5 TIPS TO RECLAIM YOUR PRE-PANDEMIC RESULTS
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
Tired of crammed at-home workouts in your dining room?
Sick of dialling in for your 6 AM gym session via Zoom?
Struggling to convince yourself that walking to and from the fridge counts as cardio?
The wait is over: Australian gyms have officially reopened nationwide! (welcome back, Victoria!)
While gyms re-opening allows us to regain a sense of normality and to reestablish our goals and routine, for many of us, the last few months may have been a lot more sedentary than we care to admit. From cutting back on gym-based exercise and outdoor hobbies to working from home, it’s safe to say that most of us may be feeling as though we’re miles away from achieving our goals...and guess what? That’s totally okay. Now it’s time to reflect, reassess and realign!
If you’re bursting with excitement and pent up energy to reclaim your pre-pandemic results, it should come as no surprise that easing back into gym life may require some serious patience, discipline and a little knowledge on what your body has experienced over the past few months and how you can get back to where you were without causing injury to yourself. Let’s get started...
One word: deconditioning.
We (ie humans) are bioplastic, meaning our bodies respond to what we do with them. This can be both good and bad. If we’re constantly exercising and hitting the gym, our body will generally respond positively and will result in us getting fitter and stronger and feeling more physically and mentally healthy. But, on the other hand, when we stop exercising, our body will undo all of the hard work we put in and our physical condition will decline. This, unfortunate, part of the process is known as ‘deconditioning’.
While having a malleable body is hugely beneficial, unfortunately, deconditioning can happen much faster than the conditioning phase. Certain studies have seen significant declines in muscle mass, physical function, strength, aerobic capacity and metabolic function in just 10 days of inactivity.
You’ve probably guessed it already: while deconditioning can happen extremely quickly, the sad news is, reconditioning the body is often much slower, which requires patience and discipline. If returning to the gym has got your muscles feeling a lot tighter, your breathing a lot heavier and your joints a lot stiffer, these are normal feelings during the reconditioning phase, which should improve over a few weeks. However, it’s important to be patient with your body if you want to reduce your risk of injury, rather than engaging in high-intensity workouts or increasing your load too quickly.
With this in mind, here are our top 5 tips for easing back into gym-life injury-free:
Regaining your pre-covid gym physique isn’t a race. Take your time with it and learn to enjoy the process of bettering your physical and mental health. Depending on your training type, easing back into your training routine could mean spending less time on the treadmill, lifting lighter weights or simply turning the intensity down a little bit. To reduce your risk of injury, aim to reduce your intensity or load to roughly 70 to 80 per cent of your standard effort for a few weeks and build gradually over time.
It’s important to note that your physical response to exercise will also be largely influenced by the quality of your sleep, the stress in your life, the nutrients you feed your body, your alcohol intake, and your exercise track record. All of these factors can contribute to your exercise performance and your risk of injury, which is why it’s important to consider these areas of your life before hitting the gym at full capacity.
Our top tips for easing back in and creating a sustainable routine while minimising your risk of injury:
For your first few sessions back at the gym, opt for very light weights and ensure you stretch thoroughly before each exercise. Focus on technique, not weight or intensity!
Aim for low weight and high repetitions
Start by exercising two to three times per week and keep your workouts short (around 20 minutes). For week two, increase your workout to 30 minutes, and by week three, exercise three to five times a week for 45-50 minutes. And don’t forget to stay hydrated!
People in the fitness industry spend a lot of time preaching about the benefits of stretching, and there’s a good reason for it. Stretching allows for greater flexibility and range of motion, improved posture and reduced back pain, less muscle tension and stress, and increased blood flow.
Here’s how to stretch to maximise your workouts and minimise your risk of injury:
Dynamic stretching - this form of stretching incorporates active movements, such as moving your arms and/or legs through a full range of motion. Dynamic stretching is best done before a workout routine to help warm up your body and improve your range of movement and flexibility, which in turn minimises the risk of injury.
Static stretching - this type of stretching involves holding a particular stretch in place, in a stationary movement. These types of stretches are generally done at the end of a workout once your muscles are already relaxed.
Do you find yourself so eager to start your workout and so rushed to leave the gym once you’re finished that you forget to fit in a warm-up and cool-down? You’re not alone. Despite warm-ups and cool-downs being two of the most important parts of a workout, many of us save time and energy by skipping this phase. However, incorporating a warm-up and cool down into your workout routine will help to improve your athletic performance, prevent injury and help with post-workout recovery.
A warm-up is designed to prep your cardiovascular system for exercise, by increasing blood flow to your muscles and raising your body’s temperature. Additionally, when your muscles are warmed up, you’ll find that each movement, stretch and strain placed on your working muscles feels less intense, reducing your risk of injury and muscle soreness. It’s important to incorporate a warm-up that activates the muscles you’re about to train and mimics the motions you’ll be performing in your workout. Just think of your warm-up as performing exercises at a lower intensity and slower pace. For example - if you’re going for an 8km run, warm-up by going for a 5-10 minute walk that increases in speed over time, eventually building to a running pace.
Supports blood flow and oxygen efficiency - warming up for roughly 10 minutes improves blood flow to your skeletal muscles. But that’s not all. Warming up also makes oxygen more readily released from your blood and at a higher temp. As your muscles require more oxygen during a workout, it’s important to increase your oxygen supply through a warm-up exercise.
Faster muscle contraction - Warming up before your workout increases your body temperature, which improves your nerve transition and muscle metabolism. As a result, this may help your muscles perform more efficiently.
Reduces risk of injury - Warming up is an effective way to loosen your joints and improve blood flow to your muscles, which reduces your risk of exercise-induced injury.
Not sure where to start? As mentioned above, you can opt for a warm-up exercise that mimics the motions plan to train during your workout, or if you’ll be improvising as you go, a warm-up can be as simple as one of the following exercises:
Exercise bike at a slow pace for 5-10 mins
Cross trainer for 5-10 mins
A slow and short jog or walk
A cooling down exercise is designed to gradually return your heart rate to normal and to help reduce muscle soreness and support recovery by increasing blood-flow post-workout. Just as your body needs a little help getting prepared for a workout (by way of a warm-up), it also needs help slowing down and safely finishing a workout to help ease the transition from working hard to resting.
Improves muscle recovery - when you work out, lactic acid starts to build up in your muscles, which can result in muscle soreness and fatigue. While lactic acid is only temporary and doesn’t cause any lasting damage, it can reduce the quality of your workouts. Performing cooling-down exercises can help to remove lactic acid from your body, which in turn, may support muscle recovery.
Minimises Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) - ever been so sore after a workout you struggled to walk up a flight of stairs or lift an object off the ground? Yep, this is known as DOMS. While muscle soreness is a normal expectation after a hard workout, severe muscle soreness can seriously slow down your training efficiency and performance. Cooling-down after training is proven to help reduce the excessive muscle soreness and minimise your downtime in between workouts.
A cool-down exercise can be as simple as walking, a slow jog, swimming, star jumps and static stretches.
Believe it or not, recovery is just as important as the hard work you’re putting into your training.
To become fitter, stronger, faster, leaner, heavier or whatever your gym-based goal may be, you need to be able to push your body consistently harder. However, to do so, your recovery game needs to be on point.
All workouts cause stress on the body as you’re exerting your body to exhaustion and causing microscope damage to your muscle cells, which causes hormone and enzyme levels to fluctuate and inflammation to increase. While this form of stress is for a good reason and offers many benefits to your body, including muscle growth, fat loss, reduced inflammation long-term, better cardiovascular health and improved mental health, it’s important to prioritise your recovery in your downtime so that your body can bounce back stronger and better positioned to handle the stress placed on it during your next workout. What does this mean? Recovery is all about focusing on the following areas:
Hydration - While it’s a given that we need water to survive. Did you know that fluid helps to remove the metabolic waste produced by a heavy workout?
Nutrition - It’s important to ensure your body is getting the micro and macronutrients it requires to facilitate muscle recovery. This means making sure you’re hitting your daily protein, carb and fat requirements.
Sleep - sleep affects all of your body’s systems, including the brain, heart, lungs, metabolism, immune function, mood and disease resistance. If you’re not getting adequate sleep, your body isn’t able to complete the processes required to aid your muscle recovery.
When it comes to health and fitness, it's not about the destination, it’s about enjoying the process of bettering yourself every step of the way. Just remember, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. So, make sure you’re patient with your results, gentle with yourself, consistent with your efforts, and aligned with your reason ‘why’. Here are a few goal-setting tips to get you started:
Know what’s realistic and achievable for you
Visualise your end goal
Break down your overarching goal into micro-goals
Make it measurable, specific, and time-bound
Know what’s driving your goal (your reason why)
Be gentle with yourself
Last, but certainly not least, if you are feeling anxious about going back to the gym after so long, don’t worry, we totally get it. Please remember, it’s completely normal to feel anxious after a break, so be gentle with yourself and take small steps to get to where you want to be. Instead, why don't you join up with a friend or start with some classes, rather than going it alone? Alternatively, join our ASN Life Community Forum to source tips, trips, motivation and support from a community of like-minded people!