How to return to the gym

There will be a very long list of precautions and rules in place when we are finally allowed to set foot back inside the gym again, and these will no doubt hinder the process somewhat for many of us. That said, there isn't much sense dwelling on them, because there is little if anything we can do to change them. What we can do is make sure that we return mentally, and physically, prepared to return to our former glory, and not be brought crashing down to earth with an injury, just moments after being allowed back to train.

What this means will be different for different people, and will largely be based on two factors; what you have done during lockdown, and what your training age is*.

There will broadly speaking be three ways you will have spent lockdown, with regards to training; you may have done little or no training, you may have trained but neglected strength work due to a lack of equipment, or you may have trained almost as usual, just without the coaching and atmosphere.

If you fall into the first category, and haven't trained very much, you are likely most at risk. This is particularly true if you have a well developed training age. You will likely still possess the ability to push hard, but since your body isn't conditioned the way it was a few months ago, particularly when it comes to recovery! If this is you, a good diverse mix of longer workouts, and strength work, but a gradual reintroduction of both is the way to go. A sensible way to achieve this would probably be three sessions per week, for the first 2-3 weeks, before stepping back up to four or more.

If you've trained and maintained, or possibly even improved your engine, but haven't done much strength work, the answer is pretty simple - lift! Try and take advantage of all opportunities to build strength, both with weights and in gymnastic movements you haven't maintained, but be prepared to be sore! A few weeks of playing it careful, and you'll be well on your way back to your prior fitness levels.

If you have trained almost as usual, that's great! Just a couple of traps that may be waiting for you. Firstly, you might have picked up the odd bad habit without any feedback. Be prepared to step back just a little, and think about the long game. Also, you will subconsciously, or through lack of equipment choice, have changed your strengths and weaknesses a little. Just keep an eye on imbalances, and be prepared to have taken a slight step backwards in a couple of areas. It will definitely be fixable, but that journey is much quicker once the fault is identified.

Regardless of which of the above categories you fall into, you will likely have trained alone, or with very limited company. When we return, we all need to prepare ourselves to approach our workouts mentally prepared, as well as just physically. We may get carried away with the extra motivation that a class, a coach and a loud dance song brings. We may be socially excitable, and forget the basics. Or we may simply be a little overwhelmed and uncomfortable after adapting to training very differently of late. Whichever it is for you, just remember that everyone will be dealing with something, and ultimately we all want to return to the supportive, welcoming atmosphere we left in 2020.

Understanding the mental battles you may face, and preparing honestly, humbly and patiently for the physical ones will see you not only return to your prior fitness, but stay injury free and having fun long enough to surpass it. I for one can't wait to lift with people again, just a couple of kilos less than before!

*Training age is a combination of the number of years you have been training, and your experience. For example, you may have two athletes who have been training 5 years, but if one trains 6 sessions per week, the other 3, then their training ages will be very different.

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