You’ve heard correctly, gyms/personal training will be opening up little by little. Maybe you’re feeling excited about this, maybe slightly afraid, a little anxious, or maybe you still don’t feel comfortable going back to the gym and would like to continue progressing your strength and aerobic capacity in the comfort and safety of your own home. All of these feelings are normal, and they are all valid. I would like to share some tips on how to go about finding a “new normal” for your exercise routine.
Decide whether gym, outdoor, or home exercise is right for you. Feeling anxious about going back? Worried that you could get or give the virus to someone you love? Maybe going back as soon as possible isn’t right for you. This is a decision that you’ll have to make on your own and it is extremely important to do some research to understand your options. Go on the gym’s website or give them a call to see if they are following CDC and Colorado’s guidance for return to public spaces. Things to look for include: reducing capacity (number of people determined by facility square footage per State guidelines), frequent cleaning and after each use of equipment, wearing a mask, utilizing gloves and/or washing hands meticulously, and continuing to stay at least 6 ft apart during interactions. For a full checklist of what gyms/personal trainers should be adhering to right now, check out this link. https://assets.bouldercounty.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/safer-at-home-checklist-for-personal-services.pdf. If your gym is not adhering to these protocols, I would recommend staying away from that space and only supporting the business if they are following FULL GUIDANCE. If you can’t find a gym that is complying with these rules, utilize outdoor exercise or home exercise and stay up to date on the latest changes at https://covid19.colorado.gov/.
Progress slowly. If you have found a gym doing all the right things in all the right spaces (see what I did there?), kudos to you! When attempting to get back to a strength training program, remember that your body has not had this type of stimulus in at least 6-8 weeks. This isn’t necessarily enough time to lose previous strength gains but it does mean you have to take a step back and progress slowly and intentionally. Choose a couple of exercises per week and utilize small jumps in loading (weight on bar or dumbbell) to help prevent overuse or disuse injuries. If you have questions regarding programming, please speak with your physical therapist to see how this can be implemented effectively!
Be kind to yourself. Recognize that progress may be slow and it could be difficult to get back to a routine regarding exercise. This is OK. Society as a whole is going through a pandemic. Generally speaking this means that stress is high, sleep is minimal, and everything in life right now could feel like a constant threat to your nervous system. Be kind to yourself, give yourself praise for sticking to your plan, and try to stay consistent – even if it means lowering the load or just getting in a quick workout in order to decrease stress on your body.
If training at home, utilize different loading strategies. If you decided that training at home is the best course of action right now, awesome! You can utilize training principles such as “time under tension” and “exercise progression” to get those muscle gains! Time under tension means spending more time in positions of muscular stress in order to get a higher stimulus. For instance, if you are trying to squat and you are utilizing body weight for this, try doing your squat to a tempo. I like 5 seconds down, 3 seconds at the bottom of the position, and then a fast up. You can utilize this technique with all bodyweight routines, try it and feel the burn! For exercise progression, you can make body weight exercises more difficult or easier. For the Squat, an easier progression is squatting to a box or chair that will help decrease the range of motion your body goes through. For a harder progression you may utilize different foot position, different tempos, or something plyometric like a jump-squat. Ask your physical therapist which progression may be right for you!
Be creative. No weights at home? Not sure how to re-create different exercises? No worries! Be creative and do what feels good! I had a patient utilize a planter filled with about 20 pounds of dirt to add weight to her squats. When I was an intern in Africa, we would utilize water bottles or jugs filled with sand, pellets, or water in order to obtain different weights. I have patients using soup cans, backpacks stuffed with books, holding their babies, or dogs to assist with training stimulus. The sky is the limit. Be creative and have fun with it!
Keep a journal of progress. It is very difficult to see progress within oneself, so I’ve found that keeping a journal of exercise is a great way to track and see progress. Choose two or three movements that will set your “baseline”. See how much you can do, what variations work, and try to progress that slowly within a four-week period. Select a day to “test out” and see how far you’ve progressed! This can be a fun way to recognize success and praise the hard work you are doing.
I hope this helps with the decision-making process regarding return to gym-like settings and finding a “new normal” for your exercise routine. Stay safe, healthy, and if you have any questions at all, please contact your local Peak Form Medical Clinic physical therapist or medical professional for guidance. We are here to help!
Written by Danielle Sigman