Returning to Strength Training After COVID-19

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Be Careful How You Return to the Gym.


Once again gyms and fitness centres in Hong Kong have been closed, and by the time they open, it will be at least 4 weeks of closure. So it seems an appropriate time to repost this blog written in 2020 to remind everybody, including myself, not to go too heavy when you do finally return to resistance training:


In Hong Kong, gyms were effectively closed for two months from mid July to September 2020. Which meant during this time I had to find other ways to exercise. It was a great opportunity to focus on my steps. It also got me to buy a bicycle for the first time in 30 years, where I began mountain biking on the trails around Tai Lam Cheung reservoir.

With gyms re-opening on September 4th, I was finally able to return to weightlifting strength training.

Here’s a warning for anybody returning to strength training after such a long time away, even if you have remained active throughout:

  • You must get back into resistant training very slowly.
  • Do not think you can lift what you could two months ago.

Here are my examples on the barbell sumo dead-lift after standard bar warm-ups:

Mid July 2020: 

  • 80kgs @ 5×5 (5 sets of 5 reps each) = Total volume 2000kgs

Mid September 2020:

  • 60kgs @ 2 x 1 (2 sets of 1 rep each) = Total volume 120kgs

Yes, that’s all it took for my body to feel the rep and tell me to stop. The first single rep already sent a warning to my adductors. I went back for a 2nd rep, and quickly realised that was all I would do that day.

That is a massive reduction in total volume. So what was the outcome the next day?

The DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) after this measly 120kg total volume lift were astonishing. At the time I could have lifted more, but luckily my body gave me a signal that I should probably stop. Being older and wiser, I actually managed to listen to that signal. And thank goodness I did, because after just 2 reps of 60kgs, I had strong enough DOMS to stop me from walking comfortably and moving properly 24-72 hours later..

It’s truly amazing how the body adapts and what little signal you need to give the body after such a long layoff from training. In reality, I should have stopped at 1 rep! But my ego wouldn’t allow that.

Don’t let your ego get the better of you. Upon returning to strength training after such a long time away, be super cautious. Get back into training slowly. By doing less, you can feel how your body responds. There is no way I could get back to deadlift after 48/72 hours, which is a clear sign I over trained. You do not want to over train because your muscles will not grow. They will only get sore and recover, with minimum/zero growth or strength progression. 

The key to strength training is to do the minimum amount of work, for the maximum amount of results. Soreness does not equal results. A little soreness is fine, but you do not want to be unable to walk or move properly.

Key Message: When you go back to the gym after 2 months away, take it easy. Take it very easy. Begin with 10% of what you were doing before, and see how your body responds to that. Thereafter you can increase or decrease appropriately. If you return at the proper pace, you can be back up to full speed in a short time. But if you go back too hard, it will take you longer to get back to where you were before.

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