There are going to be two types of people returning to the gym after the lockdown
- the people that have done nothing to maintain some kind of strength or conditioning, and
- the people that have done what they can to keep training during the lockdown (even training hard with bodyweight workouts will do a lot for strength maintenance).
For competitive strength athletes, no training at all is a lot more detrimental as far as the time it takes to get back to your best goes but that’s an article for another day, today we focus on everyone else.
What often happens with people who take a training break is they get back in the gym and want to go hell for leather from day one of getting back in the gym. This is a bad idea if you’ve done nothing for 6+ weeks!
By going as hard as you can right away your going to do nothing other than causing yourself a lot of pain from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). You’re also putting yourself at high risk of injury, it wouldn’t be uncommon to pull or strain a muscle if you do this.
Firstly, the group that has been doing nothing. If your one of these people and you’re reading this you should start doing some form of training now, this link to my bodyweight training during lockdown article may help. If you continue doing nothing at all it is going to take you twice as long to get back to your best than if you had been doing some maintenance work.
Some of the things that you will struggle most with when you get back will be the unbearable DOMS, especially after your first few sessions. Another thing will be mobility which may hinder you from getting into good starting positions on lifts or not being able to safely go through a full range of motions on exercises like squats or stiff-leg deadlifts. Like I said above its going to take you a lot longer to get back to your best.
Will I get back to my best quicker if I just go hard?
Getting back to your best could take anything from 8-12 weeks for the average person, shaving 2 weeks off that really isn’t going to make much of a difference to you. If you get injured you will actually slow the process down even more. If you manage not to get injured you may get back to your best a week or two earlier, but is it worth the risk? I can assure you from experience that it is not!
So where to start when the gyms reopen
For the big compound lifts (squat, bench. deadlift) I would recommend going no heavier than 50% for a few sets of 5 reps on each followed by a few accessories lifts like dumbbell press, lat pulldown, rows, and ab work for sets of 10 reps at a weight that is relatively easy for you on week 1, only training 3 days on this week.
Following this week I would recommend increasing the weight on the main movement by around 5% for the next 3 weeks and increasing the difficulty of the accessories a little bit each week as well as adding a 4th day if wanted.
Once you are at this point, your body will be used to handling weight, working through full ranges of motion and you will have gained back a lot of strength and muscle, you can now start to ramp thing up a good bit and maybe hop into a difficult program again without the risk of injury as you’ve essentially primed your body for hard work over the last 4 weeks.
Something that I want to be clear about is that at this point you are not yet back at your best, you’re merely ready to train hard again.
What to do if you’ve been training with just bodyweight
I would recommend starting the same as outlined above on week 1 simply because your joints and stabilizing muscles won’t be used to the heavy loading of a barbell, but you will be able to take bigger weekly jumps in weight because you’ve maintained a good range of motion and held onto a good amount of muscle. Rather than jumping 5% each week, you would be able to jump around 10% each week and go harder on accessories while staying safe. This could cut down the time it takes to get back to your best in half.