Return To Play
Returning to the gym after lockdown and how to set yourself up for success.
We have lived through unprecedented times.
Our lives were interrupted in a way the Western World has not experienced in decades.
From a health and fitness perspective, this was a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, more time to focus on walking, eating home cooked meals and spending time with family brought a lot of health benefits. The concept of N.E.A.T (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) was established as a core component of our weekly menu both from a physiological and psychological standpoint.
However, now we have been thrust back into reality. Traffic, early alarms, restaurants setting tables and, of course, the gym doors swung back open.
Great! Time to jump back in, pick up from where you left off and embrace the weights once again. Or is it?
There are several considerations when returning to training with weights after a long lay-off.
In this post, I will delve into the following considerations that will arm you with the tools to successfully return to the gym and make sustainable progress:
1. Curb Your Enthusiasm
2. Recovery is King
3. Got Skills?
4. The Role of the Coach
Curb Your Enthusiasm
It is important to enter the weight room with realistic expectations.
You will be weaker, you will be somewhat detrained and skills you once found second nature will feel foreign.
Jumping back in to your training expecting to use similar weights as you did prior to the break could lead to hitting a brick wall very quickly and worse, injury.
Use this as a chance to build back up, choose a starting point that is realistic and sets you up for sustained long term progress.
To do this it is your job, along with your coach, to establish where you are in terms of your strength and conditioning.
Pick weights and volume that are easily manageable, even “too easy”. This is will allow for linear progress to take place over the subsequent weeks. Linear progress means you will be able to slowly increase load and volume over the weeks.
This achieves two things;
1) Your motivation will peak as you progress steadily
2) You will minimise soreness and greatly reduce the chance of injury.
These two factors combined will set you up for long term progress and have you back to where you were and beyond in no time.
Recovery is King
Exercise is a form of stress.
It places a stress on the body that you have to be able to recover from. As we go back to our normal lives, a lot of stress comes along with that. Our body is not great at differentiating between stressors. Work life, personal life and stress from exercise is dealt with in much the same way by our body.
With this is mind, it is more important than ever to prioritise sleep, hydration and healthy eating.
Not only will this benefit us in the long term, it will help us perform better in our training sessions, minimise soreness and boost energy levels.
What can you do?
Maintaining a consistent bed time will help promote consistent sleep. Of course, factors outside of our control can dictate how much or when we sleep but prioritising it when we can is crucial for recovery.
Drink water regularly. If you haven’t already, invest in a reusable water bottle and carry it with you, regularly filling it to make sure you stay on top of your hydration. An easy way to gauge hydration is urine colour. Dark yellow is dehydrated, clear is fully hydrated.
Finally, nutrition is something we all have trouble with from time to time. Eating a well-rounded, protein dense meal 2-3 times a day is vital for recovery. Include fruit and vegetables throughout the day for your vitamins and minerals.
Meal prep is an easy, cost effective way to adhere to a well-rounded diet. Meal prep cuts out preparation time when you are busy and prevents you from choosing a convenience option like takeaway. Cook large portions of tasty, nutrient dense, high protein meals in preparation for the week ahead and store in the fridge or freezer. Not only will your recovery improve, your bank account will thank you!
After a long lay-off, we have not performed certain complex exercises in months. That will lead to a drop in skill level.
A movement or exercise that once felt second nature will feel uncoordinated, shaky and foreign. Don’t beat yourself up, it is completely normal. Anyone who has ever been in a sling or a cast knows what it feels like to move a joint after months of confinement. Spoiler; it doesn’t feel normal!
This an opportunity.
An opportunity to move away from bad habits, compensatory movement patterns and rebuild a stronger, more efficient version of yourself. This is a rare opportunity to focus on the finer details that set you up for long term success.
Be patient with yourself, it may take a few weeks in some cases to feel confident again in the more complex compound movements.
The Role of the Coach
With all of the above, it is your job to take responsibility for your expectations, nutrition, sleep, hydration and recovery.
However, it is the job of the coach to set you up for success.
A coach has to provide a well-thought through return to play training program, accountability with training and nutrition as well as a voice of guidance through this process.
It is the job of the coach to lead by example and provide context for the strategies of training.
The coach - client relationship is not a dictatorship, it is a collaboration.
A good coach educates and explains his / her decisions. As for the exercises themselves, clear and concise communication from your coach will help you regain the skills and fitness lost during the break. Ask questions, communicate any aches or pains and be patient with the process.
A well-thought through training program will set expectations early and promote long term progress over short term satisfaction. We all want to train hard and feel good, and a good coach will provide both.
A chance within a training session to push hard and get the endorphins flowing without compromising the over-arching theme of the program. This is always the case, but is more relevant now than ever.
Accountability is a crucial factor in this equation. A coach’s job is to hold you accountable every session for the targets you have, to keep pushing you on a weekly basis to stick to what you set out to do and make the necessary changes along the way.
Asking questions in-session will be a key part of this. How are you feeling after Monday? I know your knee was sore, how is it now? How do you feel today after a long day at work?
That open-dialogue will go some way to keeping you on track. Combine that with checking in on your goals for the week. Did you prep your meals on Sunday like we discussed? How did you get on with the extra mobility I asked you to do? Keep the conversation going and you will greatly increase the chances of success.
In closing, we are so excited to be open again. It is something we all took for granted for so long.
Once it was stripped away, we all saw how much we rely on our gym community for support, fun and accountability.
Being excited and nervous in equal measure is normal and believe me, we are feeling the exact same.
Come to the gym and soak it up, enjoy every element and never hesitate to ask questions, voice concerns or just have a chat.
We all have some catching up to do so you will find yourself in good company!
See you in the gym,
At Nikafit Studios we are dedicated to an excellent standard of small group personal training. At Nikafit we deliver our results based personal training programs, in a friendly but focused small group training setting, allowing our clients to receive elite level personal training at a fraction of the cost of a 1-on-1 personal training session. Nikafit’s semi-private personal training is focussed on the needs of our clients and the small group personal training coach to member ratio at Nikafit Studios allow the best service possible. At Nikafit we are changing lives through fitness.
Jack Ryan, Head Coach at Nikafit Studios