How To Prepare Your Body For Gyms Reopening

Do Something
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If you’re a keen gym-goer who has been itching to get back inside one ever since lockdown began, the news that gyms will be able to reopen on 25th July will no doubt have filled you with glee. You might even have already started sketching out some of the savage workouts you’re going to tackle as soon as you have access to the weights room.

Experts, on the other hand, urge caution. Unless you’ve been using a very well equipped home gym since lockdown started, you will have lost a little fitness, and you need to start slowly when you begin training again to avoid injury.

Kate Whapples is head strength and conditioning coach at Manchester gym Fighting Fit, and she has put together a 21-day training programme (£49) to help people return to training. We asked Whapples for her top tips for people returning to the gym after the lockdown.

Ease Into It

“Four months is a long time to have off,” says Whapples. “If people have done a lot less than usual then they can expect a lot less physically from themselves in the first week or so back in the gym. In that period we’re more trying to enforce good habits – eating well, getting back into a routine of coming to the gym – and then the hard graft in the sessions can come in the second and third week.

“We have a lot of people who do boxing, jiu jitsu, that kind of stuff, and even though they can’t do contact training for a while, the explosive movements means they’re going to be at more risk of injuries. Take a nice slow approach back into training, because it would be the worst thing to be off for four months, then come back and tear a hamstring and be off for another four months.”

Reduce Each Session’s Duration

“Start off training the number of days a week you normally would, but not the same amount of hours,” says Whapples. “So you get back into the routine you were in before, but don’t push yourself quite as hard. You can also add mobility classes and that kind of thing, so you aren’t doing an extra hour of HIIT – you’re doing yoga or stretching instead.”

Workout At Home Before Your Gym Reopens

Whapples has designed a three-week programme to help people return to training that includes online classes. Even if you’re not working with heavy weights, you can start prepping your body for the sessions ahead.

“These online classes are nowhere near as tough as what people were doing just before lockdown,” says Whapples. “It’s things like press-ups and Bulgarian split squats off your sofa. You’re just getting used to using your joints through the full ranges, with a small amount of loading, and then there’s a ten-minute HIIT section as well.

“It will help to get people back into the swing of things and, hopefully, mean you’re slightly less sore when you come back. That first week, even if you only lift light weights, you’re going to have serious DOMS [delayed-onset muscle soreness].”

Do Something About DOMS

Ah yes, the DOMS. What can be done about them?

“We’ve had so many people genuinely terrified about this!” says Whapples. “Focus on eating well, getting enough protein, sleeping well and active recovery – the pools will be open that weekend, or you can go for a nice gentle walk. Sitting still is the worst thing you can do, so ease your way out of the session. Don’t just stop and sit down for six hours.”

Expect It To Take A While To Get Back To Where You Were

“Realistically people probably haven’t lost all that much strength – it’s more the aerobic side of things,” says Whapples. “It will probably be a good eight to 12 weeks before people are feeling back to where they were. Maybe longer if you’ve been training for years.”

Keep Moving Between Gym Sessions

If you’re still working from home, hitting the gym for a workout then returning to the sofa for the rest of the day is tempting. But you need to keep moving where possible, if only to reduce the DOMS.

“Obviously people have jobs and they’ve got to put in those hours,” says Whapples, “but there are so many things you can do. Go out for a half-hour walk before you have your lunch. Get up every hour just to walk around a bit. And schedule those times:instead of relying on, ‘I want a cup of tea so I’ll get up now’, make sure you’re actively planning those.

“We’ve also been doing a toll system for our members. People have been saying it’s too tempting having the biscuits five steps away when they’re at home so we’ve been asking them to do 20 bodyweight squats and 10 burpees before they’re allowed to open the biscuit tin.”

Consider Your Diet And Sleep As Well

If you want it to, the lockdown can be used as a chance to reset your approach to training and your general health.

“Most people train to improve their health,” says Whapples. “To do that you need to make sure you’re well rested, and if you’re training like an athlete but eating terribly – not enough, too much, the wrong things – then you’re undoing your hard work.

“After all this time, you can start with a new frame of mind. Maybe aesthetics shouldn’t be your sole focus any more – your health and wellbeing should be. Put a bit more focus on all the other things that make you the healthiest version of you, and then obviously you can train harder too.”

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.