I remember the first time I had time away from playing the drums. I can’t remember what the reason was, but more than a month had passed until I sat down at the kit. I remember I didn’t know what to expect the first time I picked up the sticks. Previous to this I had played most days since I was about seven, and I remember being nervous that I’d lose my skill, or forget how to make music at all. Worse than that; what if I’d never be as good again. I needn’t have worried.
I felt slow at first, clumsy, but I soon found my feet. I realised that instead of trying to nail all the things I could do before the layoff, I needed to go back to the very basics. Once I’d done that the old touch came back quickly. If I tried to force it, I’d only end up frustrated. In the end, what I’d learn about starting again would make me come back better than before.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been waiting for the gyms to open since Christmas, and have been growing steadily more conscious of your lack of muscle and athleticism. However, just as playing the drums to the same level before takes time, gaining back your previous fitness doesn’t happen straight away, and trying to rush only leads to frustration or, worse, injury. If you want to avoid the common mistakes for getting back to your best self, here are five rules for rejoining the gym.
Don’t try to start back where you left off
I once had to take a month off training to go on tour. When I came back I figured I’d pick up where I left off and try to lift the same weights and reps as before my break. I failed on all my lifts, injured my shoulder, and couldn’t walk for a week. Not a very successful comeback.
This was a long time ago, and I know better now, but this approach is still something I see in the gym time and time again. It’s an acceptance thing. None of us wants to be weak if we’ve spent so long training to be strong, but you have to let that feeling go.
The magic of returning to training is that regaining muscle is a much quicker process than putting it on in the first place. What you toiled for years to achieve will be back in less than two months, and your nervous system will remember how to lift weights even quicker than that if you feel rusty at first.
You’re weaker after the break and you need to deal with that by pulling back. Trying to pretend you can still lift what you were doing before the layoff will only result in severe soreness and make the risk of injury much more likely. Take it slow, and you’ll be back to your best in a couple of months.
Don’t switch things up
The training program you were doing great with before the gyms shut is the one you should be edging back towards first. Pre-exhausting your muscles, using advanced block periodisation or attempting German volume training need to be put on a shelf until you are back to your best.
The idea that you should add a thousand calories to your diet to build the muscle you lost as quickly as possible is a tempting, but flawed, notion. It doesn’t work like that.
Once you start training again you are already primed for maximum muscle growth. From an energy point of you, you only need enough to make this happen, and where hypertrophy is concerned, enough, as they say, is enough. Any more calories than you need are only going to get stored as fat.
In situations like this, more food doesn’t mean more muscle. Focussing on eating enough protein is definitely a good call, and making sure you have enough energy is great, but unless you’ve lost a load of weight over lockdown, keeping things tighter will keep you leaner.
Lots of what I say in these blogs is an attempt to keep people grounded. It’s hard to navigate the various fairytales told about fitness on the internet. However, while most of what is written about fitness is BS, now is a time that legit, magic can happen.
Normally to lose fat you have to eat fewer calories than you burn, but not now. As you’ve been out of the gym for a while you are going to build muscle back very quickly, and if you paid attention to the rule above, you are very likely to lose fat at the same time.
Huge transformations can be made as calories are shuttled into muscle growth while being liberated from fat stores. To achieve this, you only need to eat to maintain your current body weight. As long as you get enough protein, massive changes can occur with little else.
Don’t get greedy
Forced layoffs make us assess things. Maybe the three days a week that you’ve been doing in the gym for years could be more exciting somehow. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to run a marathon, or start climbing, or finish an ironman triathlon. Maybe you should start training for all of them?
Adding in more work when you are already at a high level of fitness is not so bad, but starting three plans at once from a very low level of fitness is a recipe for injury.
Keep your eye on the prize. Finishing an ironman might be awesome, and climbing looks amazing, but if you want to regain muscle and lose a bit of lockdown fluff, focusing on lifting weights and eating right for a couple of months first is the way to go. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t do any of those things at a later date, just don’t get over-excited and try to start them all at once.
Getting back to your strongest, leanest, and fittest self now that the gyms are open is about taking your time. Don’t try and rush progress by trying crazy training programs or eating a ton of food. Be cautious in your training and take your time and you’ll be back to your best in no time.