Training after lockdown will be… interesting. When the lockdown ends and the gyms re-open, there’ll be a rush back like never before. The gyms won’t be busy… they’ll be January rush ON SPEED busy. Safety concerns will go out of the window, because the bro’s will be eager to get back to the gym to reverse the deflation of their hard-earned muscle. There’ll be gym selfies galore.
This isn’t a bad thing at all by the way – the fitness industry (like a lot of others) has been kicked in the nuts by the lockdown. Unlike lots of other businesses however, there isn’t really a way for most gyms to legitimately generate an income in a lockdown. A few smaller studios have managed to do online classes, but it’s pretty difficult for a 1000+ member place to do that. They need our support.
Anyway, I’m digressing. What should we do when it comes to training after lockdown? How should we go about regaining fitness properly?
Enter, the Principles of Training
One of the fundamental principles of training is ‘reversibility‘ – this is the concept that through a reduction in training, the body will reverse the physical improvements it has made from exercise.
The reality is you’re probably going to be weaker. You’re probably going to be slower. Your nervous system and technique will need to shake off the rust. Your technique won’t be as sharp. The physical decline needs to be addressed sensibly. If I had one big bit of advice for the return to training, it is this…
TAKE YOUR TIME!
Honestly, the biggest mistake you will make in your return to training is to rush back to your old volume and intensity. If you try to go back to what you were lifting too quickly after a 8-12 week layoff, you are going to injure yourself. It may not be the first session. It may not be the fifth, but if you don’t return to action appropriately, you’ll suffer in the long run.
Think of a sportsman returning to fitness after an injury. They don’t jump into first team action straight away – they slowly phase up their return. First it’ll be to regain movement and mobility. Then they’ll work on change of direction and sports-specific movement. Then they’ll work on getting back to match fitness. Then they’ll return to competitive sport in a phased way.
You should do a similar version. It’s what I’ll be doing with my training after lockdown.
It’s important to do this for a number of reasons, but a major one is the reverse in connective tissue adaptation. According to Chris Sommers, US Gymnastics coach, muscle tissue takes around 30 days to adapt, whereas connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, fascia) take around 210 days to adapt. Respect these guidelines – I know from personal opinion that they exist and they’re real.
In English, that essentially means that although your muscles may feel fine, your connective tissues will have some catching up to do, physiologically. If you want to avoid injury, give them time. Your muscles may be able to cope with heavy weights and high volume quickly, but your ligaments and tendons won’t.
Getting technique right again after lockdown…
When it comes to weightlifting, your technique and co-ordination in lots of exercises will be off. In the case of movements such as the snatch or the clean and jerk, movement timing and sequencing is important. A lack of practice of the movement patterns will affect the execution of the technique.
I’m going to start with a light weight (perhaps even empty bar) and regain a semblance of technique. I’m going to work on my positioning and my timing. I’m going to make sure I’m able to achieve the positions I need to and perform the movements in the right sequence. Form always trumps weight. Always.
Once I’ve satisfied myself I can do this, I’m going to slowly add load. I’m going to focus on light weight, high volume movements.
A lack of load during the movements will also affect their execution, so scale up the load slowly. If you add a lot of weight to a bar and move poorly or execute a lift with bad technique, you are almost certainly going to injure yourself. Don’t be stupid.
By the way – this doesn’t just apply to weightlifting. This is the same if you’re a powerlifter, a bodybuilder, a sprinter, a thrower or a jumper. Movements that haven’t been properly practiced for a while will need to eased back in. Training after lockdown is going to be like rehabilitation.
Volume over weight
Once you’ve reached a point where your technique and movement are good again, focus on adding volume rather than load. There’s a couple of main reasons why this a good idea…
- Volume builds resilience in muscle, tendons and ligaments. It reinforces movement patterns in the nervous system. It allows you to train at a load that you can manage with good technique. Fatigue is likely to be the factor that sees you form dip, not load – this is important from a safety point of view.
- Adding load puts unnecessary pressure on tissues that aren’t used to it. You’re far more likely to injure yourself going for a PB than you are your 8th rep of 60% of your max, for example.
So with this is mind I’m going to follow an edited version of German Volume Training, where each day in the gym will have a target movement and a couple of accessory lifts to go along with it. I’m going to play with the programming a little bit, but I think something like this will be how I’ll approach it…
- Day 1: Snatch Variations – Hip/Hang/Full
- Day 2: Clean Variations – Hip/Hang/Full
- Day 3: Squat Variations – Front/Back/Single Leg
- Day 4: Push and Pull Variations – Horizontal and Vertical Plane
- Day 5: High Volume, Low Weight Olympic Weightlifting
Interspersed in this will be conditioning workouts, anything from 3-20 minutes depending on how I’m feeling. These won’t be 5 consecutive days either, certainly not at first anyway!
Ramp up recovery efforts when training after lockdown…
Your recovery effort will be even more important than normal when training after lockdown, because having taken a break from heavy and intense weight training, returning to workouts will be incredibly tough on your physiology. Coming into training after lockdown, you’re likely to be quite de-conditioned from a gym point of view.
As I’ve discussed many times before, recovery is a multi-faceted endeavour, which includes sleep, active recovery, sauna use, excellent nutrition and effective stretching and soft tissue work. You can even add to the benefit by wearing recovery-boosting clothing.
All of these aspects will be more important than ever when you ramp up your training after lockdown.
The increased volume will hit you harder than you expect, so you have to be prepared to cycle your load and volume depending on how you are feeling. If you are more tired or sore than you expected, then cycle your workload and intensity down. It’s about retuning to full fitness, not rushing and ended up injured. In fact, for more information on overtraining, read this post.
Resisting temptation to overdo it after lockdown…
The biggest challenge many people will face when training after lockdown is going to be resisting the temptation to go all out after a week or two back. There’s a good chance that after completing a full week of workouts some people will push themselves a little harder than they should and they may end up in pain.
The problem is it may not be the first workout, the second or even the fifth one that does the damage – it could be the accumulation. The dripping tap effect. Just be careful and build yourself back as though you were returning to the gym after an injury. Take sensible, baby steps towards full training again. You’ll be glad you did it.
Training After Lockdown: Concluded
In a nutshell, here’s how I’m going to approach my training after lockdown (and suggest you do the same, lest you find yourself missing gym time for a totally different reason)…
- BE PATIENT! It’ll take as long as it takes.
- Start with mobility and flexibility – if you can’t get into the stable positions you need to lift from, work on that first. You can’t fire a rocket from a canoe.
- When you have mobility, focus on technique. Work with an empty bar or low weights. Form over load, every time.
- When you have technique back, work with a low weight, but high volume. This builds muscle, improves technique and gives connective tissue time to adapt.
- When you are coping with high volume and executing movements well, you can start to add more weight.
- When you’re adding weight, progress properly. Don’t make silly jumps in weight from one day to the next.
- When the time is right, get back to where you were.
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