By Anna McManamey

With our beloved Spartans Gym and Warrior Zone re-opening, no doubt you’re eager to get back into your favourite free-weight and machine exercises. However, jumping straight into your pre-Covid training plan full bore is asking for trouble.

During lockdown, many of us have been more sedentary and unable to train as intensely as we normally would. When we exercise less, our physical condition declines, which may increase the risk of injury.

Here are my top tips for returning to gym training to help you progress as fast, safely and efficiently as possible.

Train your lifts frequently.

Just because you can’t bust out your previous 1RM doesn’t mean you’ve lost muscle. What you’ve actually lost are neurological adaptations, i.e. co-ordination. Every lift is a “skill” and your strength will return quickest with more practice. If you want to get your squat or deadlift strength back, program squats/deadlifts at least twice per week. It is for this reason I recommend adopting full or upper/lower body splits to transition yourself back into full pre-Covid training.

Ease yourself back into lifting.

Your goal is to NOT get sore for the first few weeks back, so don’t go all-out with drop sets, negative reps and forced reps in your first session because you have your favourite machines and free weights back. Doing so will not only increase your risk of injury, but you will likely feel too sore to train again, leaving you unable to accomplish the first goal of maintaining high frequency. As a general rule, training stimulus should ALWAYS be the least amount to produce maximum results. In other words, don’t work harder than you actually have to. Keep volume to a minimum, avoid any pump/metabolic work and train to within 2-3 reps shy of failure (not complete failure) for the first two to three weeks. By taking a conservative approach you can recover faster, train more frequently, and give yourself room for progression over the coming months.

Lift heavier for less reps.

Stick with low to moderate rep ranges (6 to 10 reps) as these allow for better form and skill acquisition. Then, aim to lift the heaviest load possible for that rep range, leaving 2-3 reps in the tank. Remember, we don’t want to take our sets to complete failure at this point. The sets should feel challenging, but you should still be able to maintain perfect technique from start to finish.

Spend more time on warm ups and activation drills.

Ten minutes of mobility work, twice per day, every day, is a fantastic way to enhance your recovery, improve body awareness and control, minimise risk of injury, and fast track your way to training as safely and efficiently as possible. Lifestyle habits, like sitting for prolonged periods of time, mean areas like the glutes, lats, and deep abdominal muscles are notoriously lazy, and without proper activation, can cause other surrounding muscles – like the quads, lower back and traps – to take over. A mobility routine may consist of 4 or 5 high-rep, light weight or bodyweight exercises for your target muscle groups. The goal is not to fatigue the muscles, but rather serve as a “wake-up call” by increasing blood flow and enhancing the mind-muscle connection.

Don’t worry – you haven’t lost muscle!

Just because your muscles don’t look as “full” or “pop” like they used to does not mean you’ve lost muscle. Muscle is actually a lot harder to lose because it is harder to gain. It’s easier to lose strength and co-ordination because these are the adaptations that happen faster. Building muscle is an adaptation that takes a lot longer to “arrive” so it will take much longer to “leave.” What you’re seeing or feeling is likely decreased glycogen stores within the muscles from not training as intensely, making them appear “flat”.

Be kind to yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up because your body is not where you want it to be. Body composition (and body fat) is not permanent, all you need to do is take action to start making progress again.

Ready to make your post-Covid fitness comeback? Anna is now taking on new clients for 1-on-1 Personal Training and Nutrition programming at Spartans Gym and Fitness.

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