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Easing Yourself Back into the Gym

Easing Yourself Back into the Gym

At long last, gyms are back open for business. It’s been a long road of body weight workouts riddled with push-ups, burpees and dips performed on coffee tables. Don’t get me wrong, the hiatus from gyms was worth it. After all, the common good is far more important than your next squat session, but once the former is taken care of, it’s time to direct attention to the latter, and that topic is what this article will tackle.

It’s tempting to step foot in the gym, direct your gaze toward the bench press and grind yourself into dust by pushing weight for two hours. I’ll admit, that urge crept into my mind when planning post-quarantine workouts. However, there’s no need to slam your foot on the gas just yet. In fact, your workouts will probably be more efficacious and safer with a progressive approach.

The methodology I speak of isn’t one of sub-optimality. Instead, it’s one recognizing that tomorrow’s workout will only be as productive as the ability to recover from today’s. That’s a mouthful, but the message rings true time and time again. Here are four considerations to make when easing yourself back into the gym.


Warm-up Appropriately and Dynamically

You had to know this suggestion was coming, but I think deep down, it’s because you realize the importance of an adequate warm-up. I use the word dynamically with a purpose. All too often, people warm-up for their first exercise by merely performing that same exercise with loads of reps and very little weight. This is a mistake. For instance, performing 40 squats with the bar only is not an appropriate procedure prior to throwing hundreds of pounds on your back. Sure, this can be a portion of your dynamic warm-up, but we should also be raising our heart rate for several minutes, breaking a sweat and moving multiple joints in multiple directions. This is how athletes prepare for high-level activity, and we should follow suit.


Use Higher Rep Ranges

It’s not a happy thought, but the fact is, the quarantine-life has probably taken its toll on your ability to lift heavy stuff. In fact, research1 asserts that decreases in strength begin at around 5 weeks of detraining, which is far less time than quarantine has forced us indoors. Rest easy that strength adaptations taking years to acquire don’t drift off so easily, and in a relatively short amount of time, you’ll be pushing similar, pre-quarantine numbers. That said, attempting to lift heavy (<5RM) with your compound lifts is likely misguided right now. There’s a certain learning curve that squatting, pressing, etc. necessitates. And even if you’ve been lifting for decades, several months away from these movements takes its toll. Thus, using higher rep ranges provides a safer method of getting adequate training stimulus without the intense, neurological demand that heavy, compound lifts require.


Slowly Build Your Volume

Again, it’s difficult to fight the devil on your shoulder telling you to bench press the world for three hours upon returning to the gym. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the idea. However, your body likely doesn’t need too many sets in order to reap adaptation right now. Why? Because although months away from the gym aren’t ideal, your body is currently primed to make great gains with minimal work. In other words, it’s “desensitized” to training. This is the case whether you’ve taken quarantine time completely away from training or you’ve been using little more than body weight to train. Therefore, once you experience heavy training again, it will be overly sensitive to the training stimulus, and much work will not be needed.


Approach Muscular Failure Sparingly

Last but not least, it’s time to discuss training to failure. There are some coaches out there who boldly and proudly tout never training to failure. In my opinion, this is a bit extreme. However, as mentioned above, your body is already primed to get bigger and stronger with lesser work than is usually required. Therefore, taking set after set to muscular failure is unnecessary. Injury concerns aside, you need some level of intensity to progress toward. By taking loads of sets to failure up front, you effectively waste your bullets in the first week under the bar. My advice is to use failure training sparingly and only with single-joint movements upon returning to the gym such as dumbbell curls, tricep extensions, etc.

Easing your way back into the gym isn’t easy, but it is important. As cliché as it sounds, thinking about your body’s safety in the long-term is not only more responsible but also effective performance-wise. By heading these suggestions, you set yourself up for greater successes.








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