Understand Your Starting Point
The amount of fitness you may have lost during lockdown will ultimately depend on what sort of training you’d been previously doing, how consistent you were with your pre-lockdown training, and where your fitness levels were before it all slowed down, explains Lucie Cowan, master trainer at Third Space London. “If you trained regularly before this period of inactivity, your muscle mass and strength can return to near previous levels within just a few weeks or months,” she adds. “In general, a regular gym-goer can take up to three or four weeks off without seeing a noticeable drop in strength performance, and half the battle on return is actually psychological – you mentally lose the ability to lift heavy whereas the body remains surprisingly able.”
If You Were A Keen Runner, It’s More Complicated
Studies suggest cardio fitness may diminish faster than strength, explains David Wiener, training specialist at Freeletics. “Cardio fitness can be lost in as little as a couple of days, whereas muscle strength can take up to three weeks to show signs of deterioration,” he tells SLMan. “However, if you’re a long-time exerciser, chances are haven’t lost as much as you think. The benefits your body will have reaped from years of training won’t have completely vanished and you should be able to make cardio gains fairly quickly.” If you’ve seriously scaled back your workouts in the last year but still managed one or two sessions per week, chances are you prevented yourself from losing all fitness. According to a study of 21 runners who ran in the 2016 Boston Marathon, then reduced their exercise output from running 32 miles a week to 3-4 miles a week, running that smaller amount helped them maintain a base level of fitness.
Make A Plan Of Attack
“Heading back to the gym or into any sort of training is bound to be slightly daunting,” says Arron Collins-Thomas, Lululemon ambassador and founder of Toniq. “But instead of focusing on what you’ve lost, focus on easing yourself back in by assessing what it is you want to gain, whether that’s muscle, better fitness capability, flexibility or improving mental wellbeing.”
Avoiding Doing Too Much Too Soon
Instead of setting your sights on trying to get fit quick, the experts recommend shifting the focus towards getting back to exercise in a way that not only feels enjoyable but one that’s sustainable in the long term. “There’s no point coming back after months off only to get injured within the first couple of weeks. It’s demoralising and risky,” says Mike Brooks, trainer at SIX3NINE. Mike recommends starting with two 30-minute sessions a week. “Aim for a difficulty level of six or seven out of ten and build up based on how you feel both during the workout and in the following few days. When you’re training after a long time off, it won’t take much stimulus to get some initial results, so there’s no need to ramp up the intensity straight away.” If 30 minutes feels daunting, a session that’s short and sweet is better than nothing, adds David. “Any activity is better than none at all. Aiming for a 15-minute high-intensity session each day is much more achievable than an hour’s workout, especially when you’re just getting back into it.”
Take A Balanced Approach…
To achieve long-term results, balance the immediate, short-term effects of cardio with the long-term, sustainable results from a consistent strength-training programme. “A well-rounded approach will set you in good stead,” says Arron. “Depending on your goals, an ideal week of workouts might comprise three strength sessions and two cardio sessions of 45 minutes each. A solid exercise routine isn’t all about high-intensity exercise though. You should also think about the ‘yin’ approach, which means dedicating time to meditation, yoga and breathing exercises as well as getting plenty of rest and sleep.”
…Especially If You Want To Lose A Few Pounds
If you want to lose some lockdown weight, slaving away for hours on the treadmill may not be the best approach. “While it’s true that a cardio session burns more calories than resistance training, it’s a very short-term way of looking at exercise,” says Mike. “No single workout will help your weight loss as much as a well-rounded programme that makes you stronger and has a sense of long-term progression. Remember sustainability is key – if you love cardio, you will burn more calories in the long term because you’ll stick to it. If you hate cardio, you’ll burn more calories once or twice, then you’ll stop.” David is also adamant about creating a balance between strength and cardio if weight loss is an end goal. “Minute for minute, cardiovascular exercise burns more calories than weight training, although muscle burns more calories at rest.” In a nutshell? By building muscle you’ll be able to achieve your weight-loss goals without even realising it.
If You Were Into Weights, Leave Your Ego At Home
Unless you managed to nab a set of dumbbells in lockdown, chances are bodyweight training has been your main form of strength training in recent months. While the experts agree this is better than nothing, it means you’ll need to scale things back if you were lifting big numbers pre-pandemic. “It may sound obvious, but if you’re easing yourself back into the weights room, start light and keep it slow,” Mike advises. “Keep your sets and reps moderate, and focus on technique and range of motion. Adding in pauses – such as at the bottom of a squat or Romanian deadlift – is also a good way to acclimatise yourself to loaded stretches. Monitor your soreness after each workout, with the intention of keeping it low for the first month or two. And most importantly, leave your ego at home. You’re not just regaining your old strength levels; you’re preparing your connective tissues to take that kind of load again. It’s a slow process, so be patient.”
Don’t Skip Stretch Day
Months of makeshift desks and working at kitchen tables has wreaked havoc with our posture. Spending time mobilising your body prior to every workout, as well as cooling down properly afterwards, will get you back on the road to peak flexibility. “If you have time, include one yoga session in your week – it will make the world of difference. The type of stretching done during yoga is pretty active, meaning you’ll build mobility in no time,” says Mike. David also recommends stretching first thing in the morning and last thing at night when easing yourself back into the gym. “Try the caveman stretch, which works for your hips, quads, calves and erector spinae, as well as high kicks, which work the hamstrings, arms, calves and glutes.”
Prepare For The DOMS
However thorough your warm-up and cool down, chances are your muscles will feel a little sore if you’re taking things back a few steps. With sudden changes in workout and training programmes comes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), aka the tender feeling experienced in your muscles, which is ‘delayed’ as it takes time for many of the metabolic and physiological processes our bodies undergo to mend the tiny tears to manifest as muscle pain. Mild soreness after a workout is no bad thing, but never ignore pain. As a general rule, if you still experience DOMS on a day you want to work out, keep it low impact.
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