So how did your lockdown fitness goals turn out? Rubbish? Yeah I’d imagine so. I’d say that’s how the entire country feels. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the gyms were closed for over 200 days, leaving the majority of people to fend for themselves when it came to managing their own health and fitness. Some will have managed that successfully, others not so much. However, I think the vast majority of people will agree that it is easier to manage your own health and fitness with adequate equipment and an appropriate environment.
Working out in your sitting room was limiting. You only had a handle of feet to move around, only 1 or 2 pieces of equipment scavenged from a TK Maxx sale and most likely some annoying family member who kept interrupting you. I would argue most people found it hard to channel some of the more cliche phrases of the gym like ‘go hard, or go home’ when you are already stuck at home and not exactly arsed with all this fitness shite in the first place.
However, that is no longer the case, and from the 7th of June, the gyms will finally be reopening, but this raises the question; how best to restart a fitness journey?
Well first things first, there are a number of issues that may need to be addressed before you return to any gym.
Your strength will have most likely decreased since you were last in a gym and despite what trainers have been claiming since lockdown numero uno, bodyweight training is not sufficient. It never has been. Load (weight) has always been the deciding factor when it comes to building muscle and getting fit. And unfortunately most people didn’t have a barbell hidden under their stairs! Another issue with your last year of home workouts is that there was a large number of physical movements that could not be addressed in a minimally equipped Zoom workout. These included the lack of vertical pulling, deadlifting and weighted squats, alongside the over-reliance on mindlessly programmed burpees!
Your cardiovascular fitness may have increased due to an increased amount of running performed over the past year or so. If that is the case, the aim should be to maintain this cardiovascular fitness with appropriately chosen supersets (back to back exercises) during your workouts alongside some ever reliable treadmill sprints as workout finishers. These supersets can include anything from box jumps, to slam balls and everything in between. The key is just to move swiftly when you do return to the gym!
Or it may have decreased. If you are one of the people who avoided both zoom workouts and running as a form of fitness over the past year, it may now be time to restart your fitness journey with a little more attention given to the health of your aerobic system. My personal favourite way to increase aerobic fitness with clients is to superset one upper body compound exercise with a lighter, less intense lower body compound exercise, or vice versa. This drastically increases the demand on your cardiovascular system, while simultaneously allowing you to build both strength and cardiovascular endurance.
Your eating habits may have changed drastically. Some people will have returned to overeating, others to under eating. The issue here is that you may have had an adequate diet at the start of lockdown, but it is quite possible that your current diet now is no longer compatible with someone who is returning to the gym and wishes to see positive results. This will need to be addressed to ensure your return to training is as successful as possible.
And with that cleared up, we can now address how to best return to training efficiently, successfully, and without injury.
Step 1: Fix your breakfast.
If you wish to better your own standard of nutrition, change your breakfast first and keep that change consistent for 2 weeks before changing anything else in your diet. Too often I have clients coming to me with the suggestion that they would be willing to completely overhaul their diet to see improvements. Look, the reality is that although well intentioned, you are destined to fail.
Instead of trying to completely overhaul your diet and failing after a number of days, or even weeks if you are lucky, just change your breakfast and keep that change consistent. There is a higher chance that you will achieve that successfully and small victories are the best way forward when it comes to this game. And if you smoke this goal easily, great, we can change more of your diet in the future, but let’s learn to walk before we can run.
Step 2: Dare I say, 3 sets of 10 reps might just be your new best friend?
As outlined above, your foundation of fitness has been seriously undermined over the past year, therefore it is vitally important that you rebuild this foundation when you return, rather than jumping straight into the deep end of strength training (5×5’s or heavier) or waste your time with sets in excess of 20 reps (ie. gym classes such as bootcamps). Therefore, 3×10 may be your answer as it is sufficiently heavy to create muscle growth but also light enough that your technique is not undermined when you do return to compound lifts.
Step 3: Forget about what you used to do, and focus on what you can do currently: Returning to training after such a long break is not the time to set new personal records of strength, endurance or speed.
Forget about your ego and play the newbie in the gym.
Step 4: Set a schedule: Dedicate 4 hours of the week to your health and fitness. Yes, I am sure you are busy, but you will never regret investing in your own health and wellbeing.
Step 5: Ask for help! Gym classes and group training will still be unavailable when we return on the 7th, and may be unavailable for some time to come. Therefore you will be compelled to train solo until the restrictions ease. Try not to be daunted by this. Ask for help from staff or a personal trainer and be sure to find a friend who you can train with.
Good luck and enjoy the journey
Credit: Jenny Hill on Unsplash