Returning to the Gym Safely
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Now that gyms are slowly opening back up, many of us are ready to get a barbell in our hands and lift some heavy weight. While resistance training is necessary, be cautious that you will not be the same lifter you were before the quarantine. This article will give you a few ideas on how to get back into the swing of lifting weights, with a simple way to build that strength while reducing the chances of injury.
You do not need to “test” where you are the first day back in the gym. This is something I have heard many times coaching over the years. People come back from injury, vacation, or missing the gym for a few weeks and they want to see where they are at. The safest thing to do is slowly build up on the movements over time. This could be 2 weeks if you have been training for 10+ years previously or it could be 8 weeks if you are fairly new to training. If you are new to training I would argue that you should not test a 1RM at all because you do not know how to express the strength needed, but this is a different post in itself.
What you have to understand is that you are not the same person you were before the break. You have had different training adaptations while you were at home. Some of you may have been lucky to have a barbell at home but maybe you were not able to squat heavy, so you did higher reps.
Now you are probably asking how should you go about building up the movements so you can get back to your previous numbers?
Here is an example that I use with many of my clients when they take a long break from training with a barbell. This is not the only way to introduce barbell movements but I have found it to be very effective with increasing strength and motor control in a relatively short period of time.
The first 3 weeks are an accumulation cycle. This means that you are going to build volume and time under tension with the movement. The goal of this is to get you used to moving with some weight on your back while improving the motor patterns needed to squat with weight. It should not feel crazy difficult the first week, but may be challenging due to the time off. By using a tempo of 30X1 we are able to control the weight more efficiently and build the neurological connections back up quickly. Since there is a small increase in percentage, the sets will get harder as the weeks progress.
Weeks 4-6 are strictly an intensification build, which means the reps are staying the same as the percentages increase. This build will prep you to have heavier weight on your back while maintaining good positions because the tempo is staying the same. By the end of week 6 you should be close to what feels like a 5RM each set. This is a linear approach to progression meaning all variables stay the same except for one, in this case it is the weight increasing each session.
This slow progressive build will not only help you get back under a bar in a smart way, but should get you close to your previous number +/- 5-10%.
You can replace the back squat with any absolute strength movements, deadlift, bench, press, squat and any of the variations. This plan should not be used with the olympic lifts, the return to strength speed or power movements will look similar with an accumulation phase and an intensification phase, however the total number of reps and load will vary for each person due to technique limitations and training age of power movements.
This idea also transfers over to conditioning and gymnastics. Do not expect you will have the same capacity for pull ups or barbell cycling that you once did. Be on the lookout for a future post detailing how to improve gymnastics and higher intensity contractions such as barbell cycling.
Playing the long game when it comes to getting back to the gym will not only reduce your chances of getting hurt when you return, but will make sure you are set up to progress for years to come.
If you need help moving pain free and returning to the gym in a safe way feel free to reach out to me personally (firstname.lastname@example.org) or schedule an appointment here.