Alert Level 2 has meant a much bigger step back to life as we knew it before lockdown. Businesses are opening their doors again, kids are back at school, and our very own AUT Millennium is back up and running, complete with the gym and pool facilities. For many, this return is a very welcome and much needed chance to get their health and fitness back on track. Some people started hot out the gate with a great home fitness regimen, but the stories I’m hearing from family, friends, colleagues and patients is that more than a few people lost enthusiasm at some point, and together with some changes in eating and drinking habits, are carrying a few extra COVID kilos.

Returning to exercise after a hiatus is something most of us have to navigate at some stage or another, be it after an injury, a baby, a holiday – but this is probably one of the few times it is happening to everyone at the same time! It is important to know that you should not rush to pick things up where you left off as you risk injury. Here are some tips and tricks for getting back into it.

Reduce the load

Eight weeks is a long break, and in terms of timeframes required for deconditioning, it is ample time to lose muscle mass, strength and cardiovascular fitness. Start with 50-60% of the weight you are used to, or even a beginner’s weight. You can always add weight, but if you overshoot then you might be too sore to return to the gym for some time afterwards. With cardio, reduce the resistance, speed, or duration of your workout to follow a similar guide. Make it about 50-60% as challenging as it was pre-lockdown. You can build this back quickly if you need to.

Reduce sets and /or reps for the first 1-2 sessions

Giving your body an opportunity to adapt back into training can minimise your risk of injury and that beautiful post-exercise pain or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) we all know so well. Most people usually aim for three sets of 10-12 reps of an exercise. Reducing this to two sets of 10-12 reps, or three sets of 8 reps for the first session or two will reduce the opportunity for injury and unfavourable reactions to exercise.

Don’t do the same exercise again too soon

Not only does your body require more recovery time when you are deconditioned, but some pain  / injuries don’t reveal themselves right away. Giving your body an opportunity to recover and respond to the load you placed it under is very important, particularly when it has not been used in that way for a while. I encourage patients to wait 48 hours before repeating the same exercise. If you like to hit the gym or pool two days in a row, try to do something different – weights and then cardio, or exercise a different muscle group, or go for a swim.

Mix it up

If you used to jump on the treadmill for a 30-minute run and haven’t done any running in lockdown, your body will respond better to a shorter run combined with another form of exercise. For example, a 15-minute run combined with 10-15 mins on the exercise bike or cross trainer. Repetitive load is one of the key components for injury and you overcome it with strength and conditioning to that activity. When you haven’t done it for a while, variety is a key way to minimise the stress on your body.

Starting back at the gym is like ripping a band aid off, you just need to do it. If you follow these guidelines then I doubt you will suffer any damaging effects but if you do, or have already started with too much gusto, come to Healthzone Physio to chat to one of the team about it. We will help you recover and make a strategy for getting you back to pre-lockdown exercise levels.

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Rebecca graduated from AUT in 2008 with her Bachelor of Health Science in Physiotherapy and started working in a West Auckland private practice. She quickly gained an interest in sports physiotherapy including injury prevention and management. Rebecca worked for four years with premier and reserve club rugby teams including Waitemata and Kumeu / Helensville. She was the physio for the Western Pioneers team in 2012 when they won the North Harbour competition. Rebecca also practiced as a community physiotherapist administering the Otago Exercise Programme which focused on falls prevention for the independent elderly. Through these clients, she developed a curiosity in chronic pain conditions. While she has had plenty of experience in standard post surgical rehabilitation, she took a particular interest in Functional Reactivation Programmes, which work with people suffering persistent pain and complex recoveries post surgery or injury. Rebecca takes an interest in working with clients who have exhausted their channels within the health profession for the management of their pain and enjoys the challenge of helping these patients manage their conditions and return to activities of daily living. To aid in this work, she went on to get her Postgraduate Certificate in Rehabilitation from AUT. Rebecca’s passions include travel, yoga, food, comedy and film – don’t get her started on the topic of movies if you don’t have the time and energy to discuss them with her. She lives in central Auckland and is fiercely local – preferring to commute every day across the bridge than to live any distance away from friends and family!