Returning to the gym: Post COVID-19

The Re-opening is Coming. Are You Ready?

By: Martha Theirl, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Today’s blog post comes from one of CrossFit Prototypes very own, Martha Theirl. Martha is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and owner of Q4 Physical Therapy out of Westborough, MA. Martha see’s patients currently via Telehealth and prior to COVID, works with patients inside CrossFit Prototype. Enjoy!

If you’re like me, you have limited equipment at home. I have a barbell from the 1970s (what does it weigh? Not a clue ) some miscellaneous plates that maybe get me to 95lbs, some dumbbells, and I was able to borrow a 35lb kettlebell from CrossFit Prototype before they closed. I haven’t hung from a rig or lifted heavy since March 17, 2020. I’ve been regularly participating in my box’s virtual programming 3-4 days per week as well as running a 5k each week. Is it the same? Of course not, but at least it’s something.

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With the opening of gyms rolling out, there are a lot of questions surrounding how to come back safely and smoothly. Even with a full home gym setup, it’s hard to push yourself alone like you’d push in the gym.

We are all, in effect, slightly de-conditioned. Here are some tips to ensure your return goes smoothly.

*As a disclaimer- none of the following is meant to be personal medical advice. This is meant as training and educational purposes only. I have not evaluated your specific needs. Please consult your medical professional prior to starting any new activity for specific guidance. Are you looking for guidance? Schedule with me here.

THE FLOOR

In return to sport, there’s a concept called floor to ceiling¹- or where the athlete is at this moment (floor), and where they need to be to fully return to their sport (ceiling). Think of the stay at home order as an offseason: and you’re starting on the ground floor. You took some time off from intense training, and now you’re ready to return- but how do we do that without causing injury?

It may be tempting to immediately check your new 1 rep max or just pick up where you left off. Resist the temptation. Your body isn’t used to moving heavy weight and requires an adjustment period. The recommendation here is to use your old 1 rep max (or usual lifting weight) and scale down to 50% for the first 2-5 weeks. Then build at appropriate intervals (10-20% per week) as long as no problems arise.

MOVE AT YOUR OWN PACE

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During the subsequent 5 weeks, check in with yourself. 

How are you feeling? 

Are you recovering well?

How are your fueling habits?

How are you sleeping?

Are you sore all the time? 

Do you have any pain?

Everyone moves at their own pace. If you had an injury leading up to your time off, how is that feeling now that you’re training again? Is it starting to flare up or is it no longer an issue? Those with chronic injuries may need to move slower than those without. If you’re adding too much too fast, you may start to experience new aches or pains. Pay attention to these and see medical assistance to keep them from getting worse. We discuss ways to train around injury here, but it’s necessary to contact your health professional to get a personalized plan.

As a general recommendation- muscle soreness should not last over 24-48hrs and should not be interfering with your daily life, such as sitting on the toilet or getting dressed. If you’re constantly sore, try taking an extra rest day or keeping your weight the same (Or lighter!) for a week or two to let your body recover optimally. This is important for the long term success of your training. 

If training loads are increased too rapidly, you are at increased risk of injury.² 

This is usually considered in a week by week training load, though can be applied to all types of scenarios. One person may find that 20% per week increases are appropriate, while another finds that a 10% increase is sufficient. 

CAN YOU BUY TIME?

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If you continued doing some workouts at home then you might have shortened some of the time needed to return safely to your prior lifting or training volume. You’ve kept some fitness and especially if you had some dumb bells, a weight vest, or a barbell you have kept some tolerance to external load. The same overall rules apply as above, but you may be able to progress your weight earlier than a 5 week re-introduction.

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Don’t forget about your grip! We know that not heavily gripping things causes your hands to lose some strength and tolerance (just think how small your calluses have gotten!). Remember this during your gymnastics work for any time spent swinging or hanging. This applies to kettlebell swings also. Lowering the overall volume for the first month and gradually increasing is your best bet to be successful in your training.

Let’s say you see programming that has a 30 minute AMRAP of 30 box jumps, 30 toes to bar, and 30 deadlifts. Scaling that workout to half the volume, half the time, or half the weight is a great idea during the first month back. Crossfit is usually programmed for the strongest person in the gym, and everyone else is meant to scale down appropriately. 

BACK AND FEELING STRONGER THAN EVER- REACHING THE CEILING

Initially decreasing your weight and intensity allows your body to rebuild tolerance and mitigate injury as you’re heading back to in person gym work. Rebuilding at the right pace for you may take a little longer in the beginning, but will leave you feeling stronger and ready to tackle the next workout. By attending to your rest and recovery, food intake, and overall training volume and intensity you can feel confident you have a plan to return to the gym with resilience. 

If this feels overwhelming, let us help you form a plan tailored to your specific needs. We believe in modification not elimination. Schedule your free 20 minute consultation with performance physical therapist Martha to get started today!

We are also hosting a live webinar in mid-June to fully explore how to return safely. Use the link below to register and to join us! *limited to 30 participants*

Be Resilient to the Finish

References:

  • 1. Gabett, TJ. How much? How fast? How soon? Three simple concepts for progressing training loads to minimize injury risk and enhance performance. JOSPT. 2019;0(0):1-9. doi/10.2519/jospt.2020.9256

2. Gabbett TJ. Debunking the myths about training load, injury and performance: empirical evidence, hot topics and recommendations for practitioners. Br J Sports Med 2020;54(1): 58.DOI:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099784

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