Gyms opening up in this first Phase post-quarantine has a lot of us feeling like kids again.
Just like you waited to go to Disney and run to your favorite ride, many of us were anxiously showing up early to our first fitness classes post quarantine and getting giddy at the thought of doing our favorite movements again.
While that enthusiasm is an absolutely wonderful thing, because of so many factors we have to be more careful than ever before. Coming back to the gym right now can be pretty similar to coming back from injury. Just because you have been active at home and feel great in your day to day routines, doesn’t mean that your body is ready for the stresses of the gym.
But fear not. We got ahold of Dr. Jonathan Burke; Roux Fitness Instructor, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and Clinic Director of Therapydia Mid-City and Therapydia NOLA, to help us navigate ramping back up in the gym. Safely.
“Our body responds to the stresses that are put on it.”
Simple statement, right? And it seems obvious. But this is the first thing Dr. Burke wants to remind us of. “Roux and other gyms have done a great job of keeping people engaged and active by providing different and varied workouts daily. Loading the body in lighter squats, lighter lunges, lighter deadlifts. But those bodyweight movement are WAY different than putting even 50% of your old 1 rep max back squat on your back and trying to squat it.”
Just like our bodies had adapted to the workouts we were doing in the gym before, they have now adapted to the lighter weight or bodyweight workouts we have been doing at home for the last 8-12 weeks.
We haven’t lifted significant weight over our heads. We haven’t done many presses and jerks. And most of us certainly haven’t done kipping or swinging on the rig or pull ups bars at home to mimic a kipping or butterfly pull-up. “Simply put, we haven’t used our arms and shoulders that way and have become deconditioned to those demands over the last 8-12 weeks. With that in mind, we should be taking at least 4-6 weeks to ramp back up.”, Dr. Burke reminds us.
He cautions us to not get too wrapped up in what we were doing 12 weeks ago. Remember that 1 rep max you hit before quarantine? That isn’t your 1 rep max anymore. It can be again, but it isn’t right now. If your gym is currently using percentages of those numbers, Dr. Burke suggests going even lighter. “If you come in and see a workout that requires you to work at 50% of a certain lift, I would suggest going even lighter.”
To give it some perspective, many strength training cycles are a full 12 weeks. But it doesn’t take 12 weeks to lose that strength. That happens much faster. Remember last time you were in a groove and went on vacation. Maybe you trained a little while you were gone or not at all. I bet the weights felt a lot heavier after vacation than they did before.
Even if you worked out 5x a week before COVID and managed to workout 5x a week at home, coming back to the gym and doing 5 days will be a lot harder. At the gym, you have access to a lot more equipment and thus a lot more variety in the movements we can do and the weights we can use.
All of this being said, Dr. Burke has 3 tips for how to approach this ramp up period in the gym.
1.Be patient with yourself.
As much as it sucks to admit, you probably just aren’t at the same level of fitness you were before. Your mile time might have decreased, but your overall fitness level looks very different and you need to give yourself some grace.
Coming to the gym 2 times a day to “get back quicker” will not speed up the process. Going more than needed can actually set you back more by leading to overtraining and overuse injuries.
2.Hydrate. Eat well. Sleep.
Your recovery has become more important than ever. Focusing as much, if not more, on the things you can control outside of the gym will help you in the gym.
Another thing to remember is that not only is your body adjusting to new demands, but also adjusting to the changes in weather. Prioritizing your nutrition and recovery are necessary to your health right now.
3.Focus on mobility, form, and technique.
How is your balance in a squat? Chances are that if it feels a little off, you’re going to have a really hard time doing movements like thrusters well. You have to own movements before you can add weight and speed to them. You need to be able to get good positioning before you can move weight safely without adding stress elsewhere.
With mobility and technique, many lifts require practice and timing. Chances are that your timing is a little off. Don’t add extra weight to something like cleans to try to alleviate the timing feeling off. If it feels weird, then use this as an opportunity to drop weight and get some kickass technique.
“We, as athletes, are in total control.”
This was our favorite reminder from Dr. Burke. While your coaches can write workouts and guide you and keep you safe in the gym, ultimately how safely you ramp up is up to you. If you find that you’re struggling with this new mindset, know that it’s ok. Work on creating intention weekly or even daily. Pick a workout every week to go harder on. Or even pick things within the workout to put your focus and try to allow yourself to not worry about the rest.
Everything won’t get better at once. But you can get a little better everyday.
Whether you do experience some aches and pains getting back to the gym or just want to learn to move a little better and optimize your recovery, make sure to head to Therapydia Mid-City!