Tips for the everyday athlete returning to the gym

With gyms reopening in the UK on July 25th will you be walking through the doors with a strategy?

Whether you’ve trained sporadically or diligently over the past few months, training in the gym and under greater loads needs to be respected and have a thought process behind it.

You can be one of two people –

Subject A – I’m going to walk into the gym and attack the squat rack, loading up the bar and lift like I never left – I liken this to the Hare 🐰

Subject B – I’ve been inconsistent over the past few weeks, I’m going to use Phase 1 to build routine and prepare myself for future training blocks, nothing crazy I’m in this for the long haul – I liken this to the Tortoise 🐢

Referring to subject A the intent, mindset and desire to get the work in is admirable, but this simply wouldn’t be the best strategy.

A spike in load, volume, and dumping unnecessary stress on your system, will heighten the risk of injury and likely lead to your body breaking down over time.

The tortoise however has respect for the process, identifies where it’s feet are currently and will likely reach the destination quicker than the hare, due to remaining injury free and therefore able to remain consistent with moving forwards.

Some of the goals of the initial phase for when we re-enter the gyms are –

Build work capacity, tissue tolerance, enhance range of motion, re-master fundamental patterns/building movement integrity and prepare the system for future training blocks where we’ll increase stress over time.

Alongside the physical benefits, it may also be a good time to begin to formulate habits and a winning daily routine around training, work and family life.

You may feel like you’ve done an extended preparatory phase of training over the past few months and if you’ve properly structured your training weeks, had sufficient load to challenge your system and progressively applied more stress overtime then it may be ok for you to go through the gears and up the levels quicker than others.

For the majority however I’d advise carrying out a GPP – General Physical Preparedness or preparatory block of training when the gyms open their doors.

A 3-4 week phase should suffice, think of this as re-laying solid foundations for you to work from as you transition into future training blocks and an opportunity for you to further your baseline potential.

We’ve had numerous changes to deal with over the past few months and some of which can influence how our body moves (excessive sitting springs to mind) so enhancing movement quality and earning the right to get under the bar again would be a smart thing to do.

We’ve heard the term ‘we don’t want to add load on top of dysfunction’, it’s not for me to say you’re ‘dysfunctional’ (whatever that actually means) but are you functioning in a way you were previously and moving with the same fluidity and control and able to own certain positions, likely not.

In terms of structuring your training week, this is very general guidance, but INSTEAD OF carrying out 4 lifting sessions

Legs x 2

Upper body – Horizontal push & pull

Upper body – Vertical push & pull

Initially it may be BETTER TO GO WITH

Frequency – 3 x P/W

Load – Moderate (70-75% of 1RM)

Reps – Moderate to High

Monday – PHA – Total body

Wednesday – PHA – Total body

Friday – PHA – Total body

We can manipulate a number of training parameters – Intensity, Volume, Frequency, Duration & Exercise Selection, this doesn’t mean we need to manipulate all of them at once!!

Phase 1 framework –

As you’ll likely select more complexed lifts than you’ve been doing and the load will likely be heavier than you’ve exposed yourself to for 4 + months, these 2 variables alone should be enough of a varied stimulus to elicit positive adaptations.

Then once you’ve carried out the 3-4 week training block you may move to something similar to the above (4 x per week – Legs x 2 & Upper body x 2), increasing training frequency, increasing load, reducing rep ranges, overloading a specific area with more volume in a ‘split routine’ style approach if this is aligned with your personal goals.

Phase 2 framework –

Frequency – 4 x P/W

Load – Increased from block 1 – Moderate/High

Reps – Lowered from block 1 – Low/Moderate

Exercise selection – More advanced

Volume – Increased from block 1

Another thing to think about is just because gyms are open, this doesn’t mean you have to use them 5 days per week.

If you’re enjoying your external runs then I’d recommend keeping them and maybe using gyms to get more of a strength based stimulus in 2-3 x per week.

Following a Cardiac Output style method instead of max effort sprinting would be advised in this training block to improve the ‘size of your engine’, before improving the engines efficiency in future training blocks with exposure to higher intensity work.

Cardiac Output Method (CO) Guidelines –

Duration – 30-75 minutes

Heart rate – 120-150bpm or RPE – 6/10

It will be great to have the gyms open again and I hope this short articles challenges your thought process and helps with your preparation.

Stay safe, stay strong.

Dan Lawrence