OK, so ‘post-COVID’ might be jumping the gun a little, but nonetheless gyms have finally re-opened! (Blessed be). I’d been trying my best to maintain at least a modicum of my usual fitness routine. But with no squat rack or bench in sight, it proved difficult. With space the size of a yoga mat to train in, and spending my time working from home, I’ve basically spent the past few months body-weight squatting and doing core workouts, which while amazing for my quads, glutes and core, it’s seen my overall fitness level plummet and within the last few weeks my motivation to workout has fallen off a cliff. Needless to say, I’ve been very excited to get back to the gym. So I was surprised to realise that my reaction was overwhelming one of nerves and anxiety. Over 15 years on from my first workout in a gym, I was suffering from a severe case of gym fear. I needed to figure out how to start working out again.
For 123 days I had tried my best to at least maintain (I realised very quickly that ‘progress’ for me wasn’t an option due to the weights I know longer had access too), but as the days went on I realised I wasn’t winning. I was putting on weight, I felt soft and not in control of my body. The knock-on effects were tough; I had mood swings like I’d never experienced, compounded by the additional effects of isolation. I’d go from happy to sad in a flash, then angry again when I was trying to train but couldn’t execute a move properly out of fear of hitting something.
Now I know what you’re thinking, why didn’t I train outside? To be totally upfront, I just simply fucking hate training outside. I did try a few runs here and there, but as a someone who is extremely body-conscious, I just don’t like the thought of people seeing me exercise outside, even though I don’t mind in a gym. It’s odd, I know. Perhaps it’s because I’m OK in a gym, I succeed in weight lifting. Outside, with things like long-distance running and metcon-type sessions, I’m weak. And I don’t want people seeing me flatline every five seconds.
As I’m writing this, I’m a few sessions down in the gym and still feeling a bit lost and unsure. I have my old routine but I’m not sure it’s the correct thing to be doing straight away, and I’m acutely aware of not overdoing it until I’m back in the flow (mainly the flow of 5.30am wake-up calls. FML). I’ve been ‘doing a bit of everything’ to see how it feels, and mainly I feel pain. A heavy squat-based class had left my lower back feeling like I’m 100. From looking at friends on social, I’m not the only who feels like this. I realised I need to change my priorities, set new interim goals to recondition my body and then reintroduce my old goals. So for me, it’s back to basics. Firstly, I’m reducing the amount I go, dropping from 6 sessions a week to 4 and I’m focusing on overall conditioning and compound movements to get my body working as a unit again. I’m peppering the workouts with classes to elevate my overall endurance and I’m working on lower rep counts and progressive overloads on weights.
But this is just what works for me, and I’m always conscious , so I reached out to a PT friend of mine. Alex has helped train me through injuries and plateaus and come out the otherwise stronger and better. Due to an on-going shoulder issue, I was maxing out at 50/60kgs on the bench and was getting frustrated with overall progression. I’d seen Alex in the gym with clients for ages and always noticed the insane gains they were all making, so I decided a PT was what I needed. Sure enough, with Alex’s guidance on how to better condition my shoulder, I was soon hitting a 1RM of 110kg. I spoke with friends and people on social about what they were most concerned about with regards to getting back to the gym and put the questions to Alex.
As a side note: If you’re starting out for the very first time in the gym, the information below will be useful to you, but I also recommend you read this great article by Ben Weil. The gym can be daunting for many, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community, Ben offers an eloquent and inclusive take on stepping into the gym for the first time.
Now over to Alex…
It’s never been more important to really understand and look after your body. The pandemic, and resulting lockdown gave me the breathing space to really take a step back from the fast pace of life before, and the perspective to consider and reevaluate priorities moving forward. Unfortunately, lockdown also provided us with no access to gyms and has typically forced people into two camps – either having to go running or get creative with home workouts, or exercising less than ever before. I know from speaking with clients that whichever camp people have been in many are extremely keen to get back in the gym right now and start working hard to make up for the lost time.
What’s your key advice on how to start working out again for the first time since lockdown?
- Leave your ego at the door and ease your way back in
- Start off with shorter sessions than pre lockdown
- Plan an effective warm-up, cool down and rest periods between exercises
- Be smart about your weight choices, just because you could bench 80kg before lockdown, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can or should start there now
- Make sure to increase your fluid intake, as I’m sure during lockdown with the less frequent physical activity this would have dropped slightly
- Allow allocated ‘active recovery’ and ‘full rest’ days, both are important!
Should I go straight back to my old routine?
How slowly should I go to getting back to my usual routine?
I feel sluggish all over after not being able to move much during lockdown, what can I do to wake my whole body up and make it feel connected again?
Am I better to head straight back into the gym, or should I do classes?
My nutrition has fallen off the wagon during lockdown, how can I get my diet back on track?
How to calculate your BMR
How to calculate your TDEE
Sedentary – If you get minimal or no exercise, multiply your BMR by 1.2.
Lightly active – If you exercise lightly one to three days a week, multiply your BMR by 1.375.
Moderately active – If you exercise moderately three to five days a week, multiply your BMR by 1.55.
Very active – If you engage in hard exercise six to seven days a week, multiply your BMR by 1.725.
Extra active – If you engage in very hard exercise six to seven days a week or have a physical job, multiply your BMR by 1.9.
The importance of BMR and TDEE
It doesn’t matter how you start, it matters that you start
Friends with (fitness) benefits
Whether you’re trying to get back into it or starting out for the first time, remember to go easy on yourself. The fact you’re even there making a start is great. Be realistic, keep it fun, ask for advice. My inbox is always open :).