Returning to Exercise Post-Lockdown
Olivia Nimmo, Physiotherapist
It’s official, the doors to gyms and studios have reopened in Melbourne! After 12+ weeks of lockdown, many people will be returning to their previous exercise routines after months of home workouts, or sitting on the couch. Either way, it’s exciting getting back to exercise, but we need to know how to do it safely to reduce risk of injury.
Whether it’s reducing the intensity or eliminating some exercises you have been doing for a long time, everyone has to take precautions when returning back into exercise. It’s important to re-introduce your exercise routine gradually to ensure you are not pushing yourself too hard.
Here are some of my top tips for a safe (and fun) way to return to exercise.
Take it slow
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get back to your ‘usual’ number of workouts a week or try make up for lost time. As much as you might want to go back to your normal training within a week of the lockdown ending, give your body an opportunity to adapt to training again can reduce risk of overloading your tissues or causing injury.
Some ways to help manage the load in the first couple of weeks:
- Reduce range of motion of the movement (e.g don’t go as low into the squat)
- Reduce weight you are lifting
- Reduce the volume (how many reps and sets)
If using weights, start around 50% of the weight or resistance you were doing pre-lockdown. General rule of thumb is to increase your volume, duration or intensity by 10-15% each week from there. As you master each exercise, increase the number of sets or weight within each activity. With that level of increase per week, you should be back to where you were pre-lockdown by week 4-6. Remember, it is better to have a few easier sessions than have one really hard session that leaves you exhausted for days after!
Mix it up
Repetitive loads too soon are another common way to overload tissues after a lockdown and can increase risk of injury. When you haven’t done an activity for a while, variety is key in minimising stress on your body.
For example, you may break up your 30 minute treadmill run into 10 minutes, followed; by a 10-15 minutes on the rowing machine or cross trainer. This way you will get the same cardiovascular benefits, without too much stress on the tissues.
If you are exercising on consecutive days, try alternate days you do your weights and cardio activities, or try exercising a different muscle group.
Allow appropriate rest
Ease yourself back in for the first two weeks and allow your body 48-72 hours to recover between sessions, depending on the session intensity. You don’t have to completely rest on these days, you can use “active recovery” – which could be a walk around Merri Creek, or a gentle swim at Fitzroy Swimming Pool. With patience, you’ll get back to where you were and most importantly – injury free.
Be careful when re-introducing plyometrics
Our muscles, tendons and bones adapt to the amount and intensity of load during an activity or exercise, by either increasing or decreasing in strength. This is known as ‘training adaptation’. With the lockdown, you will likely have been doing less weight, intensity or frequency – and therefore your body has adapted by becoming a little weaker.
Fast movements such as plyometrics (jumping), can place increased forces on the body through stretching and contracting of muscles, tendons and joints. As outlined above, these can take up to 72 hours to recover from.
If you have a good base level of strength and fitness, begin by adding these plyometric activities a maximum of two times a week for the first few weeks. If you have been relatively inactive through lockdown, wait for week three back training to re-introduce them into your routine.
Eat and sleep well
Get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water and most importantly, enjoy yourself!
Sleep is the best-known recovery tool; it is also free and rather enjoyable! Getting your 7-9 hours of sleep in each night is important at all times, but especially when you are exercising to assist with recovery.
Your body will also need fueling when you are demanding more of it, so make sure your diet provides you with adequate energy and nutrition to maximise the benefits of your increased activity levels.
Lastly, enjoy yourself! It can be easy to forget why you started exercising in the first place when you are a bit out of practice.
Movement is medicine – take time to appreciate it. Enjoy the community, the endorphins and the movement. See you in the studio
If you do start to feel any pain during your return to exercise, come see a physio to get it sorted and get you back on track ASAP.
Tardioli, A., P. Malliaras, and N. Maffulli, Immediate and short-term effects of exercise on tendon structure: biochemical, biomechanical and imaging responses. British medical bulletin, 2012. 103(1): p. 169-202.
Sarto, F., Impellizzeri, F.M., Spörri, J. et al. Impact of Potential Physiological Changes due to COVID-19 Home Confinement on Athlete Health Protection in Elite Sports: a Call for Awareness in Sports Programming. Sports Med 50, 1417–1419 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01297-6