After months of long-distance, it’s time to get intimate with your one true love again.
You’ve been fantasizing about the moment for weeks: You’ve laid out your best Ryderwear outfit and you’ve set your alarm. The air thick with chalk dust and anticipation as you take your first steps back into your fortress of fitness. You’re ready to get your workout groove back, and finally get rid of those resistance bands and rusty old dumbbells.
But returning from your gym hiatus the right way is going to take more than just loading up the bar with a few plates either side and haphazardly hitting some heavy squats. You’re going to have to give your comeback the proper time and care it deserves.
Rocky didn’t just step straight back into the ring, and you’re going to have to put the work in to create your own epic training montage too. We’ve assembled a guide to optimizing your returning to training using a scientific approach, so you can avoid your homecoming turning to heartbreak!
Have I lost all my gains?
While you may have been able to salvage some size with those bodyweight home workouts, it’s likely that your strength levels just won’t be the same after three months off. However, there’s some good news: The human body is an amazing machine, and strength and hypertrophy are pretty resistant to decline. It’s also much easier to regain muscle, than it is to build it from scratch. This study followed a group of women who trained squats twice a week, for 20 weeks, followed by 30 weeks of detraining. While maximal strength decreased by roughly 13%, it only took 6 weeks to return to previous levels. But why is this possible?
Learned motor patterns: Your body doesn’t easily forget the skill of lifting weights. If you’re using movements and lifts that you’ve performed a lot of reps of in the past, motor unit recruitment should remain high.
Myonuclei: These lie in the nucleus of your muscle cells, and increase in number during hypertrophy training. They hold the instructions on how to build new protein (grow muscle) . Your body retains them, even after you take a training hiatus. The greater the number of myonuclei you retain, the easier and more effective it’s going to be for your muscles to undergo protein synthesis (build muscle).
Support: Structures such as blood vessels and connective tissue that support muscle growth takes a long while to disappear, particularly if you’ve still been doing some form of resistance training, even if it’s with lighter loads.
However if you want to truly take advantage of this, it’s essential to follow these five rules so you can conquer your comeback.
Slow and Steady
The first rule of returning to the gym: Don’t do too much, too soon. Sure, you might be used to bar-bending squats and sweat-drenched HIIT workouts, but that was months ago. While you’ve probably been trying your best to stay swole at home with our Ryderwear Guide to Keeping Fit During Coronavirus, nothing can replicate the feeling of having four plates stacked either side of the bar.
This means you need to be aware that you’ll be more susceptible to fatigue and injury during your first few weeks back. While it might be tempting to go full-throttle, the best thing you can do is work your way back to normal volume and intensity slowly and sensibly. Use 3-4 week training blocks to build back up to where you were prior to gyms closing. Make sure to limit the volume, intensity and training frequency in your first week, and then slowly build from there using progressive overload.
Progressive overload is essential to any program, in order to regain strength, performance, fitness or hypertrophy adaptations.
“You need to expose your body to new demands in order for it to adapt and change. The aim is to progress each week, and following a well structured program will allow you to do this. Progressive overload is not limited to just adding weight on the bar: you can progress by increasing reps, sets, loads, rate of perceived exertion, or all of the above”
- Ryderwear athlete Anthea Woodruff
Recovery is Key
If you think that late-night Netflix binges and cheesy fries are a perfectly passable recovery plan, then you’re just not optimising your return to the gym! Nutrition, hydration, rest and sleep are the foundations of any good program. Remember, rest is where all of the muscular adaptations occur! If you don’t let your body recover as you’re working your way back to full strength, you risk falling into an overtraining state. If you find you’re experiencing overlapping soreness (meaning soreness in the same muscle group in two workouts in succession) then you should think about reducing the number of sets or your training frequency.
From social distancing to 45-minute workout windows, chances are you’ll have to adapt to a few gym restrictions in order to optimize your gym comeback. While you might be used to grinding through two hour sweat sessions, most gyms are only allowing lifters to train for 60 minutes or less. Aside from spending less time browsing TikTok, you can also increase the effectiveness of your workout by focusing on training full body compound movements. This means deadlifts, squats, overhead presses and barbell rows are in, as they work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Compound movements are also a great way to reintroduce those key, fundamental movement patterns and get the muscles familiar with being under increased loads. Try starting at 40% of your 1RM if you’re training for hypertrophy. Finally, make sure you warm up before you’re at the gym, so you aren’t cutting into valuable training time stretching your glutes.
Enjoy the Process
Think of your training as a lifelong journey. Whether it’s grinding through a bodybuilding workout or sweating through a HIIT session on cardio day, training is something we should cherish. It empowers us, gives us a sense of meaning and surrounds us with a like-minded community who share the same passion and dreams. That’s something worth getting excited about.
You’ll enjoy your return to training even more with some new, first day back threads. Our Freestyle Seamless collection offers unrestricted, uninhibited movement so you can crush that first squat session, while the vintage Ryderwear Block range is the perfect inspiration for your gym reunion.