Kyle Cook, M.S.
Back in the Gym After Quarantine
2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. Covid-19 swept the whole world up and flipped it on its head. The fitness industry took a hit with the mandatory closure of all public gyms, leaving many people to figure out on their own how to stay in shape and avoid the dreaded "quarantine 15." What you did for your fitness during quarantine was mainly dictated by what equipment you had at home and your own knowledge of training principles.
Some had fully equipped home gyms, but most of us only had a few kettlebells or dumbbells, some bands and our body weight.
As such, the intensity of most of our training stopped, we were forced to work on other aspects of our health such as mobility and diet, and the focus of training became mostly to hold on to our strength and muscle mass and not lose it during lockdown. Some fitness professionals saw the lockdown as a potential good thing, and I actually might agree with some of them.
It forced people to really work on their diet and mindset, take recovery more seriously, and work on areas of fitness they might have been neglecting.
Thankfully now the gyms have started opening back up and we can finally get back to some SERIOUS training. But a word of warning - take it easy those first couple weeks back.
Here are some tips on how to re enter training at the gym:
Don't pick up where you left off - if you trained over lockdown, you likely did not lose all your strength and muscle, which means that you can probably still hit the same weight you did before lockdown. The problem is that your body has not been exposed to heavy loads for the last 3 months. You have not been priming the necessary motor patterns required to lift heavy, nor has your nervous system been recovering from heavy training sessions. If you go in and try to set a PR, or lift close to where you left off, you'll be sore. So sore that you probably wont be able to workout for a few days, which ultimately will hinder your progress getting back into the gym. I know you're excited to be back, but my advice is to start at 50-60% of whatever you were doing before, and add back 10% every other workout. That means if you were squatting 315x5 before lockout, you would start your first session at 165-175x5, and add 20 lbs each workout until you're back. It won't take that long. You'll be back to hitting PRs in a few weeks.
Pay extra attention to form - especially if you went from heavy barbell training to using a couple dumbbells and body weight. You need to re train your body to effectively and efficiently move under the bar, otherwise you risk injury. This sort of is related to step 1 above - you haven't been practicing the same motor pattern for 3 months, so slow it down and grease the groove before you go full spartan mode.
Keep it simple - you may be tempted to go and use all your favorite machine and devices and equipment that you've missed during lock down all in the same session. Really all that's going to do is just make you sore, because your exposing your body to a wide range of movements and ranges of motion you haven't been using for a little while. If you want to avoid crippling soreness, just pick a couple pieces of equipment you've missed, and incorporate it into the same exercises you've been using at home. For example, if you've just been doing pushups at home, add a set or 2 of DB chest press in addition to some pushups. If you've just been squatting with kettlebells, do a barbell front squat in addition to the kettlebell squat.
Remember all you learned during quarantine - it can be easy to drop all the good stuff you worked on while stuck at home. Maybe you took your recovery and mobility more seriously, maybe you learned to cook healthy meals. The point is, DON'T FALL BACK INTO OLD HABITS. Grow as a person and grow your fitness journey. Keep practicing your recovery and mobility, don't ignore it because you're having to much fun lifting heavy.
For my own personal growth, I really got back to my programming roots, focusing on
exercises and set/rep schemes that will produce the best results with the limited equipment that I had. My wife and I took extra care of our diet, making sure to portion our food better and include lots of high quality protein, fats and carbs. I also took my flexibility more seriously, carving out 10 minutes before and after my home workout to take care of my tissues. We also went on lots of walks around the neighborhood, which is something that we've really enjoyed that also strengthened our relationship during lockdown.