Going Back to the Gym after Lockdown
April 12th is fast approaching and many of us will be counting down the days until the gyms reopen!
It’s been over 3 months since we’ve been able to train in the gym and even if you have equipment at home its likely your workouts will have been at lower intensity during lockdown…if you’ve been working out at all! When you don’t train or don’t train as hard for long periods, the physiological changes that occur in your body in response to training wear off. Strength and fitness will be decreased and you may have lost muscle mass. The cardiac muscle is not as strong and your heart won’t be able to pump as much blood around your body as quickly.
Lung function may also reduce and oxygen transfer may be affected as a result. In your muscles, energy metabolism will not be as efficient and muscle fibres become smaller due to the reduced stimulus. This means that your ability to take in oxygen, deliver it to your muscles and generate energy during exercise will not be as good as it was pre-lockdown and it will be harder to train for as long or as intensely as before.
But have no fear! You can get back to your pre lockdown levels pretty quickly and safely with a good plan. Be careful not to jump back in where you left off as your body will need time to adjust and you’re more likely to get injured if you go too hard too soon.
Reduce the intensity. Start at 50% of your pre-lockdown intensity and loads, and focus on proper form and the mind to muscle connection. Increase the intensity steadily over about 4 weeks (or longer if needed) and you’ll soon be back to your pre-lockdown strength.
Allow adequate recovery. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is muscle soreness due to microscopic tears in muscles that occur during high intensity exercise and the subsequent inflammation that occurs in response. You are more likely to suffer from DOMS if you haven’t worked out in a long time as your muscles aren’t used to training and therefore will be traumatised more easily. If your DOMS is severe at first, you may need to take extra time
in between your workouts to allow your body to recover. But keeping active with light movement and lower intensities is recommended to help reduce soreness and aid recovery. Many of the body’s recovery and restoration processes happen when we are asleep, so make sure you’re getting at least 7 hours a night to support this.
Warm up and mobilise. Make sure you spend time preparing your body for high intensity exercise. Get warm, raise your heart rate, mobilise your joints and ligaments and activate the muscles you are going to be using. This will prime your body, improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury.
Stretch. Intense exercise causes inflammation in our muscles, tendons and ligaments which can lead to stiffness and this is likely to be worse after a long break from training. Stretching is important to improve blood flow and help ease inflammation and stiffness. Other techniques, such as foam rolling and massage can also help relieve pain and tightness in muscles caused by adhesions. Adhesions are areas where muscle binds to the surrounding
connective tissue, or fascia. This can be caused by both long periods of inactivity or intense training.
So now your training plan in place, you should also think about your safety. Although gyms reopening is a great sign that we are controlling the pandemic, you should still be vigilant and careful. Continuing to practice social distancing and good infection control measures is key to reducing your risk of becoming infected with Covid-19 and spreading it to others.
Most gyms have been working hard during lockdown to make them safe for our return on April 12th. Your gym may have implemented changes such as spacing out equipment, creating zones to keep people 2m apart, using screens, reducing capacity and pre booked time slots in order to ensure your safety. Make sure you are familiar with your gym rules and infection control policy and if you have questions don’t hesitate to contact your gym to ask.
Take your own hand sanitiser and cleaning wipes to use before and after you touch a piece of equipment. In gyms we are constantly touching things others have touched, and this may increase the risk of spread the virus so remember to clean your equipment and sanitise your hands regularly to reduce this.
Wearing a mask is not essential when exercising but if you are able to you may feel more comfortable doing so. Otherwise make sure you put your mask on when you're moving around the gym. You could also consider taking you own mat and towel if you have concerns about using items others have used.
Finally, enjoy it! Set new goals, get back to the lifts and equipment you’ve missed the most and feel the endorphins!! Enjoy the process and don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not where you used to be, but instead use that as new motivation to keep going!!
Written by Dr Folu Oluwajana, https://www.instagram.com/Fitdocfolu