Gyms Reopening: How To Train After The Coronavirus Lockdown

Gyms Reopening: How To Train After The Coronavirus Lockdown

How you train when you go back to the gym will completely depend on how you trained during lockdown.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · Jul 20th, 2020

Training Beginner
11 Mins


    After over three months of lockdown, gyms are finally starting to reopen. In the UK, the big day is 25th July, three full weeks after pubs opened its doors. Crazy where the priority of the country lies, right? But that’s another topic for another day. For now, let’s discuss what we need to consider when going back into gyms. If you’re living in a country where gyms have already opened (I know it’s varying globally from city to city, and state to state), this is for you too – as you’re likely still in the early days of it all, and will need to tread carefully.

    In this article, I’ll cover how to train, what to be careful of, and what to do if you can’t yet get into the gym, whether it’s due to location or if you’d rather stay at home (owing to your type of work, or if you live with vulnerable people). I won’t cover the guidelines of gym hygiene here, as that will depend on your gym’s rules.

    How to Train in Your First Week When Gyms Reopen 

    How you train when you go back to the gym will completely depend on how you trained in lockdown. Being in a fortunate position to oversee hundreds of different clients around the world and their unique circumstances, we’ve seen and heard it all.

    From bodyweight only, to bands, to online group HIIT classes, to a pair of 20-year-old rusty dumbbells, and all the way to full kitted home gyms!

    So, let’s go through a few different scenarios, and what the implications of each are:

    1. The Bodyweight And Band Life

    Prices of equipment have sky rocketed, and for a few weeks at the start of lockdown, finding a fitness equipment website that didn’t have the words ‘Out of Stock’ was rare. If you did, chances are in an hour it was gone.

    If you didn’t have equipment before, and missed out on the scramble at the start, you’re the person who needs to be the most careful. Your body hasn’t held a weight in over four months, and you’ve probably forgotten what one feels like. Your life has been learning about how to best maximise your push-up, and trying every possible variation of a band exercise. You may have even taken up daily running for a bit to give you a challenge (and hopefully didn’t get hurt like I did!).

    By now, you’re probably chomping at the bit to get back in the gym, and every inclination in your body is going to be wanting to get under a heavy squat bar and go hell for leather.

    My number one piece of advice for you?

    Take it easy.

    The first couple of weeks should be treated like you’ve just returned from a long layoff. Yes, you can challenge yourself with bodyweight, bands and whatever you may have gotten a hold of (we’ve had clients combine mops with bands to simulate exercises, towels used in the strangest ways, and bags of rice being hauled around for resistance!), but adding significantly heavier loads to your body is somewhat different.

    It’s a new type of resistance, and one that brings with it an inherent injury risk if you’re not used to it.

    The absolute worst thing you could do here is look at your old training logs pre-lockdown and think, ‘Let’s pick up where I left off!’. That’d be a quick recipe for an injury, and a rude awakening. Your nervous system won’t be primed for heavy loads, and you’ll need a few weeks to ‘break in’.

    Providing you’ve been training hard with what you have available, and taking sets to failure, you will have maintained your general muscular strength and size. But neurologically, the connection won’t be there.

    After a normal ‘typical deload’ I suggest taking 10-15% off your normal loads and working back up slowly. For this situation, I’d take 25-30% off your normal working sets and build it up over the next 4-6 weeks again. The strength will return, but you’re better off coaxing it than letting the excitement of the gyms reopening put you at risk of a forced layoff where you can’t do anything!

    2. The Adjustable Dumbbells And Cardio Life

    One of the most surreal moments at the start of lockdown was realising I never sold my first ever York weight set I bought in 2008. I remember asking in my family WhatsApp group if they were still in my parents’ shed. After anxiously waiting to hear back (as I knew they considered selling them a few years ago to make space), I was relieved I still had my 60-70kg of weights, albeit stuck under a plethora of dirt, dust and spider webs.

    This is the second scenario many of you will have been in, where you’ll have had a light pair of adjustable dumbbells and maybe a band. Your training will have explored every possible tempo, pause, angle and method to make a light weight feel heavy. You’ll have done weeks and weeks of high reps, you’ll know tempo like a metronome, and you’ll likely be feeling quite cardio fit!

    The same rule applies for those who find themselves in this category. I know I’m most excited to leg press, hack squat and do some heavy RDLs. But I also know I won’t be attempting my old numbers. I’ll be taking a few plates off and priming my body for a productive phase of strength development again.

    For those who are in the first two categories, you’ll be pleased to hear that all the strategies used to make light weights feel heavy will carry over well now. If you’ve been focusing on mind muscle connection, immaculate form, pauses in difficult positions and the like, don’t forget these as you transition back. Translate all of this into your heavier sets and you’ll experience stimulation and growth like never before, especially (and importantly) when you apply progressive overload over time.

    Imagine if your previous dumbbell press was 30kg for 8 with shabby form and loose muscle connection, and you work up in the following months to doing the same with a controlled negative, pause at the bottom and a fired-up chest? Progress will be coming your way!

    3. The Home Gym Life 

    I personally haven’t enjoyed the convenience of training at home. I’ve still trained as hard as I can, but I’ve not been able to always feel the same outlet as previously. I’ve always liked the ‘walk to the gym’, the separation it gives me from working at home, and the ability to lose myself in a (good) gym environment. It’s a hard feeling to replace. That serious gym atmosphere is something I’ll always cherish. It’s why I pay 3x the money on my membership and travel an extra 15 minutes to train, instead of going to the big chain gym on my doorstep where you feel like a sardine in a tin, and doing a lateral raise usually involves avoiding knocking somebody’s lights out!

    That said, I know many have enjoyed training at home, and value the convenience. I know some who now have fully blown home gyms. If that’s you, and you’re planning to continue at home, by all means go for it. If you have the tools for progression in place, it doesn’t actually matter where you train, or even how. You just need to make sure you can apply progressive overload. It’s why at the start of lockdown, I was a little baffled at those I heard who decided to put their training ‘on hold’ till after lockdown, or thought everything was going to fall apart. I’ve not seen that in any case. In fact, we’ve had more shoots and more men and women in serious investment phases in lockdown than I can remember.

    I like going to the gym for the environment, equipment choice and ability to train with others. Losing that doesn’t take away from the core purpose though – training hard, using it as my anchor, and making progress in some form each week.

    What If Your Gym Isn’t Open Yet? 

    If you’re living where the gyms aren’t open yet, continue as is. Remember, prioritising and focusing on health and fitness is never about going to the gym. It’s just one small piece of the puzzle that encompasses a holistic journey. Until they open where you are, keep driving hard with what you have. If it’s very limited, focus on improving:
    • Your mind muscle connection
    • Your tempo, adding pauses where you can
    • Your fitness with tighter rest periods
    • our ability to do high rep sets
    If you have a few tools, maximise and milk them for what it’s worth. So long as you do something challenging, you’ve pieced together one small piece of your transformation jigsaw (which you can read more about here).

    Beware the Second Wave 

    Having seen some second wave spikes in certain parts of the globe, I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t the last lockdown. The regulations UK gyms utilise will be variable on their space, technology and systems, so it may be that we have a transition period, or a time where we train in a hybrid fashion (at home plus gym) until things normalise.

    I know if I’m limited to one or two sessions a week, I’ll prioritise the big lifts that require equipment at the gym to go heavy on, and train in a similar fashion to now at home on the other days.

    For anyone who’s unsure of the way to train back at the gym, feel free to email on with any questions. If you’re part of the RNT Family, drop a line to your coach!
    Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

    Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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