It’s been a little over 7 weeks since the doors of gyms across the country were closed indefinitely.
As a gym owner and coach, this time has been nothing short of surreal. I still occasionally wake up and forget that we’re in lockdown only to come crashing back to reality a moment later.
The good news is there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
As gyms across the country (and the world) begin to look at reopening now is the perfect time to take a moment and consider what your training might look like when you step back through those doors you’ve missed so much.
If you’re anything like the meathead portion of my personality your first instinct is to max out everything on day 1 and revel in the glory of feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus for a week straight.
Returning to training after an extended break is an exercise in self-awareness and restraint. When done well it can set you up with the consistency you need to be back crushing PRs in no time. Done poorly, your return to training might set you back further than the enforced lay off.
Below are 3 ideas that, with some consideration, should help lay the foundation for many years of productive training.
1. “Just start from where you are, with what you have.”
My good friend and fellow gym owner, Dave Nixon, posted this quote from his book a couple of weeks into this lockdown and it is one of the most universally applicable pieces of training/life advice you’ll ever receive.
If you’re one of the lucky few who’ve been able to continue training without any major interruptions you might find yourself pretty close to as strong as you were before this all began.
The harsh reality is that most of us are probably now comparatively weaker and less well-conditioned than we were earlier in the year.
It will come back but it’s going to take time.
The biggest mistake made by people of all levels of training experience is to step back into the gym after an extended layoff and assume that what you were doing months or years ago remains relevant and achievable now.
That’s not how it works.
The weights, sets and reps really don’t matter all that much. Initially, training should be about finding your feet again. Squatting with a bar is going to feel pretty weird if all you’ve done is sit on the couch and watch Tiger King for 7 weeks.
Take your time and set the ego aside. Now is not the moment to jump straight into a competition peaking block or crushing yourself with never-ending “conditioning” circuits.
Start slowly and remember what it feels like to be a beginner again.
One step at a time.
Start from where you are, not where you were.
2. Pay attention to how you feel
Training successfully for any period of time is about so much more than just sets, reps and percentages written out in a fancy spreadsheet.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to connect with how you feel while you’re training and in the days after each session. Your body doesn’t have an internal scale that accurately tracks the weight on the bar or the number of sets.
The stimulus that matters most in training for performance is proximity to failure.
Weights that used to feel easy might now feel hard and you almost certainly aren’t capable of recovering from the same volume of training you once were.
Listening to and understanding the feedback your body provides will make you a better athlete.
From a programming standpoint tools like the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale are especially useful when returning from a long lay off. This allows you to prescribe a level of effort without associating that effort with a particular weight leaving you more room for autoregulation based on how you feel during a session.
At Burley, we use THIS flow chart from Reactive Training Systems to judge RPE. Judging RPE is a skill that everyone who trains should learn. It’ll take a little while to be comfortable with judging it for yourself but with practice, it can become a very powerful tool in your training toolbox.
Beyond the actual nitty-gritty of training it will also be important to take stock of how you’re recovering from training and life. At Burley, we use a simple 1-5 scale for judging mood at the start of the training session. A single data point doesn’t necessarily provide much insight into the recovery process however the trend across a week can often, with some context, provide a great overview of how you’re responding to the training you’re doing.
If you notice consecutive days of crappy training and poor mood scores it’s time to reassess your sleep, nutrition and daily habits and perhaps make changes.
Self-awareness in and around training will always be the most important aspect of the entire process.
Take a moment to pay attention to how you feel.
Now you can make a better decision.
3. Be grateful
Training is a privilege and there’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind you that it should be something you enjoy, not a chore that you HAVE to do.
I suspect there’ll be a lot of people walking back into gyms all over the world in the coming months with a renewed vigour and excitement around training again. It’s going to be a great time to be a part of a community gym like Burley. The vibe will be pumping (even if it’s with a slightly smaller, physically-distanced group) as everyone rides the wave of emotion that spills through the doors on day 1.
Life has a funny way of making that thing you’ve been excited about become very mundane and routine very quickly. It’ll be pretty easy to fall into old habits if you’re not paying attention.
It’s important that amongst all that excitement and motivation early on that you take a moment to be grateful for the privilege.
Be grateful for the people that own the gym(s) where you train.
If they’re anything like me or many of my friends they’ve probably just experienced the most stressful 3 months of their entire lives and are still facing months or years of uncertainty about their income and more importantly the places they’ve built that are loved by so many of you.
You don’t need to do anything special to thank us.
Just turn up and train hard.
I can’t wait to see everyone back under a bar soon.
Stay strong and wash your hands.