Gyms in many areas are reopening, or will be soon, and a lot of us can’t freaking wait to get back to normal workouts. (I myself have a well-equipped home gym, but I dream of the day I can get back to a proper squat rack.) But let’s talk about the proper mindset to have when you first go back, so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment.
The truth is, you’ll almost certainly have lost strength. Even if you kept working out during quarantine, your strength won’t necessarily show up your first day back in the gym. We get a bit rusty when we haven’t done a certain movement for a while. Just because you can do a ton of pushups doesn’t mean you’ll be able to hit a bench press PR on your first day back.
Remember what we told you back at the beginning of quarantine? Strength coach Greg Nuckols reminded us that even the best home training will take its toll, but that in the long run you’ll be fine:
Here’s how Nuckols puts it: When people get back to the gym, “they’ll get back under the bar and see like, oh shit my maxes have gone down 20%, maybe 30%, and they’ll freak out and think they lost all of their gains. But as long as you were trying to do some sort of productive training in quarantine, you’ll get the vast majority of that back within a month, or maybe two months.”
So, set low expectations. Do not try to test your one-rep maxes your first day back. Yeah, yeah, easier said than done. (Personally, I will give myself an award for restraint if I don’t try to max out my back squat my literal first day back.) Instead, go in with the attitude that you probably suck, you’ll be lucky to lift the empty bar, and anything better than zero would be an astounding success.
So when you walk up to the weight room, start warming up with light weights the way you normally would, and go by feel. Physical therapist Jason Eure recommends doing 5 to 8 reps for your working sets, and staying a few reps shy of failure. (I’ve seen several other coaches recommend the same.) This lets you still get a good workout in, while getting a sense of where your fitness is right now.
If you have a training program that’s based on percentages of your best lifts, don’t expect to hop back in. Go by feel, give it at least a few weeks, and only then should you start thinking about how your current numbers compare to your old ones.
You can extend this attitude to other areas of fitness, besides lifting. Do you have certain numbers you expect to see on a treadmill or spin bike? Settings on your favourite machines? A number of reps you used to always hit? Go in expecting nothing, and let yourself be pleasantly surprised.