Can you believe it: gyms are set to reopen (in the UK) in less than two weeks' time, on 12 April 2021. We're sure many of you are eager to hit the weights and machines after months of making do with home workouts and outdoor exercise. Not like there is any problem with those, but it's true that working out at home using your dad's York spinlock dumbbell set is not the same as having access to a variety of gym equipment.
However, knowing where to start again and banking on muscle memory will be causing some to feel apprehensive about the big return. For many, the first day in the gym after they reopen will be almost as much of a shock to the system as when we first went. You simply can't just expect your body to hit the gym floor running without getting ready physically and mentally for your return to the church of iron.
Sports and active nutrition brand, Bulk (opens in new tab), has teamed up with ambassador Alex Crockford (opens in new tab), fitness model and PT, to create a foolproof guide on how to ease yourself back into the gym with confidence. Alex is a frequent contributor on T3: his ultimate home workout and six-pack workout are worth a look.
Here are Alex's 7 best tips on how to return to the gym the
1. Don’t be hard on yourself
You because you weren't able to do deadlifts at home, this doesn't mean you should try and lift the same amount weights in the gym as you used to, now that you have access to barbells and weight plates again. Alex recommends taking it easy:
“Just because you can’t lift as much as you could before lockdown, it doesn’t mean you should feel bad about it! Fitness is a journey and we’ve been thrown a serious curveball over the last year. It’s important to go in at your current level and be patient as you get fitter again. As you notice your strength building back up, it will feel like a real achievement.”
2. Don’t punish your body and mind
“It’s been a tough time for everyone, so please don’t hit the gym to punish yourself for time off", Alex says, "Going too hard too soon will at best leave you with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), or at worst, injury and mental burnout. I recommend not lifting to failure for the first couple of weeks (i.e. using the heaviest weights you can), but instead to slow it all down and enjoy going through the motions. Go into your usual exercises at about 50-60% of your pre-pandemic weights, gradually increasing over 4-8 weeks.”
3. Remember the benefits of bodyweight
A lot of gym-goers switched over to doing home workouts using resistance bands or – well – just their bodyweight. Even though we are allowed back in the gym, you shouldn't exclude calisthenics moves from your workout repertoire:
“So many of us have fallen in love with bodyweight training, so don’t forget everything you’ve been utilising at home when you head back into the gym. Squats, lunges, push ups and core workouts should still be a major part of your workouts as they provide a solid foundation for weighted activity”, Alex recommends.
4. Mix it up
Even if you are a big fan of weightlifting, trying out different types of workouts can help giving your muscles a bit of a break without actually having a break from working out. In Alex's words:
“You may love spinning or lifting heavy weights, but be careful of just sticking to your favourite routine that only works one area of the body. Repetitive focus on the same muscles overworks and tires them, which will lead to an injury. Make sure you’re giving your whole body a workout to ensure you’re strong, balanced and healthy.”
5. Avoid taking on too much
Slow and steady wins the race, especially when it comes to building muscle: “Rome wasn’t built in a day! Start by adding one gym session in a week and ensure that’s an achievable habit before adding more. It’s really easy to get over-excited and then give up when it becomes too hard to keep up with.”
6. Work on recovery
“Gym workouts are going to be a new challenge for the body - so make sure you’re supporting it wherever you can. Include a good warm-up, cool-down and stretches into your routine. A solid sleep of 7-8 hours a night is essential, so consider supplementing with magnesium if you struggle, such as Bulk’s Magnesium Bisglycinate Tablets (opens in new tab).
Alex goes on by saying "When it comes to food, aim for nutritionally dense foods and plenty of protein to aid recovery. I’d recommend aiming for 1g per lb of bodyweight to give yourself the best chance of building muscle. You can weave more protein into your diet with protein shakes, protein bars or even protein packed food such as the Bulk 1 Complete Food Shake."
7. Stay connected
“We’ve seen a huge growth of the fitness community over the past year, so stay in contact with any fitness groups you’ve become a part of to continue feeling supported. You’ll stay more accountable to your goals and feel more motivated if you feel you’re not going it alone!”
Bonus round: Alex Crockford’s back to gym workout
Try Alex's full body workout for the first 2-3 weeks of going back to the gym. Start with a warmup by completing 3 sets of the following:
Lying down on your front, place your hands beneath your shoulders, engage your core and gently lift your chest off the mat
From a table top position, push your hips up and back, slowly straightening your legs.
Mountain climbers (10x)
In a high plank position, drive your knee towards your midsection and repeat with your other leg.
Star jumps (10x)
From a standing position, with your arms at your sides, bend your knees slightly and jump into the air. As you jump, stretch your arms up and over your head and spread your legs to about shoulder’s width apart.
When you’re all warmed up, move onto the main body of the workout. Perform 10 reps on each exercise and then rest for 90 seconds. Do this three times for each exercise. Once your three sets are completed, move onto the next exercise.
Standing upright with your feet hip width apart and the kettlebell in between your feet. Send your hips back, take hold of the kettlebell and draw your lats down. Drive your hips forward, to standing position and repeat.
Leg press machine
Sit on the machine, with your back flat and head supported. Place your feet on the footpads (heels are flat), about shoulder width apart, forming a 90 degree angle at the knees. Then push the weight away, ensuring you don’t lock your knees. Return to starting position.
Barbell chest press
Lying down on a bench, set your hands slightly wider than shoulder width on the barbell. As you breathe in, slowly bring the barbell to your chest and as you breathe out press the bar back up to the starting position.
Using the lat pulldown machine, sit on the stool, adjusting the pads to your thighs. Take a wide grip on the bar and pull the bar down in front of your chest, ensuring you squeeze your lats at the bottom.
Dumbbell bicep curl
Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down by your sides. Keeping your elbows pinned into your torso, with your palms facing forward, bend at your elbows and bring the dumbbells towards your shoulders. Slowly return to the starting position.
Cable rope tricep extension
Using the rope attachment, adjust the cable pulley to the top. Holding the ropes, face away from the cable machine and place your hands at shoulder height. Fully extend your arms and then return to the starting position.