How To Safely Get Back To The Gym

Train safe and enjoy the process.

After a long time off the gym, returning to training has its own little risks. You are deconditioned and often overly motivated to make up for lost time, which isn’t the safest combination for returning to your old training plan again. To keep yourself injury free and maximising fun, let’s take a look at what you should and should rather not do.

you are deconditioned

No matter why you haven’t been training in the gym for a long time, be it illness, lacking motivation, escalating workloads, a pandemic, you are now deconditioned. Even if you did some training with minimal loads or body weight at home, you are now not used to lifting heavy stuff. Our body is an adaptation machine that seeks efficiency and while this is a good thing most of the time, this also means it starts to “cut away” everything that it deems to be not important anymore. Like the adaptations to heavy lifting. Yes, structual changes happen and your joints and ligaments literally become weaker. But fear not, those adaptations can easily reversed by picking up lifting again. Just make sure you don’t get injured while doing so …

Injury prediction and prevention

Injury prediction and prevention is the holy grail of exercise science, as healthy athletes just perform better than those who are injured often. No surprises here. Given that, there is surprisingly little conclusive research on injury prediction. If, why and how injuries happen seems to be a highly complex mechanism and we still lack the understanding necessary to make any predictions.

Injury prevention is a little bit better understood, though the only intervention that reliably reduces injuries is strength training, which reduces sports injuries by up to 68% and overuse injuries by up to 50%. If you are reading this, I suppose your “sport” is strength training, so trying to prevent injuries that happen during strength training by doing more strength training is probably not very useful. That said, there are some things that usually help to stay injury free.

To note: These are all temporary suggestions. Conditioning your body to handle higher levels of stress, in all manners and ranges, should be a long-term priority.

Keep your volume in check

As already mentioned above, after a longer gym break, you are now deconditioned to the stimuli imposed by (heavy) weights. Even if you trained at home, the gym is a different world. So start with lower volumes that you were used to. There is some evidence that even trained individuals can make good gains by as little as one hard working set per session. Is this ideal long term? Probably not, but it is a good place to start and maybe an eye-opener to you if you pushed volume hard previously.

Autoregulate your training

Forget the weights you used to lift before your gym break. You’ll probably have to use far less weight now. But don’t get discouraged by it, your old strength will come back fast. Your body literally forgot how to efficiently lift, so you have to teach it again. Given that, percentage based programs that calculate your loads as percentages of your 1RM (the maximal load you can lift one time) are useless for this transition period.

Instead use an autoregulatory approach that let you choose your weights and gives you a target rep range and intensiveness. This way you can account for the quick jumps in performance without having to do 1RM testing.

Keep training saFe

Detraining leads to altered tissue properties, leaving them more susceptible to damage. Knowing this, it is a good idea to keep tissue damage, which is bound to happen when training, in check.

We can achieve this by limiting range of motion (ROM) and movement velocity. Although ROM is an important driver of hypertrophy, it can also stress tendons, especially in positions where the muscle is stretched and forces are high (end-range positions). So go easy on those Romanian deadlifts in the beginning.

High movement velocities also put a lot of stress on your tendons as forces spike high when accelerating fast against resistance. Logically if you want to minimise forces, a slower lifting tempo is warranted. Control the excentric (usually the “down”-part) and also the concentric (the “up”-part) of the movement. This will also force you to use slightly lower weights, which is generally a good thing to do when trying to keep accidents at bay.

Prioritise recovery

This isn’t sexy, but getting enough sleep in is the most underrated factor for performance, gains, recovery and generally wellbeing. When returning to the gym, do everything you can to boost recovery even further to make sure your body can handle the stress of training. Make sure to get in the best quality nutrition possible. Limit alcohol intake. Stop smoking! Try to keep other sources of stress in check. And once again: get your sleep in (7-8 hours per night as a guideline)!

To sum it up

  • start with little volume and work up slowly.
  • autoregulate your training and don’t chase numbers.
  • avoid end-range movements.
  • use a slow and controlled lifting tempo.
  • make sure you recover hard.
  • have fun doing all those things above.

Are you struggling with a boring diet or are you not enjoying your training anymore? Contact us and let us talk how we can reach your body composition or strength goals and let training and eating be fun again!

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