As the country gets to grips with new rules and restrictions, fitness expert Chris Watts shares his advice on returning to the gym after a long break:
“January 6th to April 12th. A total of 96 days. By anyone’s standards, that is a long time. If you were a regular gym goer, then the 3rd lockdown will have felt even longer.
Develop Your Mindset.
“If you are anxious about it, don’t worry – that’s normal. Check your gym’s guidelines and compare them with the government guidelines. They may have a one-way system in place, changes to class booking procedures and a limit on the number of members allowed in the gym at the same time. There should be space to socially distance between machines, the area and members. Look to see if the area you want to use is well-ventilated and not too busy.
“It is far easier to socially distance in the great outdoors so you could try and do more of your cardio outside, to limit the length of time spent in the gym environment. There may be floor markings to help with social distancing so respect the 2 metre rule – people will be working hard in gyms, sweating and breathing heavily. If you don’t feel comfortable, that’s okay – there are other options and it will quieten down as the days pass. After all, you’ve waited 96 days – what is another week or two if it means you being in the right head space when you get back to the gym?
“Set some goals, plan your sessions and write them down. I prefer to use the SMART goal setting template (which seems to have been around since the dawn of time) and remains a high-quality way of doing things. Here’s a quick recap on SMART goal setting:
“What exactly do you want to achieve? You will need numbers in this section, without them the goal setting has not been specific enough to be measured.
- Do you want to lose weight? If so – how much? Why do you want to lose weight?
- Do you want to get fitter? If so – fit for what? Are you planning on taking part in an event – what is it? How far? Are you aiming for a particular time/distance?
- Do you want to improve your health or feel healthier? What does ‘health’ mean to you – improve your blood pressure? Improve your cardiovascular fitness? Lose a little weight and tone up?
“Remember, the goals listed above are not exhaustive. Whatever you want to achieve and if it is important to you, it can be measured. If it can be measured, it can be achieved. Ask yourself questions about the ultimate goal:
- How much (weight/bodyfat do you want to lose?)
- What (do you want to be fit for– an event/your health)? Where (do you want to be bigger/smaller)?
- What (distance, time or event are you wanting to complete)?
- Why is this goal important to you – we will revisit this later but it is important to keep this in mind throughout the goal setting process.
“How will you measure progress towards your goal and what equipment do you need to measure your progress? The equipment could vary from the traditional scale for taking your weight or a tape measure for assessing body part circumference, right through to a high-tech scale that measures bodyfat. The way you measure your cardiovascular fitness might be as simple as being able to complete a certain distance or, if you are fitter, how quickly you can complete the distance in question.
“How often will you measure progress? If you try to measure too often, then you may become frustrated at the perceived lack of progress. If you don’t measure frequently enough, then you might not be able to see if your program or plan is actually working or not. Will you use more than one assessment method? For example, if the goal is weight loss then it might be wise to use the scales and circumference measurements so that if progress on the scales stalls, then you will still be able to see body composition changes.
“How will you achieve your goal? What steps do you need to take to ensure you succeed? How many gym sessions per week do you need to complete? Be honest with yourself here – how will they fit in with your life, family and work?
“Don’t promise to complete 4-5 gym sessions per week if other commitments mean that, realistically, you will only be able to complete 2-3. There are many paths to the same goal. Remember that there are 168 hours in a week – if you completed 5 gym sessions that would still leave 163 hours where you could mess up all the good work you did in the gym. As a personal trainer and coach, sometimes my greatest breakthroughs were in helping clients manage the rest of the week outside the gym – their nutrition, managing work stress, family time, activity levels, sleep/wake times and general recovery.
“Why is this goal important to you? Really dig deep into how success will make you feel because the emotions that you will feel when you succeed will play a huge part in motivating you. Again, at this point, make sure you are writing them down (you should be writing down the whole SMART process) and be as detailed as possible.
“Check in with yourself and make sure that the goal you have set for yourself is, in fact, your goal. For example, if you have set a weight loss goal because you think it will make you more attractive to your partner, that isn’t your goal – it was influenced by your perception of how you think your partner feels about you. If you dig deeper into it, you might find that what is important to you is to feel more confident. To feel more confident you might need to get stronger and improve your cardiovascular fitness and, as you take the right steps to achieve this, weight loss may be a by-product of your focus on building your confidence.
“How long have you got to achieve the goal? Is there a date by which you need to have achieved your goal? If there isn’t, set one. Time pressure can be an excellent motivator, if used correctly. Is this date realistic? If not, you should return to the Specific section and reset this within healthy and realistic parameters. If your time frame is too difficult, then you are potentially setting yourself up to fail. Too easy and you won’t be motivated enough to work hard, you’ll justify skipping gym sessions or bingeing on the weekend because “it’s okay, I have XX months to go.”
“The more detail you can add to your goals, the more real and tangible they become. Writing them physically, on a piece of paper, adds weight to them. Pin this somewhere you will see them regularly (computer, fridge, bathroom mirror). Being reminded of these goals daily will help you to take positive action that day.
Have a Plan.
“Make sure you have a workout in mind and make sure it contains things you enjoy. Have it written down – tracking your workout will help you see how effective it is. I cannot express how important this is. To this day, I still see the vast majority of people going into the gym to train with no clear idea about what they will do in that session.
“As a Personal Trainer, when I used to ask people in the gym what they were training that day or what their goals were, the most common response was a shrug of the shoulders and a mumbled, “I dunno – whatever isn’t sore today I suppose?”
“No-one is expecting you to have the next 3-4 months of training planned out in detail – sessions, sets, reps, weights and exercises noted down. But you should know what your goal(s) is and what you will have to do in order to get there (see SMART goal setting) Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or need support with this and I’ll be happy to help! Next (and potentially the most important) step – Choose your outfit, Get your gear ready, Put it in the car or by the door.
Ease yourself back into it.
“If you haven’t trained for 96 days then this workout will feel horrific. Depending on what studies you read, if you are a regular gym goer who has been relatively inactive for 4 months, then it could take anywhere from 6–10 weeks to get back to your pre-lockdown levels. It’s not that you won’t be able to lift the weights that you used to, but more the fact that your tendons and ligaments will have lost their elasticity and feel stiff and sore.
“Take the time, certainly in the first 2–4 weeks, to build up the strength and complexity of the exercises and movements. Start with bodyweight circuits – this will help both your strength and cardiovascular fitness levels and add more rounds and external loading as the weeks progress and your strength and fitness improves. Think more about it being the start of a new process or training block. It could even be an opportunity to learn a new skill or take on a new challenge rather than worry too much about what you have lost.
“If you have been training through lockdown, be it using bodyweight exercises, exercise bands, equipment borrowed from anywhere and everywhere, then you might be able to progress even quicker as you will have retained some of your previous strength and fitness. Be mindful not to overdo it, to be overconfident and push too hard, too soon. If you try and jump straight back in where you left off, at worst, you are at a high risk of injury. At best, you’ll feel weak, unfit and be sore for days which will de-motivate you.
“Your strength and fitness levels will return – probably quicker than you imagine. Remember to be aware of everything that is happening outside of the gym too. Manage your stressors. Adding in 3-5 sessions of hard training to a mix of the stress of getting back to work, potential financial troubles, family stress of home-schooling or summer holidays, poor sleep and poor nutrition is a recipe for disaster. Start steadily; progress when your body is ready to and recover well and be prepared to see yourself break new ground in the gym!
“Stay safe and be well,
Chris Watts, We Are Wellbeing Fitness Expert
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