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How To Get Back To Lifting With The Gym Reopening
Written by Dave Vargo on Jun 16, 2020
The great gym reopening of 2020: I know you've been waiting for it.
You’ve practically been
foaming at the mouth as you anxiously await the click of the gym door
And the time for the gym
reopening is just about here. The time when the squat racks will be rushed
harder than the toilet paper aisle.
One-rep maxes will be
The gym bros will be eager to go hard to make up for lost time.
But you won’t be one of
those people. You’re smarter than that.
With the tools in this
guide, you’ll be primed to finish the second half of 2020 strong while the rest
of the “go hard or go home” crowd is icing their lower backs and duct-taping
their hamstrings back to the bone.
In fact, this process
doesn’t just apply to returning after the COVID-19 lockdown; it can be followed
after any extended training hiatus or prolonged drop in intensity.
So, if you haven’t been
able to train at all, or have had to train at a much lower
intensity during quarantine, this guide is for you.
It all begins with the
proper mindset. It’s the anchor that forces you to pace yourself, check
your ego, and not get pissed off when you don’t hit your numbers right away.
Gym Reopening Mindset Tool
#1: Find the Silver Linings.
Changing your perspective
starts with placing a positive frame on a shitty situation by searching for its
Here are just a few:
time away from your normal routine allows you to step back and
“audit” your program and your results so that you can decide if you want
to switch things up.
you trained at home and didn’t have a full setup, you were forced to adapt
and get creative with exercises using minimal equipment that you wouldn’t
have used before. Now, you’re a hell of a lot more educated when you need
a workout in a pinch at home or on the road.
• When you return, you’ll initially make
progress doing much less than what you did before. Kinda like when
a newbie can still gain strength and build muscle with very little
stimulus. But, to save your ego, we’ll just call it an “extended
involuntary deload.” Yeah, that sounds better.
Above all, it’s important
to realize that the past few months away from the gym is just a blip on
the timeline of your training career.
And, it’s time to start
taking the long view.
Gym Reopening Mindset Tool
#2: Focus on Actions, Not Outcomes.
In order to take the long
view, you’ll need to shift your focus from an outcome-based approach to
a process-based approach.
With an outcome-based
approach, the focus is placed on a result, such as “losing X pounds,” or
“lifting X weight.”
The issue with this,
however, is that you have no control over an outcome. Especially given the
uncertainty of how your body will respond when you return. There are so many
variables that can derail and frustrate you if you only focus on the
For example, let’s say you
return to the gym and hyper-focus on getting that deadlift back up over 400
lbs. That’s all that matters to you.
What are the odds that
you’ll get frustrated and push it a little too hard if the weight on the bar
your first week back is lower than you’d expected it would be?
A better way: Focus
on the process.
Instead of chasing
performance numbers, set a process goal for yourself to get in at least
three workouts a week at a certain intensity.
Then, hold yourself
By setting a goal of
consistently doing the work in front of you without worrying about the numbers,
you place control back in your hands while building yourself back up.
The sweetest part?
If you stick to these
process goals with enough consistency over a long enough period, the outcome
will end up taking care of itself.
Trust the process, not
Gym Reopening Mindset Tool
#3: Have Patience.
You’ve gotta realize that
there’ll be a breaking-in period when you return.
With proper training and no
setbacks, you can expect to be back to your pre-lockdown strength and sexiness
in roughly the same time that you were away.
This will vary, though,
depending on how long you’ve been training and how active you were during the
If you were away from the
gym for three months, but had years of training experience under your belt and
found ways to workout at home, you’ll likely bounce back more quickly than
If you did nothing but binge Netflix and pound tacos, you can expect to take at
least three months to get back to form. But, probably more than three
In either case, recognize
this is gonna take some time. It will save you from trying to be a hero
when the dude one rack over is shitting himself while maxing out his squat.
Which leads us to...
Don’t Train Like A Noob.
Alright, I’ll come right
out with the elephant in the room:
Chances are good that you lost some size and strength as well as
endurance and inter/intramuscular coordination over the past few months.
With that said, don’t drown
yourself in your protein shake just yet.
Yes, you likely lost some
of your progress training at home (or not training at all. However, it
won’t be as much as you think.
Research indicates that if
you have at least some training experience (around 6 months or more),
you will not lose a significant amount of strength and size. And once you get
back to the gym, size and strength come back pretty quickly.
But you still have to…
Manage Injury Risk.
Step one to stepping back
into the gym: Don’t get hurt.
I know, I know: an
original, groundbreaking insight you never would have thought of yourself,
There are a handful of
things you need to check yourself on as you get back into the groove:
faster you increase your workload, the greater your risk of injury. It’ll be
tempting to pile on the volume and intensity the first week or two back, but
pump the brakes. Remember, it’s going to take much less work initially
to stimulate size and strength, so take advantage of it.
(2) Manage Sleep and Stress. When the world opens back up, chances are
you’ll be hit with a surge of workload, policy changes, and other situations
that could cause your stress levels to spike and your sleep quality to drop.
High stress and poor sleep can both lead to elevated stress hormones – namely
cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine – that will wreak havoc on your
ability to build muscle, lose fat, and avoid injury. Nip this in the bud now
by making sure to carve out time for decompressing at night as well as
nailing down a manageable pre-sleep routine.
(3) Check. Your. Ego. Again, don’t expect to light the world on fire. I
know it might seem like common sense, but you’ll notice how most lifters
will jump right back into their pre-lockdown routines using the same loads they
were using before.
But, you’re not most
lifters, right? You’re smart enough to...
Avoid Soul-Crushing Soreness.
It’s well established that
muscle soreness is not an accurate indicator of progress.
In fact, your body will
work to repair this damage before it shifts to building new muscle. So,
initially avoiding or going lighter on exercises that induce excessive
eccentric stress such as heavy RDLs, chest flys, and deep lunges is the best
way to not screw yourself for your next workout.
Novelty can also lead to
excessive soreness. So, if you’ve been eyeing up those BOSU ball pistol squats,
now isn’t the time to try ‘em.
You’ll thank me when you
don’t need a handrail for eight days to take a dump. It all begins with...
Extending Your Warmups.
I’m not usually a fan of
long drawn-out warmups, but this is a situation where I’m willing to bend - terrible pun intended.
This is the time to squeeze
one or two extra sets in before your working weight, with the focus on feeling
the target muscles and working to re-establish the mind muscle connection.
Use your warm ups as an
opportunity to grease the groove on your movement patterns to fast track your
body’s “relearning” process.
Now, Go Lift.
“Okay, shut up and tell me
how to train, dude.”
Fair enough. I
Now, regardless of how
often you were training before, or what type of split you were using, you’ll be
starting back at 3x/week using a full body approach to maximize your body’s
exposure to each movement.
The volume will be kept
intentionally low, and you’ll be selecting weights using the Rating of
Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, where 1 is essentially nothing, to 10 being max
We’re using RPE over a
percentage here because everyone will be coming back to this party
differently, and how a weight feels is more important at this stage than
what the absolute number is.
For the first week, work up
to an RPE of 5 or 6 on each lift.
And, you read that right:
just 2 sets of each. But, you’ll be surprised how little it’ll take to make you
Remember, the initial focus
should NOT be to annihilate yourself. It should be on grooving movement
patterns and beginning to build the base of your foundation once again.
1A: Goblet Squat – 2 x 6-8
2A: Flat DB Bench Press – 2
3A: DB 3-Point Row – 2 x
4A: DB Biceps Curl – 2 x
5A: RKC Plank – 2 x :10
on/:10 off x 3
1A: BB RDL – 2 x 6
2A: Pushup – 2 x 8-12
3A: DB Chest Supported Row
– 2 x 8-12
4A: Cable or Banded
Facepull – 2 x 12-15
5A: Deadbug – 2 x 3-6/side
1A: Split Squat – 2 x
2A: Incline DB Bench Press
2 x 6-8
3A: Lat Pulldown - 2 x 8-12
4A: Cable Triceps Pressdown
– 2 x 8-12
5A: Side Plank – 2 x 30-60
HOW TO PROGRESS FROM HERE:
Increase load/RPE first,
then add volume.
1. Week 2 will look
identical in terms of sets and reps, but the loads will be slightly
heavier to reflect an RPE of 6-7.
2. Your week 3 progression
will be adding volume by jumping all exercises from 2 to 3 sets.
3. In week 4 and beyond,
the goal should be to intelligently ramp up intensity to the desired level and
Monitor your recovery and
soreness in the days after each adjustment. Tweak as needed.
It ain’t rocket surgery,
but there IS a process to ramping yourself back up after a training hiatus
without pissing off your joints or enduring crippling soreness.
And it’s not throwing shit
against the wall and seeing what sticks.
Follow the tools in this
guide, and you’ll be on the fast track to packing on muscle, melting off body fat,
and staying injury-free.