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6 tips for preventing injury as you return to the gym

Heading back to the gym this weekend? Read our top tips for avoiding injury as you return to the gym after lockdown.

When the gyms closed back in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, many of us resorted to online exercise classes in our living rooms or dug out our dusty running trainers to hit the pavement and clock a few miles, while others saw the gym closure as an opportunity to take a well-earned rest. Whichever way, you decided to spend lockdown as we approach the 25th of July, some of you may be keen to get back to your pre-coronavirus workouts in the gym.

Yet if you choose to go back to the gym, your workouts may look a little different and you may be required to reserve a time slot, train outdoors and wipe down equipment before and after you use it. You may also be thinking about how this extended time away from the gym has affected your fitness, and what you should do to avoid injury when you do resume training.

Whether you have been working out at home or taking life a little easier during lockdown, here are our 6 simple tips for you to safely ramp up your workouts as you get back into the gym or take your home training to the next level.

1. Don’t go from 0 to 100

Although you may want to go full throttle on your first session back in the gym, a gradual return to exercise is key. Don’t go back to the same intensity and frequency as you were doing before lockdown straight away. It is important to start low and gradually build back up your strength and endurance.

Pushing yourself too far and too fast can lead to unwanted injury even if you feel fresh and ready to go, which in turn will put your fitness goals on hold. Also, this can have a negative impact on you mentally. If you’ve been working out less, or not at all, not being able to execute a heavy lift or complete a long run when you return to the gym might leave you feeling demotivated.

Consider reducing your intensity or load to 70-80% of your pre-coronavirus efforts for a few weeks. Once you’ve been doing the same exercise at a reduced intensity for a few weeks and it feels like it is becoming too easy then up the ante and slowly scale up in weight or intensity. For example, if you’re lifting 10kg dumbbells for 15 reps and you feel like you could keep going forever, it’s time to pick up the 15kg dumbbells.

2. Don't overlook a good warm-up

A warm-up is essential regardless of the type of exercise. You can think of it in much the same way as you would think of warming up your car before driving on a cold day. You should be completing 5-10 minutes of warm-up exercises before your chosen activity, whether that is weightlifting, cycling or running.

Performing a warm-up gently prepares your body for exercise by slowly increasing your heart rate and circulation which helps to loosen your joints and increase blood flow to your muscles. Ensuring that your muscles are warm before starting will help to prevent acute injuries such as hamstring strains and will reduce the incidence of overuse injuries too.

The warm-up not only prepares your body but also gives you a couple of minutes to mentally prepare yourself for the work ahead. When your body is better able to handle the demands, you make on it with exercise you can tackle new personal bests and have less soreness or stiffness.

3. Allow time for your body to recover

Opposite to a warm-up, a cool-down aims to lower your heart rate and allows your breathing to go back to normal. It can last for 3-10 minutes depending on how many stretches you are performing and how long you are holding each one. However, a cool-down can also consist of going for a brisk walk. For example, if you have been running, you may add a 5-minute brisk walk onto the end of your running route and then stretch the muscles you have been using.

It is important to also take rest days in between your exercise sessions, especially when you first start back after being away for a long period. Taking rest days is just as important as working out as it allows your muscles, nerves, bones and connective tissue time to rebuild. If you’re taking a rest day but want to stay active, aim to keep your step count above 10,000 a day, alternatively, you could start attending yoga classes. Yoga is an excellent way to relax and unwind as well as giving your muscles and joints the all-important stretch that they need after intense exercise.

4. Work on your technique

If you haven’t been able to lift heavy weights or perform HIIT training during lockdown, working on your technique when you return to the gym is very important. Go back to basics and perform the exercise without the weight first. For example, if you are executing a squat, start with a set of bodyweight squats and then introduce the barbell with a lower weight and slowly increase the weight as you go through your sets.

If lockdown has given you the motivation to start weightlifting and you’re a newbie, work with a professional trainer who can guide you through the lifts and ensure you are executing the movement correctly. Don’t sacrifice your technique to lift heavier weights or keep up with others as this can lead to injury and struggle further down the line when the exercises become more advanced.

5. Eat well to fuel your workouts

Don’t be too hard on yourself if your healthy eating habits disappeared during lockdown, many of us have been consuming foods and drinks we wouldn’t usually. Why not use your return to the gym to get back on track? Getting your nutrition spot on before your training sessions will not only give you more energy to hit the speed or intensity you want but will also help kick-start your recovery after your sessions.

Ideally, 2 hours before your workout you need to be staying hydrated with plenty of water, eating carbohydrates such as oats, pasta, rice and fruits and vegetables and avoiding saturated fats and excess protein as these types of fuels take longer to digest in your stomach. If you don’t have enough time to make a full meal, eat a piece of fruit such as a banana.

After your workout, it is essential to replace the fluids you have lost through sweating by drinking plenty of water. Aim to incorporate carbohydrates and protein into your post-workout meal as your muscles will store these nutrients as energy and can help to repair and grow your muscles.

6. Establish your baseline

Making sure that you are fit to return to the exercise after a prolonged period is essential for avoiding injuries. If you’ve found yourself eating too many snacks, drinking more alcohol and not doing as much exercise as you usually would during lockdown, a simple blood test is a perfect way of understanding how lockdown may have affected your overall health. Your results can help you to establish your post-lockdown health status and identify any personal health risks you should be aware of.

You can use the insights it provides to make changes to current diet and lifestyle and track your improvements to help you achieve your health and fitness goals. We recommend taking a test before you start back at the gym and then taking another in a few months to see how your efforts in the gym have impacted your inner health. Until the end of July we have up to 25% off selected sports performance blood tests including our Baseline Fitness Blood Test and Endurance Fitness Blood Test as well as our Sports Hormone Check Plus Blood Test