Getting back into the gym post lockdown

So the time has nearly come where gyms may soon be starting to reopen! Hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later, but it does come with some challenges. How should we go about getting back into training post lockdown?

In this article what I’m going to talk about is coming back to training after an extended period out of the gym.

Most of us are used to taking a couple of weeks off for holidays or even a month or two off a body part for injuries, but right now we’re 3 months deep and currently not an end in sight for most of us until we’re able to get back into the gym. 

So essentially, what I thought I’d do is go over what I believe would be best practice to get back into training when we can get back into the gym, and what I’d like to see you doing. 

Training split post lockdown

Now we’ve been out of the gym for a while due to the lockdown and the split we used to do with years without a break and requiring more volume to stimulate growth, will not suit our needs as they are right now. 

Many of us would have trained something like a modified push, pull, legs split or even single body part.

However, now we will not need the same amount of volume for each given muscle group per week to stimulate growth and we wouldn’t recover effectively from the volume we used to do. We all remember the newbie doms and gains right? Well that’s what it’ll be like again. But now we can be smarter, and use our knowledge from years of experience to now get back to where we were, but rectify some of the old mistakes.

So what split should we use after lockdown ends and the gyms reopen?

What I’d like to see people doing when they first return is either a full body split, every other day, or an upper/lower & full body split. 

That way, we’ll be training the target muscle more frequently, whilst not inhibiting recovery capabilities by using too much volume too soon.

Frequency is one of the key drivers of hypertrophy, and with a minimised need for volume, increasing frequency will lead to substantial gains, very quickly. 

Now I would suggest that we follow this at least for the first month or two when back into the gym, but essentially your body will tell you when you need more volume for a given muscle and to change into and upper/lower or a PPL split if required, however on the most part, a lot of us could do with reducing volume anyway.

How to select weight?

One of the problems we have is that whilst you’ll be raring and ready to go when lockdown ends and the gym opens, your tendons and connective tissues will not be.

If you used to bench 100kg, you won’t be able to do that now. So don’t even try! What would be worse than 3 months out of the gym, is injuring yourself when you get back in and then being out for much longer. 

So in this instance, it’s best to be cautious, form check, warm up extensively, use lighter loads and save some reps in the tank.

Essentially right now we’re going to stimulate growth just by increasing calorie consumption and touching weights as it will effectively be a novel stimulus again.

In terms of what to start with, in your first session, warm up under load with small increments up to what you feel would be challenging for something in the 8-12 rep range. Then in the first session complete your sets with 2-3 reps in the tank on each set. 

Each session, you can then increase your reps and by the 3rd rotation the connective tissues and tendons will know what to expect and we can look to move closer to failure and increase intensity.

It’s important to not over reach to begin with, as this is where injuries will occur. Once we get to that stage where we’re moving to higher intensities, that’s when we’ll look to increase load and move through rep ranges to drive hypertrophy.

Set Volume

If we aim for 10-15 sets per muscle group per week, and we’re hitting each muscle group 3x a week, I’d suggest 3-4 sets per muscle group per session. (I’ll make some suggestions on how to hit those later) 

Now you will think you can’t do a lot with 4 sets of bench in a session etc, but if you’re training to a high enough intensity, you really can, and when we get to that point where intensity increases, and if you’re performing exercises effectively, you can do a hell of a lot with just a couple of working sets.

The key here is looking at the volume through the week, not in that given session. 

Exercise Selection

One of the most important variables after lockdown will of course be choosing the right exercises. If looking to structure a session for full body, we want to look at each muscle group and select exercises that are suitable movement patterns for those. I’d break it down into the following muscle groups;

  • Back Width
  • Back Thickness
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Chest
  • Delts
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Calves

Now, look to select the 3 most effective exercises for those muscle groups in a rotation of 3 separate sessions, i.e. something like this;

  • Back Width – Pullup, Lat Pulldown, Barbell Row
  • Back Thickness – Deadlift, Rack Pull, T Bar Row
  • Quads – Squats, Hack Squats, Split Squats
  • Hamstrings – RDL, Leg Curls, Sumo Leg
  • Chest – Incline Press, Chest Press, Decline Bench
  • Delts – Military Press, Upright Rows, Lateral Raise
  • Triceps – Close Grip Bench, Dips, Tricep Extensions
  • Biceps – Preacher Curl, Barbell Curl, Cable Curl
  • Calves – Toe Presses, Donkey Calf Raises, Seated Calf Raises

Now, you can either pick 1 exercise of each, or select exercises that combine muscle groups to form the most effective workout. I’d advise the latter, as if you tried doing a deadlift variant, a squat variant, a heavy row, a heavy press and then arm work after, you’d probably die. 

What i’d do is pick 2-3 heavy movements to start the session, i.e. Squats, barbell row & incline bench, which will incorporate multiple muscle groups, then use your less harsh variants to make up the rest of the muscle groups in that session i.e. lateral raises, tricep extension and preacher curls. Still a very hard session, then reverse the heavier work for different muscle groups in the next session i.e. deadlifts & military press instead. 

We can always add work where we need to. 

Things worth remembering are that with compound movements you recruit a large number of fibres i.e. a squat will recruit quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, back & abs to complete the movement. You won’t need to hit a lot of volume for those other muscle groups if you’re performing it effectively at this stage. 

Key Takeaway

Whilst it’s going to be very exciting to get back into the gym after lockdown, we need to be cautious to ensure that we minimise the risk of injury, but can also progress at the fastest rate possible. 

Hopefully this will give you a framework to build on when you get back to training, but most of all, just enjoy being back in the gym! We definitely won’t be taking it for granted again.