The one thing you need to consider when gyms reopen

reconditioning

The UK was put into lockdown on the 23rd March (how quickly have the last few months gone?!) and at this time our hearts broke when we learnt that we wouldn’t be able to attend the gym or train with our teams.

It’s now early July and the lockdown is starting to lift. Happily, gyms look like they will start to re-open this summer on the 25th July.

However, when we return back to the gym and start to pick up barbells we will need to be cautious. Due to the pandemic, many of us have been more sedentary. For example, I have been teaching online, in my living room whilst sat on my bottom. I’ve missed out on incidental exercise walking around campus to my next meeting or lecture and standing on my feet while I teach.

When we move or exercise less, our physical condition declines. In the first day of immobilisation (due to injury) we can lose 5% muscle mass, and up to 8% each week (this is geared towards injury but you can see how quickly our condition starts to decline). This can put us at greater risk of injury when we return to the gym or field. We call this deterioration in our physical state ‘deconditioning’.

So how do you prevent or reverse this? And how can we safely return to sport and the gym?

Whilst deconditioning can be a quick process, reconditioning can take longer.

When returning to the gym or football field our muscles might feel ‘tighter’, joints more restrictive and our breathing might have become heavier. Additionally, in the days following our return to training, we might have pain and discomfort when performing everyday activities. This is called delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS).  Depending on your levels of deconditioning, this might be something you experience over a few workouts or over a number of weeks. 

Those who try to return to fast, too heavy and too soon can be at risk of injury. It is important to listen to your body at this time.

To reduce risk of injury it is recommended that you slowly ease back into your training regime. You should look to reducing your intensity to 70-80% of your pre-lockdown routine. E.g. if you used to squat 100kg then you could start back at 70kg and gradually build the weight up from there. It might be useful to look up regressions of exercises you could once carry out with ease.

Secondly, as per normal, you should make sure your warm-up is specific to your training. For example, if you’re going to re-introduce sprint drills then you need to make sure you warm up your calf muscles again through body weight calf raises and/or simple plyometric drills.

Don’t become disheartened

Finally, don’t become disheartended when you return. Understand that what you have gone through over the last few months has been completely out of your hands and you’ll have managed it as best as you can in your own circumstances. Everyone has been in a similar position, and everyone will be facing similar challenges when they return. Don’t let your ego win. 

If you’ve had COVID-19 you should be particularly careful and it is worth speaking to a healthcare professional about when is safe for you to return. For everyone, it is important when you return you set yourself realistic goals. Keep an eye on the NHS website which has the most up-to-date information on COVID-19.

Below are some specific things you can consider as a coach or player when returning to training: 

As a coach you should be aware of the following:

  • Your players might be at increased risk of injury. Consider the structure of your warm-up to build in injury prevention strategies.
  • Be under the assumption that all individuals will have a level of deconditioning. Not all athletes will have had access to space, time or resources to allow them to train during lockdown.
  • Don’t push your athletes too hard, too soon. Find a careful balance, consider how you can progress and regress drills.
  • Encourage athletes to take short rest periods (and build these into your sessions) and take a sip of water then.
  • Build up your player’s confidence rather than putting them down.


As a player you should:

  • Speak to your coach if their sessions are too intense too soon, let them know how you’re feeling throughout the session to help them gauge where you’re at
  • Don’t get disheartened if you’re not performing as you did prior to quarantine 
  • Ease yourself back into the gym – don’t immediately perform your 1RM or pick up that heavy barbell which you could pre-lockdown
  • Take a read of these recovery tips to limit the DOMs you are likely to get when you first return.

I’m sure you’ll be celebrating with me when the gyms re-open! Enjoy it, but remember not to go too hard, too soon!

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