Forget the 5th of April for hairdressers/barbers opening, the real date to be excited about is the 26th of April when fitness facilities are allowed to open again!!!
…bracing myself for the baldy jokes after that!
With this in mind I thought I would write some guidance on what to do in the first few sessions and weeks back at your gym.
Observing what has happened over the past 12 months I think we can put people into three distinct camps and each camp probably has different needs and parameters to work within.
Camp 1: Non Exercisers Considering Getting Healthy
The pandemic has certainly brought plenty of negatives into many people’s lives, however I do think one of the positives that has come out of it is that there are a lot more conversations around the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.
For many people the reality of this pandemic is that they have had to take stock and address the fact that an unhealthy lifestyle could be really putting them at risk and bringing into sharp perspective the fragility of our health.
Another positive has been the greater emphasis on the well established benefits exercise can have on our mental health and this has been needed more than ever this past year.
If you or anyone you know are contemplating joining a gym or starting an exercise regime, there are a few nuggets of advice I would really like to share with you.
Find an environment you are comfortable in
I know that for people who are not familiar with going to the gym it can be a really terrifying place to enter. If this is you there are plenty of smaller less intimidating gyms out there now that might be more suitable for you than the big box gyms with thousands of members. A smaller, more welcoming gym may be a more suitable environment for you to dip your toes into the fitness world.
Also another big plus from this pandemic has been the speeding up of online fitness offerings. So if you are really not keen on joining a gym, I can now say with confidence that you can get fit and healthy without ever setting foot in a gym or exercise class (we have saw plenty of clients get great results this past year during lockdown working out from home).
Take it easy in the beginning
There is stacks of research out there showing that if you hit it too hard too soon in your fitness journey the chances of you sticking with it long enough to elicit real health benefits are pretty low.
The basic aim of exercise is that you overload the body just above the threshold that it has worked at previously. So if you have been a non exercise for a long period of time the stimulus to achieve this will be very low. So you really do not have to be pushing yourself to your limits early in your fitness journey. You just need to be up and moving a bit.
Your aim should be to be able to move as often as possible, and pushing yourself to exhaustion in the gym will leave you too stiff and tired to do this. We want your workout to be both achievable and repeatable. I hear on a weekly basis people saying that they tried exercise and it was too difficult for them. If you go to a trainer that pushes you this hard when you are beginning you need to think seriously about training with this person as they clearly do not understand exercise programming and have no idea on how to change human behaviours.
Camp 2: Previous exercisers who have not done much for the past 12 months
With everything that has happened over the past year it is very understandable if your fitness regime has fallen off the table. The stress of living through a pandemic; the change to your working day; trying to juggle homeschooling and everything else that has been thrown at us has left many people lacking the energy or brain space for exercise.
For others the gym is the environment that gets the juices flowing when it comes to their workouts. Working out in the house is not for everyone and I know many people just can bring themselves to do it.
I would take an educated guess that this group of people who are used to working out but have not done much for the past year are the group at the highest risk of getting injured when the gyms reopen. This will be because they are likely to try and jump back into the same level of workouts they were doing last year when they had been going to the gym consistently. To get to those levels of fitness they would have had to make incremental increases in their weights/intensity over a prolonged period of time. But chances are they will try to skip this stage and force themselves back to where they previously were much quicker this time.
Twelve months of inactivity will have led to much of these fitness gains being lost, so you need to go into this phase with the mindset that you are a beginner again. Be patient and focus on enjoying the process of being back in the gym again.
The good news is that there will be some degree of muscle memory in there, so the strength/fitness should come back quicker than it did the first time. This doesn’t mean however that you should just do an easy week then try and jump back to where you were! (which is what I have seen most people do when they come back from a lay off). Build things back up gradually with lighter weights and higher repetitions for at least the first 6-8 weeks.
The final point to consider for this group is that you build in adequate time for recovery between sessions. There is a strong possibility that you get the bug for exercise back when you get those endorphins circulating again and are loving being back in the gym environment. Just be mindful that you will need at least 24-48 hours between sessions to allow the muscles to repair and build. Remember the magic happens when we are recovering from sessions, not when we are working out. So don’t give into the temptation to jump back into the gym every day. Doing more gym sessions does not directly equate to you getting back to previous levels of fitness quicker. The chances are that too many sessions with inadequate are more likely to lead to injury.
Camp 3: Cardio lovers
With gyms closed the pavements and trails have certainly become much busier with walkers, runners and cyclists which has been great to see. Regular cardiovascular exercise will give you a multitude of health benefits so it always makes me smile to see people out there getting a sweat on. As the world starts to reopen I would encourage those that have adopted more cardiovascular fitness into their week to try and keep it going, don’t just discard, guard the time you used to get out and get a sweat up in the fresh air the best you can.
Now the gyms are about to be reopened I would also strongly suggest that you also give some consideration to strength training. Strength training like cardiovascular exercise has an almost endless list of benefits (build/preserve muscle mass, improve daily function, increase bone density, improve metabolic functions, increase confidence levels, reduce injury risk), so a good fitness regime should have a blend of plenty of cardiovascular exercise with 2-3 strength sessions per week.
There are a few things to consider if you are going to add in strength training alongside your cardiovascular training. If you already have a high volume of exercise with your cardiovascular fitness then adding in strength training can be tricky to manage. If the cardiovascular training volume remains high and you then add in strength training, again you might be putting yourself at a higher risk of injury. So it might be advisable to dial back your volume in the cardiovascular training to allow you to introduce the strength training. When we suggest this to some people you can see the panic set in that we are asking them to reduce what they are doing with their running, walking, or cycling. However we try to reassure them by telling them that a reduction in volume does not mean they will lose the fitness they have gained. On the contrary it is more likely the benefits of getting stronger will ultimately end up with them getting better at their cardiovascular exercise.
Considerations have also to be given to which days of the week you do your resistance training. For example putting in your strength training session the day before a big cardiovascular day may impair your cardiovascular day. I would strongly suggest that you take a step back and plan the week out allowing for harder sessions, lighter sessions and recovery days.
I will be doing a video later in the week with some more specifics of workouts to do when you are back in the gym so keep your eyes open for this.
I look forward to hearing how you are getting on with it all and if you have any questions that we can help you with just let us know!