With gyms starting to open back up, it's important to progress back to your old volume and intensity at an appropriate pace. Instead of jumping back into the same exercise routine, use these 5 tips to maximize your training and minimize the risk of getting injured.
It is important to be subtly reminded that we are not the same lifter as we were several months ago.
Tip #1: Reduce previous working weights by 20% for each exercise.
If you were squatting 100 lbs, reduce to 80 lbs. This is a great time to focus on the quality of each movement within your routine. Instead of prioritizing load, use other means of creating a good training stimulus like incorporating tempos or pauses within your movements — check out my article 5 Ways to Progress Your Workouts for some ideas.
Tip #2: Reduce the number of sets per exercise by 1-2 sets.
If you used to do 4 sets of each exercise, shoot for 2 or 3 instead. Slowly increasing your total workout volume from week to week is a smart and more efficient training strategy that will pay off in the long run while produce less debilitating muscle soreness — which can be pretty demotivating.
Tip #3: Stick with tips 1 and 2 for you first week back, and slowly start adding weight and sets.
I'll be honest, it's going to take a little bit of time to get back to lifting with the kind of weight that you had 10+ weeks ago (and that's ok). Instead of increasing exercise weight and or the amount of reps for all of your sets, think about using the final set to complete a couple more reps or increase the load of the exercise, within reason. For the most part, our lower body movements can handle larger increments of weight progression compared to our upper body based movements. A good rule of thumb is to progress weight in upper body movements by 2.5 to 5 lbs and lower body movements by 5 to 10 lbs.
Tip #4: Expect to be super sore following your first few workouts back.
Try to leave the gym with some energy left in the tank so that you will be more likely (and motivated) to come back the next day. Prioritize your warm-up routine by incorporating foam rolling, dynamic warm-up / mobility exercises, and activation exercises for your core, shoulders, and hips to get your body primed for the workout. It may be a good idea to complete full-body based workouts, instead of split-based workouts that stress specific muscle groups during a single workout, for the first couple weeks of training to reduce the amount of soreness you may experience. In The Many Myths of Muscle Soreness, I provide some strategies on how to reduce muscles soreness post workout while debunking some popular myths of muscle soreness.
Tip #5: Recover harder than you train.
Eat plenty of high-quality whole foods, hydrate well, and get at least 7 hours of sleep for optimal recovery. Maximize post-workout recovery by eating a meal or smoothie — check out my Building a Super Smoothie template — with at least 20 grams of high-quality protein sources to help repair muscle tissue. Refuel by eating smart carbohydrate sources like whole fruits and gluten-free grains (quinoa, rice, buckwheat, etc.) to replenish energy stores — read more about what carbs to eat in my article Eat Slow Carbs, Not No Carbs.
By using these 5 tips you will be on track for surpassing your old-gym-self in no time. Remember to progress slowly and always put movement quality before more weight or more reps. Prioritize daily foam rolling and mobility, quality nutrition, and sleep as a way to reduce muscle soreness while gradually getting back into the swing of things.