A lot of people are anxiously awaiting the re-opening of gyms and for some their gym has been able to open up on a limited basis. I know that everyone is excited to get a barbell or some weights in their hands again. You are excited to be working out with your friends or gym buddy who you haven't seen for over 8 weeks. You are ready to work side by side (maintaining 6ft apart of course 😉) again to push each other during your workouts. Now, some of you have been fortunate and have home gyms or were able to access equipment from your gym. However, the reality is that for most of you, for about 8 weeks, you have not been able to train like normal.
Unfortunately, in that 8 weeks of time, you will have lost some strength. Most of your strength loss will be due to neural adaptations, not true loss of muscle. Meaning, that your nervous system has not been exposed to a certain stimulus for awhile, so it hasn't put a lot of energy into maintaining that memory pattern because it has needed to shift it's focus elsewhere (ie - you haven't done a barbell clean and jerk in 8 weeks, but you have been doing more dumbbell snatches, so your memory pattern for dumbbell snatches is more active right now). The good news, this will come back quickly! It is just like riding a bike, you might be a little rusty at first, but your nervous system will quickly remember the old pattern. However, there can some true strength loss over an 8 week period, they will be small, but all of these factors need to be taken into consideration as you return to gym and your typical training routine. So today, we will look at some important things to remember as you get back into the gym to help avoid injury and keep you in the gym once they open up!
You might be thinking, "Ya ya, I know I need to warm-up, that's old news 🙄" But do you really know "Why" you need to warm-up properly, what a proper warm-up actually looks like, and what the most important result of a proper warm-up is?
A proper warm-up is one that gets your body primed and ready for the workout you are about to complete. A proper warm-up should not be the same every day because it should incorporate specific movements designed to prepare you for the workout to come. A proper warm-up serves a number of different purposes:
Gets your cardiovascular and respiratory systems going
Loosens up your joints
Warms up your muscles
Activates your nervous system
Activating your nervous system is the most important benefit of a proper warm-up! By activating your nervous system, you improve the communication between your brain and your muscles/joints, which allows you to perform better during your workout. This sharpened communication allows you better access to the muscles you need to use during your workout. While working out, you want the proper muscles to turn on at the right time so you can perform a movement correctly and efficiently and a proper warm-up allows for just that 👍
As we discussed previously, most of the strength loss that has occurred is due to neural adaptation, so the fastest way to regain your strength is to fire up your nervous system and access it's memory of that specific movement pattern. So the moral of the story...make sure your warm-up is prepping you for what is to come in your workout. If you will be doing squats, we want to make sure we are activating your hips and core and some part of your warm-up should resemble the squat movement pattern. If your workout consists of pull-ups, make sure to activate your scapular stabilizers, rotator cuff, and core and again something should mimic the pull-up movement pattern.
Check out this video for 3 of my favorite dynamic warm-up movements that help activate your nervous system and get your whole body firing prior to a workout. Incorporate these 3 movements into your warm-up along with a couple of movements specific to your workout for the day to ensure you are warming up properly!
Don't Go Balls to the Wall Right Away!
Day 1 back into the gym, your adrenaline will be pumping and you will feel like you can go 100 mph. You are going to want to throw the same weight back on the bar as before quarantine or go at the same pace, just to prove to yourself that you can still got it. However, take a step back and remember that you aren't going to be right back to where you were pre COVID-19 in one workout. Work back up to your normal weights and pace slowly to avoid over stressing your system and causing it to break down somewhere, which could lead to injury. There is nothing to say that you can't still get a good and effective workout in with slightly lower weights or at a slightly slower pace.
Your body will remember and learn quickly what it is like to do those movements again; however, our bodies are also masters at compensating and getting the job done in anyway possible if we tell it to. So when getting back into the gym it is more important to do the movement the correct way to properly reactivate that movement pattern in your brain. You are setting yourself up for potential risk of injury if you go straight back into workouts at your prior level because as mentioned, your body will find someway to do the job that you are asking it do, but it might be at the cost of pulled muscle or injured joint, which could keep you out of the gym for a longer period of time. However, if you re-sharpen that movement pattern first before going back to your previous weights or pace, you will set yourself up for greater success and your prior performance level will come back quickly with less risk for injury.
Focus on Your Recovery
Make sure you are taking the time to focus on the little things that can make a huge difference in how you recover from a workout and how you feel heading into your next workout.
Take time for a cool down
Work on your mobility - at least 10 min/day
Stay hydrated - drink 1/2 of your body weight in ounces per day
Fuel your body properly - focus on your pre and post workout nutrition
Stay mobile throughout your day - take breaks from sitting every hour, go for a walk over your lunch hour, alternate between sitting and standing for work
If you want more specific information on recovery and mobility, check out my 2 latest blogs. Also, you can join our Movement Monday Facebook group, which is dedicated to weekly mobility topics here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1087506178280389/
Last, but Certainly Not Least Enjoy Being Back at the Gym!
You have been waiting for this day for 2 months, work hard and have fun while doing it!!! I know it will be a great day for both athletes and coaches to be back working together. Let's make sure that you stay healthy and in the gym for a long time to come. Please reach out to me if you are currently dealing an injury or aches/pains that are limiting your training, so that you don't have to miss out on the return to the gym. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org