Now that we’re seeing the back of some of these restrictions for COVID-19, you’re able to get back into some serious training. Outdoor bootcamps are popping up everywhere. And small facilities are even allowed to host sessions, provided they follow proper social distancing guidelines.

So, do you jump back into where you left off before all this? Or do you adjust your training somehow?

First of all, it depends on what you’ve been doing.

If you’ve got an epic home gym where you’ve been able to lift as much as you were before, there’s no reason to take a step backwards. But most people aren’t in that situation. Most people have been doing endless reps of push ups and bodyweight lunges to try and recreate some of the same intensity they had before.

You see, in isolation, your body has adapted. If you’ve struggled with motivation and haven’t trained all that much, your body is a little weaker and more…. fragile, let’s say.

You’ve lost muscle mass. You’ve lost strength and fitness. You’ve even lost your technique and mobility. Muscles and joints are tighter, weaker and more susceptible to injury. Diving back into the same weights or routine you were doing before is a recipe for disaster. That’s how you get injured and laid off for even longer than COVID-19 has forced you to be. You don’t want that.

Training after COVID-19

Even if your body had some magical ability to recover and your technique was still perfect, it’s unnecessary. You don’t need to lift the same weights you were before. Not yet anyway.

Muscle adapts and grows based on the stress we place on it. Lift more than you’ve lifted before and your body will try to adapt so it’s prepared next time. Well your body isn’t adapted to what you were lifting before. You don’t need to push your old 1RM’s to get results right now.

In fact, you should be looking to do as little as possible to get some change from your muscles. Like I said, muscles respond to the stress you place on it. There’s a fine line though. Not enough stress and the muscles don’t have anything to adapt to – they stay the same. Too much stress and the muscles have too much to adapt to. They recover and heal, but they don’t grow – they stay the same.

So, if you go straight back into what you were lifting before you had 8 weeks off, what do you think is going to happen? You’ll overdo it. You’re risking injury because your muscles, and even your tendons/ligaments, aren’t prepared for the load. You’re also not giving your body time to recover and adapt.

A sure-fire way to tell if you overdid it or not, is by how sore you are. Some people often use this metric as a way to tell if the workout was good or bad. “I’m so sore bro! I can’t brush my teeth or sit on the toilet! Best workout ever!” But that’s a bad way to tell if you did the right thing. Sure, some soreness is okay, but excessive soreness if often unnecessary and even bad for your progress.

Not only does it mean your body has more work to do in recovery, meaning you may not actually build new muscle, only heal – but it also means you’re out of action for 3, 4 maybe even 5 days.

A big reason why you can’t lift as much right now is due to your technique and the connection between your brain and muscles. Your muscles don’t fire as forcefully as they were when you were well-trained. To get this back you need frequency and technique. So, training a movement 3 times per week at a lighter intensity is a much better strategy than training it once per week and being too sore to touch those muscles for the rest of the week.

That’s why you need to lower the intensity a little. Drop the weight and work your way back into it. Your strength and muscle will come back a lot quicker than you expect. In fact, research proves this. It takes a shorter amount of time to regain your strength and muscle mass compared to the time it took to get it in the first place [1].

Trust the process, take it slow for a couple weeks, practise your technique and give your body some time to adapt.

What should your training look like?

Well that depends on your goals. If you want to be a world-class powerlifter it’s going to differ from Becky down the street who does Zumba 3 times a week.

Training after COVID-19(1)
Here’s the 4 main points you should consider, though:

1. Frequency

Train movements and muscle groups more frequently. Don’t hammer squats as heavy as you can once a week, try hitting them 3 times per week at a lower intensity. This allows you to really practise your technique and start to maximise the force you can produce when completing that movement.

2. Intensity

Drop the intensity to reflect your current strength. I don’t care if you back squatted 180kg before isolation, you’re not hitting that now and you don’t need to. Anywhere from 40-70% is a good starting point. Hell, even practising your technique again with an empty bar would be beneficial for your first session back.

3. Rep Range

8-12 reps is often spoken about as the ‘golden range’ for muscle building. Right now, though, it’s a good range to get some practise in and get your technique working for you again. If you could hit 50kg for 10 reps before COVID-19, try 40-70% of that for 10 now.

4. Avoid Failure

8 reps. 12 reps. It doesn’t matter too much in the first week or so. But what definitely does matter is whether you go to failure. Don’t do it. This is how you go too far and create too much damage/soreness. Think about leaving 2 or more reps ‘in the tank’.
After you’ve eased your way back in, you can start working your way into whatever program you were doing before. If you were following a heavy lifting program, start building up to those heavy lifts again. If you were focusing more on muscle size and definition, you can get stuck into that again.

What if I do group training?

If you’re a part of a facility that has opened its doors again, I’d hope that the instructor/coach/trainer is taking the same approach that I’ve laid out. They should manage your load accordingly and scale where appropriate. If it doesn’t look like they have taken the time to adjust things for you and the members, you can adjust your own workout to suit you.
  • Take rest breaks where necessary.
  • Lower the weight or even stick to bodyweight.
  • Try to limit the amount of reps you’re doing per body part.
If you’ve got 100’s of reps programmed or you’re maxing out your 1RM on Day 1, maybe it’s time to find a new class.
Regardless of what your goal is, 1-2 weeks of slightly lower intensity training with more frequency is the best way to ensure you don’t get injured. It’s also a fantastic way to set you up for success for the rest of the year. Even though your progress took a hit for a little while there, it’s easier to get back to where you were than it was to get there in the first place. Trust the process and stick it out.

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