Returning to the Gym: How to Structure a Safe and Effective Program
With gyms opening back up, it is important to consider what returning to the gym should look like and why you should have a plan before stepping back into your gym. As much as we would all like to return as though we haven’t missed a beat, that approach isn’t going to be safe or effective in the long-run. First and foremost, ease back into the process. Jumping straight into heavy lifting, high volume training/CrossFit, or training for athletic development is a recipe for injury and stagnation. Even if you’re a casual lifter trying to get into better shape for summer, you need to ease back into things.
There are many different things to consider when easing back into things. First, make sure you’re getting in an effective warm-up. For the first few weeks back, it will likely take you longer to feel ready to perform than you are accustomed to. That’s totally normal. Groups who should be especially mindful of their warm-up include older individuals, less experienced individuals, individuals who have dealt with chronic injuries or pain, and strength/power athletes (high intensity lifters). For my warm-ups I like to use the RAMP protocol. RAMP stands for Raise (body temperature), Activate and Mobilize (specific muscles and joints) and Potentiate (reaching the same intensity of the exercises you will be performing). Following this protocol as opposed to just stretching will improve the effectiveness of your warm-up greatly.
So you finished your warm-up and you’re ready to exercise. Remember, we are still easing back into things. Two strategies I recommend for your return to lifting are: 1) decreasing the weight you’re lifting 2) decreasing overall volume (the number of sets you’re performing) and 3) decreasing the range of motion through which you are lifting. Numbers 1 and 2 are pretty self-explanatory, but I’d like to unpack the third a little bit. An example of decreasing your range of motion would be performing a half-depth squat instead of a full-depth squat. This can be beneficial because it allows you to safely lift heavy-weight while staying away from the inherently more-dangerous end ranges of motion. As your nervous system and muscles become more accustomed to lifting again, you can start progressing into those fuller range-of-motion lifts. Depending who you are, the process to return to “normal” may take 2 weeks or 2 months. The most important things to remember, though, are not to rush and not to spend your time comparing yourself to others. You will get back to where you were and, if you’re patient and diligent in your approach, you will progress beyond your previous bests.
Fitness Professional, Matt Rucinski
Interested in learning more? Contact Matt or one of our other great Personal Trainers to figure out how to get more physical activity and/or exercise into your lifestyle.