Gyms are reopening. For many of us, we haven’t had access to a fully-equipped training space for months, possibly even a year. With training becoming a pillar of survival during COVID-19, many women are starting to think about how gyms, studios, and boxes can support them as they return to in-person training.
From a community survey, we know that 80% of women will have a physical membership following the easing of lockdown rules. However, 60% will continue to train at home and 90% want to continue with varied training.
Navigating this shift back to mixed environment training shouldn’t be taken lightly. Our bodies aren’t used to certain movements, we don’t know how we’ll respond to being around our communities again, and there may be some elements of lockdown training we want to maintain.
Here we share our Back Under The Bar Toolkit - advice from female coaches, gym owners, and personal trainers, on what to consider as you start transitioning back to the gym.
001 First, Reflect
A year of training predominately at home or outdoors has been challenging, but there will have been some positives. You may have to dig deep to find them! Jayne Lo, Personal Trainer, put's three questions to us:
- Lockdown training was tough, but what are some of the positives you’ve taken from it?
- What have you learned about yourself or your training over the past year?
- During lockdown, have you incorporated anything into your day-to-day practice (fitness and/or health routine) that you are keen to continue?
002 Focus On Mobility
According to the NHS sitting for more than six hours a day has a significant negative impact on our health. Research by Sport England has found that four in 10 British adults are so immobile they risk their long-term health.
Mobility may have come into focus during lockdown, but now returning to the gym it’s vital to keep this up. Hat Hewitt, sports therapist and coach, shares four important mobility tips.
- Walk 10,000+ steps a day. If you’re still working from home, the worst thing you can do is sit all day and head to the gym in the evening. Try one 20-minute lunchtime stroll and aim to walk for 20-30 minutes once more in the day. Adding in walking to daily life helps promote blood flow and prevents fascia (the connective tissue under our skin) from becoming stiff and rigid - this is what leads to immobility which can lead to injury.
- Focus on working one or two joints that feel particularly stiff. Often people become overwhelmed with needing to work on mobility and either rush through a quick all-over stretch or avoid it altogether. Pick your stiffest area and work on it with a 5-minute focus - it doesn’t need to be complicated, one or two drills/stretches work just fine if repeated consistently.
- Be aware of your wrists! If you’ve not touched a barbell in months be sure to mobilise your wrists. Spend some time each day loading the wrists in flexion and extension to ensure you have a solid end range that can be safely loaded with a barbell when you’re in the gym.
- Spend 60 seconds in a squat every day. Do this for a few weeks. If you need to use heel supports to balance or hold onto something to stay upright don’t be afraid to do so. Time in a squat is what we as humans don’t do enough of. The more you do it, the easier it feels and the better it will feel and look.
Check out Map Online, Hat’s platform for accessible Mobility videos you can do at-home or in the gym.
003 Manage Training Intensity
Modifying a workout to suit your ability has always been important, but now more than ever. You might not have had access to a barbell, maybe you’ve turned to other types of training while you didn’t have equipment at home, or you might even be suffering from long COVID. Jenna Nicholls, CrossFit coach, and Jayne Lo, PT at Third Space, share their advice.
- Don’t go nuts! In your first week or two scale it back to between 50-65% of your usual weights. It’s the intensity your body will need to adjust to, not necessarily the weights.
- Just enjoy being there. Think less about others, numbers, or volume. It is not a competition and comparison is the enemy. Just move gently and feel good.
- Think about your cycle. If you train inline with your menstrual cycle don’t forget this as you walk through the gym doors. Keep track of where you are and adjust your intensity and type of exercise accordingly.
Given the recency of COVID, there are still a lot of unknowns. This is intended as general advice and not medical guidance. The common symptoms of long COVID are post-viral fatigue, joint pain, breathlessness, and increased heart rate. All of these will affect your ability to train. Here’s how to scale back:
- Start with some steady-state cardio. Use time or distance to measure your current performance. This can be used as a starting point for any cardiovascular training programmes.
- Reduce the volume of your sessions. Start with a 50% reduction by cutting down your exercise selection, as well as dropping your sets, reps and weight. Depending on how you feel, gradually increase your volume over time.
- Programme full-body workouts instead of upper/lower splits. This will give your body more time to adapt to the training stimulus.
- Take sufficient rest days. If you are used to training 5 days a week, don’t aim to go back to this immediately after some time off.
004 Reduce Injury Risk
At Blue Elvin, we take protecting women’s bodies seriously. Our products reduce bruises and grazes common in functional training. If you’ve not picked up a barbell for close to 12 months you’re going to be a little rusty. Form might be off, confidence may be lacking, and you’ll have forgotten what it feels like to be under the bar.
We recommend kitting yourself out in Set 1, our sports bra, leggings, and shin sleeves, will keep your collarbones and shins injury-free as you return to the gym.
Your body won’t be used to certain movements, equipment, or load. You may still have maintained a level of fitness during lockdown, however, this new strain will increase the risk of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMs) and injury. Alexandra Ofidies, a Soft Tissue Injury specialist, reminds us to check in with our body. Observe how you’re coping physically and mentally and make adjustments as needed.
- Warm-up properly. You need to heat up your body to help your connective tissue change state. Wearing layers can help. If you have a previous injury or a current injury you’re managing, make sure to mobilise and activate the affected areas.
- Active recovery. If you can, do 10‑20 minutes of active recovery after training. Walk/row/bike will help the blood vessels pump nutrients to your tissues and remove waste products. Post-training is also a great time to do mobility work, it helps your muscles repair in the most effective way.
- Rest days. Listen to your body. Be mindful of the other aspects of your life that will impact your readiness to train; stress levels, sleep quality, hydration, and fuel. A rough guide is one rest day a week.
005 Training During Ramadan
Intisar Abdul-Kader, a long-distance runner and yoga instructor, shares her tips for those observing the Holy Month of Ramadan this year.
- Run an hour before breaking fast. This is called Iftar and it’s at sunset. Maintain easy runs with low mileage (for me that’s nothing more than 5-7km) and take into account that your body is dehydrated, running on low carbohydrates and electrolytes.
- Run on alternate days. This will give your body time to recover, refuel and top up on electrolytes. I usually run 2-3 days of the week during Ramadan.
- Strength train after breaking fast. Try to incorporate these sessions after eating a light meal. Make sure you’re well-hydrated too. Two sessions a week work well for me and help me maintain my strength and discipline.
Fasting while training/running is completely doable but within reason and your own capabilities. If it’s too hard then take it down a notch or take a day off. That’s fine too. The month of Ramadan is less about maintaining fitness and running gains and more about committing to fasting, a sense of family and community, and giving back to those who need it the most.
006 At Home x Gym
For a lot of us, lockdown has meant that life has been slower-paced for the last 12-months. Our lives, and the activities within them, have been dramatically reduced. Now that everything is slowly starting to open up it’s important to re-enter at your own pace. There is no rush to do everything all at once. Take time to decide what habits you’ve created that will continue to serve you. It’s up to you to decide what you do with your time and who you spend it with. Blue Elvin and Jayne Lo, PT at Third Space, share their thoughts on how to think about your training routine.
- Plan your training alongside work and social life. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to fit all your plans in on the same day. Think about training at home and at the gym alongside work and social plans to make it feel easier.
- Find a space where you feel comfortable. Where you decide to train and around who is so important. Look for a supportive environment where you don’t feel judged. This might mean finding a training partner or going to classes where you can be supported by a coach or other members.
- Focus your home training. When training at home you can focus your workouts on areas of improvement or prehab work. Then when in the gym you can prioritise movements that you don’t have the equipment for at home. Prioritise unilateral movements, allowing both sides to work independently, and core stability work to support spinal and pelvic posture for lifting.
- The importance of cardiovascular fitness. Use the time not spent in a gym facility on developing your cardiovascular health. Maintain that weekly run or cycle you’ve been doing during lockdown.
We can't wait to train with you!