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Get back to training the safe way in 2022

As we ease our way into the new year, many of us will hit the gym for the first time after a well-deserved December holiday break.

Depending on the duration of your holiday, it’s important to consider various factors before picking up your weight training routine where you left off.

Losing strength

According to numerous studies, up to 3 weeks of no training should leave experienced weight lifters with little or no ill-effects on their muscle size or strength.

It seems that muscle tissue will only really start to atrophy (decrease in size and strength) after 3 weeks of no training. Take more time off, though, and you start down a slippery slope of accelerating losses in strength.

The major factor related to detraining and strength is a loss in neuromuscular training adaptations. Without the stimulus of training, impulse firing at the neuromuscular junction becomes ‘sluggish’ after 2 or more weeks with no training.

This does, however, mean that you can quickly regain your strength after 3-4 weeks, as little structural degradation occurs.

Did you holiday for more than 3 weeks? Well, you might experience greater losses in strength or muscle size.

For example, according to researchers (Mujika and Padilla: 2001), after 4 weeks of inactivity, eccentric force and sport-specific power may suffer significant declines in highly trained athletes, .

From then on, declines in strength accelerate – data from a meta-analysis of 27 studies on how detraining affects strength, conducted by McMaster et al., (2013), determined that strength “decay rates will increase thereafter (5–16 weeks).

Rates of decline in strength

  • 1-3 weeks: Little or no decline
  • 4-5 weeks: Some loss in strength due to neuromuscular training adaptations
  • 5-16 weeks: A more rapid decrease in strength levels

Make a sensible return

When you’re ready to make your return to gym, Michelle Willenberg, a biokineticist at Samantha Dunbar Inc, registered physiotherapists and biokinetics suggests that you start sensibly.

“Don’t just jump into a new program, or pick up where you left off. Ramp up your training intensity and volume slowly, and take sufficient rest between sessions to fully recover.”

Scale back the volume (number of sets) for muscle groups and lengthen rest intervals between sets.

Ramp-up guidelines

Willenberg recommends starting with 30 minutes at 60% of your pre-holiday intensity.

“That equates to an RPE of 6/10. Those who remained active during lockdown could accelerate the pace and scale of their weekly ramp up, but everyone should gauge as they go and listen to their body.”

It is also prudent to review your exercise form and technique, and re-engage movement patterns before adding resistance or significant weight to reduce injury risk.

Slowly increase your exercise duration and/or intensity each week, and incorporate more rest days in your training routine initially.

Limit muscle soreness

And Willenberg says you can avoid those ‘T-Rex’ arms by starting with light weights and compound movements as part of full-body workouts.

Isolating muscles from day one can cause serious delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). While some next-day stiffness is welcome – it lets us know we had a good session – it shouldn’t be painful or stop us from training again the next day.

“Slowly build up over a few weeks to transition back to a split routine, and include active rest sessions between your weight training days with walks, yoga or Pilates. Aim to keep moving to make a quicker and safe return to your usual routine,” concludes Willenberg.

4 tips to make a safe gym comeback in 2022:

  1. Be patient: Although you might not resume where you have left off, you should be patient enough to avoid the risk of injury.
  2. Don’t go all-out: Setting short-term goals with each and every workout, instead of going all-out, will put you firmly on the path to where you were. Don’t try to get in shape faster as it will backfire!
  3. Combine weights and cardio: Slowly build back up targeting both the aerobic component with cardio and the strength component with weight training.
  4. Stretch it out: Spend a little more time concentrating on flexibility by incorporating a solid warm-up and cool-down period to make your comeback safer, more effective and enjoyable.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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