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So Your Gym is Open; Here’s How to Return the Right Way

Whether you had a long offseason, a nagging injury or had to sit on the sidelines during a global pandemic, being away from your gym can affect you both physically and mentally. When you are able to return, it is easy to get excited but do not let the memories of your old self cloud your judgement and lead to mistakes that can keep you out longer than you were previously.

In this article I will outline some considerations for student athletes and weekend warriors who are ready to return to the gym to get in better shape than ever before.

Reassess Yourself

Being off for a while brings about new habits that the body adapted to outside the gym. Excessive sitting, Zoom meetings and more time in front of all size screens lead to changes in the body that are usually not conducive to the higher level training and performance you were doing before.  

Conduct an honest self-assessment and see where things have been impacted and need to be addressed. Questions to ask yourself:

  • Is your low back, hamstrings or shoulders a little tighter than before? 
  • Is your balance and/or stability off while performing exercises like lunges or step ups? 
  • Do certain movements feel tight or hurt while you are doing them? 

A few of these things may have creeped up in your excessive downtime and not addressing them can lead to future injuries when resuming your normal training regimen.

After completing a proper assessment, add in the necessary mobility, flexibility, and stability exercises into your program to get you back towards moving at a high level again.

Reset Your Goals

After the assessment you should have a base understanding of where your current fitness level stands. Now is a good time to establish where you want to be health-wise and then to set training objectives to reach your health goals.

Goals can be as simple as getting back to where you were before your long layoff or they can be something more complex. Maybe there were some positive adjustments that you implemented during your long layoff like more frequent runs or online yoga classes. If they helped you out and added value to your training and overall life, then, try and find a way to keep them going. Maybe one less gym day can be substituted for a run or even one lighter gym day and then some yoga in the evening. If they help you reach your goals, then find a way to keep them in your routine.

Goals might also have to be something done in more solidarity. Running or lifting events might be out of reach after a long layoff or might not be an option during a pandemic recovery. Setting goals that you can achieve inside or outside the gym that can be done on your own with no strict deadline is an opportunity to ease into things. It will also enable you to see where the new exercise regimens fit in and fine tune your training to reach new heights and achieve your goals.

Start off Simple

When you first head back into the weight room, you must resist the initial urge to run right in and smash the weights to the levels you were prior to your layoff. The first few weeks should be dedicated to using moderate weights and volume for the basic strength exercises. Start with the mindset of rebuilding a solid foundation through technique and progressive increases in weight, sets, and reps. It’s important to also add the proper mobility and recovery necessary to get going in a positive direction and then during the next phase of training, the focus can shift to adding heavier weight and more volume of work.

A long training layoff can take a toll on the athlete’s body even when exercise substitutes were used.  The SAID Principle states that the human body adapts specifically to imposed demands. Simply put, you need to train specifically what you want to be good at. For the athlete who might have been doing light weight/high repetition kettlebell deadlifts at home would want to think twice before trying to do 3 reps of 315lbs. on a barbell deadlift. Similar exercises yes, but small details of a barbell versus a kettlebell and more weight and lower reps versus the inverse make the exercise quite different where the SAID Principle is concerned. If you do too much too soon, at the very least, you will be extremely sore or worse you may injure yourself.

Yes, go back to your barbell work that you have been pining over for the last three months, but do so progressively. Ease into the weight, number of sets and repetitions. See how your body responds the next time during the workout and the next day. If all is good, progress from there.

So there you have it, three concepts to get you going in the right direction when you return to the gym. Do it right, do it smart and see your goals achieved in no time.