failure (and probably injury). Ease into it. Rather than doing 6 days a week of HIIT training, start with 2-3 sessions a week to allow your body to adjust to the new stress. It only takes a few weeks of stopping exercise to lose the gains that you worked hard for. However, as HIIT movement is fast paced, it is important to have a good foundation before going into an intense session. Otherwise, there is a higher risk for injury. This is due to placing a high load through muscle tissues, and them not having the adequate capacity to accept that load (easy way to get a muscle strain).

One way you can do this is by starting a pre-season for yourself. See the small list in the next article of potential exercises you can start with to get back to HIIT

Heaven Can (Weight)

Weight training can also have a pre-season session. There are a lot of complex lifts that require good bracing techniques and adequate muscle capacity on a lot of synergistic muscle groups (thinking of the rotator cuff in the shoulder and the lower back).

For a lot of upper body work type exercises, where the shoulder and shoulder girdle is moving in every which direction, it is important to keep the shoulder stabilisers happy as well. Therefore, strengthening the rotator cuff can make the transition into doing snatches and other exciting or even the more standard overhead presses much more achievable.

For the lower body, it’s important to again work the smaller stabiliser muscle groups. You’ve got smaller glute muscles that all contribute to a better sense of balance and coordination in movement. Strengthening these is also important for doing big lifts like the squat or deadlift, and you can start using movements such as a single-leg deadlift, split squat or even a pistol squat at home to prep.

The (Grades) of Wrath

This is another important thing to consider: grading, progression and pacing. As it has been a while since you may have done a killer workout, it is important to allow your body adequate rest before proceeding again with the same workout. Let’s give an example; If I’ve just done a bunch of squats and my legs are absolutely burned and on fire, then someone at the gym tells me I need to do leg day the next day, I will not be very happy. You may feel sore after your workouts which is very normal. That feeling should dissipate within a few days. Allowing adequate recovery is just as important as the workout. In particular tendons are vulnerable to sudden increases in the volume of loading we put them under.

Now once your body is ready to get back to the next session, you may notice you can do more without feeling as sore. This is your body adapting to the new stress (the exercise). Gradually increasing your difficulty or intensity is a great way to help your body to cope with new beneficial stressors and challenges but again, we want to emphasise the importance of recovery as well.

We suggest a grading schedule of about 4 weeks (give it a little longer if walking is about the most intense thing you’ve been doing this winter), with about 2 extra weeks of pre-season training. If you haven’t exercised regularly, then your muscles may need a bit of extra time to get back to the things you used to do.

Gradually increasing by percentage (increasing volume and intensity by about 10%-20% each week) or by duration can work (starting with 2 times per week and increasing it by 1 every week for the next few weeks until you get to the point that you want to be at). This is so that in the beginning the muscles have enough recovery time to heal anything past workout related muscle soreness and/or you have adequate time to sort out any niggles that you might notice popping up in this time.

(Don’t) Lose Yourself

We know you are keen to get back ASAP to your regular exercise. But you also know your own body as well. What we mean by this is that everyone adapts differently. You might even adapt differently to different forms of exercise. Your mate might get their cardio stamina quickly back with running resumption, whereas it might take you a while. Or you might be able to get to your previous bench press 1 rep-max within a couple weeks, but your flexibility in a squat might have diminished and is taking a little while to get back. The big take home message: Everyone is different so don’t compare yourself to your fellow athlete to try and match to their intensity/training. You know your body better than anyone so give yourself an appropriate amount of time before doing the same thing. We know we suggest 6 weeks total above to get back to whatever it was you did but that number can change. For something that is low impact, less intense and not as energy consuming, you might only need a couple weeks. But if you’re a kickboxer training for a fight with an intense training schedule ahead, prepare yourself before going into the training. This means it might even take longer than 6 weeks for you to get back to “normal”.


Jai Sappal
Physiotherapist
Peak Health Services.