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How To Build Your Strength In The Gym Post Lockdown

Has lockdown affected your lift-game? You’re not alone! With gyms closed, we’ve relied on resistance training such as bands, running challenges and at-home HIIT workouts to get our fitness fix. But without our beloved squat rack and a choice of dumbbells to get those muscles pumping, it’s safe to say our strength has taken a hit.

Now, you might not be hitting any PBs anytime soon, but, thanks to Personal Trainer and Team Grenade® Athlete Nathan Williams, you could claw back that lost muscle strength faster than you think! Here are Nathan’s top tips on how you can increase your strength in the gym following lockdown:

  • Stretch your muscle to increase mobilisation
  • Lower reps for a low intensity workout
  • Use machines rather than free weights

Lockdown brought our training to a sudden halt; some of us have done everything we could to maintain our regime, gathering any piece of equipment we could to mimic our gym workouts. Sadly, a few of us have fallen off the bandwagon, with resistance bands and home workouts just not cutting it and motivation at an all-time low. But, good news! Lockdown is easing and we might not have to do another banded workout ever again! The opening of gyms is just around the corner and we can almost taste that first lift of a dumbbell. But, the question is, where do you start after such a long time away from the gym?!

Unfortunately, not many of us will be able to pick up where we left off. You’ll likely need to accept that you’ll have lost some muscle mass and strength and may be a little rusty with your movement patterns and how you execute certain lifts.

This probably isn’t what you want to hear but, don’t worry, not all hope is lost because muscle memory is a thing! Research shows that it is easier to regain lost muscle and strength in a much shorter time than it took to initially gain it. So, think about those newbie gains you experienced but this time, you’re likely to achieve them even faster.

Below are the ways I recommend you build up your strength and go after those long-lost gains!

1) Mobilisation is key

This has got to be my first and most important point, as I want you to get results quickly, but I don't want you to get injured in the process! You've gone from beasting the gym to spending the majority of your days seated at the computer (probably on yet another Zoom call) or slouched in front of the TV watching the latest Netflix series. If you’ve been spending the majority of your day in positions that your body is not used to, it will start to create imbalances in your body. Some muscles will get weaker, while some will get tighter, so expecting your body to perform as it used to just isn't realistic. If you've been spending a lot more time seated and lying down, my advice is to regularly take your body through mobility exercises and stretches before you workout. This will wake up those muscles and joints, loosen any muscles that will restrict your movement and increase blood flow to the body to prepare you for activity. Mobilising your muscles will help contribute towards your lifts and get your strength back where it was.

2) Reduce your intensity

Whether you've been doing bodyweight workouts, or you've been entirely inactive, this is for you. I don't mean forever, but it’s worth reducing the weight you lift for the first few weeks. As I mentioned earlier, we may have lost some stretch and muscle tissue, so you probably won't be able to lift the numbers we have done previously. Start by leaving a few repetitions in the tank - it could be something from 3-5 reps. As the weeks go on, gradually increase the reps. This way, you know that you are not pushing to failure. Pushing to failure is essential for muscle growth but also puts more stress onto the body. The sorer the body is, the longer it will take to recover. And, we don't want you spending days away from the gym because you are too sore! If you’re going to get your gains and strength back, then you need to be in the gym performing, not nursing your DOMS on the sofa. Over time, the body will get used to the intensity, and then you can go back to training like a beast, leaving nothing in the tank and striving for those PBs!

3) Choose machines over free weights

I love a free weight; for me, they’re the most enjoyable lifts to perform and personal bests for me are usually achieved with free weights. But, there is a downside - your body may have forgotten how to execute the lifts with precision, so depending on the amount of time you’ve had off, you may need to pick your selection of exercises wisely. Choose regressions or machines to get your body to reprogram those movement patterns and refresh the muscles that haven't been worked since before lockdown. A barbell deadlift could be replaced with a trap bar and a Romanian deadlift could be substituted with a seated hamstring curl to isolate the working muscle. Then, spend time practicing your conventional lifts weekly, ramping up the intensity, following the reps in reserve procedure as mentioned above.

Remember, we’re all different, so the amount of time it takes to get back to your peak will vary from around 2-6 weeks. Once we’ve allowed our bodies to adjust to training again, we can go back to doing what we do best – lifting with intent and leaving no stone unturned!

Nervous about getting back into your gym routine? Well, here's 4 tips to help you tackle those first session nerves. For more information on increasing those gains and exercise tips and tricks, be sure to follow Nathan over on Instagram.