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How to Return to the Gym

How to Return to the Gym

With Allegheny County entering the green phase this Friday, June 5th, gyms are permitted to open.  We will be under some restrictions, but we will be able to deliver fitness programs for those who are ready.  However, that doesn’t mean you should plan to jump back into your gym fitness program as you left it in March.  So, how should you plan to come back?

Be Honest With Yourself

Those ready to return to the gym fit into once of three categories.  Some people have been working out almost daily over the last three months.  Others have been doing sporadic workouts here and there.  Then, there are those who haven’t really worked out at all.  Regardless of which category describes you, honestly, you should not plan to come back at the same level of volume and intensity you had in March.

Those in the first category, working out consistently every week, you are ready for the cardio conditioning.  Your joints probably feel better, your running has improved, and you will likely notice an increase in core strength and stability.  However, you’re no longer conditioned for some bodyweight movements and lifting heavier weights.  Additionally, group intensity is much higher than you are probably used to pushing at home.

If you have been working out sporadically, you have likely maintained some level of fitness.  However, your conditioning has probably dropped and you aren’t going to be able to move your bodyweight like you once did, let alone some external weight.

Finally, while those who haven’t worked out at all over the last three months will see a big drop in physical fitness, they should see a basic level of fitness return quickly.

Set a Plan

Keeping in mind that you won’t be prepared to come back at the volume and intensity you once had, let’s look at a basic plan for each category.

  1. Regular workouts:  Should plan to return around forty percent of your previous level of fitness.  Three days a week of workouts at the gym will be plenty in the beginning.  You will need to give yourself time to readjust to intensity and heavier weights.  Barbell lifts should be performed at forty percent or less of max weights.  Progressions, like hang snatches and power cleans, should be considered before jumping back into full squat variations of movements.
  2. Some workouts:  The three days a week is still a good base plan.  You have maintained some of your fitness, so your focus should be more on rebuilding movement quality.  Keep the lifting light and reset your form.  Go back to using a band on your pullups until you get used to them again.  Don’t be afraid to sub in some dumbbell movements as you get used to moving again.
  3. Little to no workouts:  Focus first on your conditioning.  The hierarchy of fitness progressions is Cardio Conditioning, Gymnastics, Weight Lifting, Sports.  Plan to rebuild your cardiovascular capacity so you can maintain movement for a period of time.  Next, regain your ability to move your bodyweight.  Reset your air squat before loading it with weight.  Finally, start weights at forty percent or lower, and build intelligently.  This is a great time to address some movement issues you may have had three months ago.

The Injury Potential

Regardless of which category you fall into, there is a real danger of injury if you come back too fast and hard too quickly.  We all know what our fitness used to be.  That’s why we have to be honest with ourselves about where we are currently.  That suggested forty percent is the standard for restarting training in any program.  A marathon runner, used to running 100 miles a week, wouldn’t try to run 100 miles after taking three months off.  He/she would start around forty percent.

If you were returning from an actual injury, the standard is to take equal time to come back to full effort as you took to heal.  If you were out for three weeks mending an injury, plan to take three weeks to rebuild.

The goal, always, is to avoid injury.  Safety first, safety always.  Trying to progress too fast will result in progressing slowly.  Planning to progress slowly will result in progressing quickly.   Progress doesn’t have to take forever.  Spend a few weeks at forty percent.  When you feel great, increase to sixty percent.  Hang there for a few weeks.  Feeling good?  Increase to eighty percent, and so on.

Our Plan

For those returning to Industrial Athletics in June and July, our programming will be designed around this concept.  We will be providing greater individual attention, spending more time on movement quality, and will be rebuilding everyone.  We will focus on increasing conditioning with compound movements accessible to everyone.  We will reintroduce heavy lifting with basic movements like squats, presses, and deadlifts in tempo format.  Finally, we will reintroduce the complex lifts as we go with a focus on proper progressions.