So we made it.
We’re finally back to being able to do (most of) the things we love.
And for a lot of us, it’s the simple things that we’ve missed the most. Aside from the obvious seeing friends and family, I really look forward to getting back into the gym.
It’s been a staple of my exercise regime for years. Three times a week on my mornings off (unless I’m surfing).
Now a lot of you are going to be keen beans and want to throw yourselves back into exercise full steam ahead, but I want to caution you. Having worked with athletes for a little while now, I’ve seen the consequences of rushing a return to activity time and time again.
To understand why I’m giving these words of warning, I want to introduce you to the training concept of ‘Progressive Overload’. Basically, this means ‘gradual change’.
Or in even simpler terms – ‘take it easy’.
To improve in fitness or strength we need to challenge our bodies to do something that’s difficult. The challenge stimulates our body to adapt, either by learning or refining a skill, getting stronger or fitter.
That challenge is what we refer to as ‘overload’.
Now onto the ‘progressive’ part.
Our bodies change gradually. Has anyone ever gotten strong, fit, flexible, or lost weight with a week of intense effort?
No. The body doesn’t work that way.
It takes time. Consistent and prolonged effort.
Now let’s take this new understanding of gradual change, and apply it to our return to exercise.
Are we going to go straight back to running 15km’s because that’s what we used to do? Or get right back into F45 classes five days a week because that’s where we left off? Of course not!
Sounds silly when I put it like this. But believe me, people’s excitement regularly gets in the way of common sense.
If we ignore the concept of progressive overload and overdo it, we run the risk of hurting ourselves. This is essentially a result of us asking our body to do something it isn’t ready to do yet.
There are multiple ways we can overtrain.
- Frequency – training too often.
- Intensity – training too hard.
- Duration – training for too long.
- Load – excessive resistance on machines, or too heavy weights.
- Type – performing movements or exercises that are too complex.
- Recovery – how much time in between workouts.
Strategies to avoid overtraining in each of these aspects are:
- Frequency – start by training two or three times a week.
- Intensity – cap yourself at a maximum of 75% effort.
- Duration – When possible, start back with your exercise duration at 50-75% of what it used to be.
- Load – Go for weights or machine settings at 50% of what you used to do .
- Type – Don’t go straight back to complex exercises. Perform the more basic version for now. For example, instead of going straight back to dead lifts, first get comfortable with rack pulls or dumbbell sumo squats. If you’re running, don’t do hill sprints like you used to. A nice tempo on flat ground is more appropriate.
- Recovery – allow 1-2 days between each training to adequately recover. Also listen to your body. If you’re still sore from he last session, don’t ‘push through it’. Give your body the time it needs to adapt and strengthen.
Please note that everyone will be different with the details of their return to exercise, and by no means are my recommendations a guarantee to avoid injury. The general rule for playing it safe is to imagine that you’re starting from scratch. As if it were the first time you were going to the gym, or for that run.
It can be frustrating at first, but because you have done the training before, you will improve faster than if it was actually your first time.
An analogy that I use often in the clinic is “dip your toe in the bathwater before you jump in”.
That means, do a little and see how you go. If you’re fine, then do a little more next time.
If you’re not fine and are sore after your first workout, you’ll be glad you didn’t train harder!
Remember, it’s about consistent and prolonged effort. A muscle strain or tendonitis will significantly interrupt your training schedule, and you’ll regret not taking it easier or listening to your body when you had the chance.
If you are concerned or have any questions about your return to training you should speak to your trainer (if you have one), otherwise I am more than happy to discuss a return to activity plan with you.