With gyms now re-opening after four months of enforced closure due to the COVID pandemic, it is important to consider how your body has adapted to the change, or absence of training. This will help you get the best out of yourself, whilst minimising the risk of injury.
Changes after 2 weeks?
Just like when you first start training, the body adapts and becomes conditioned to the training stimuli (e.g. increased strength, flexibility, cardiovascular stamina). Following a period of reduced training, the opposite happens. The body adapts to the lack of training stimuli and becomes deconditioned, also known as reversibility, or the detraining phenomenon. We’ve all had that feeling of “WOW, im unfit” after returning to the gym following an indulgent holiday. That’s because you can expect significant reductions in cardiovascular stamina, lean muscle mass and insulin sensitivity following just two weeks of detraining. The timescale of these adaptations depends on many factors including; age and level of fitness. Generally speaking, the older you are, the faster the process of deconditioning. Whereas the fitter you are, the slower the process of deconditioning.
Changes after 4 weeks?
The body can hold on to strength adaptations a little longer compared to endurance / stamina. Strength gains will generally start to diminish following four to twelve weeks of detraining. Why? Following this period, the muscles start to shrink (if you had previously gained muscle mass), known as muscular atrophy. The old adage “If you don’t use it, you lose it!” hits the nail on the head. Obviously, individual genetics play a huge role in to what your default body shape / size is, regardless of training. The good news is that “muscle memory” is very real! The strength gains that you develop from years of repetition aren’t just due to structural changes in the muscle, but also due to neural changes in the body. The body recognises the movement and becomes increasingly efficient at performing it. You don’t lose this! Granted, you may be a little rusty on the first few reps back, but generally speaking you will get back up to speed quickly. The structural changes (e.g. increased muscle mass), won’t just appear over night though, you’ll have to overload the muscles once again to induce that muscular hypertrophy, in addition to supporting with appropriate nutrition and recovery.
Changes in Body Composition
Aside from the fitness related changes, the most obvious change that many will notice following a long period of lockdown, will be a change in body composition. Following a long period of inactivity, if there isn’t a concurrent reduction in caloric intake then you can expect an increase in body fat. Why? Because with a reduction in activity comes a reduction in the body’s metabolism and energy demands. If there is a mismatch in energy demands and energy consumption then the scales are going to tip towards weight gain / weight loss. Getting back in to a healthy routine with exercise is a good starting point, in addition to tailoring nutritional intake to your goals. For example, if you have gained fat during lockdown that you now want to lose, you will need to ensure you have a negative energy balance (burn more calories than you consume). For those of you looking for additional support, keep your eyes peeled for the next CFL nutrition course on the horizon. In the mean time, be aware that if you have gained weight, that is likely to have an impact on your ability to perform body weight movements (e.g. press ups, pull-ups) and you should be prepared to scale accordingly.
Zoom / Outdoor classes
Many of you have joined us over the past 4 months with the online zoom classes and more recently with the outdoor classes at the gym. Well done!!! By keeping up your training during lockdown you will have helped to slow down the process of reversibility / detraining, offset any potential gains in fat mass and perhaps more importantly, kept your sanity! That being said, it is important to recognise the difference between the class content in the gym, and the class content outside / at home. There has been plenty of cardiovascular and muscular endurance work involved in the programming during lockdown, so for those of you who joined us consistently, your ‘gas tank’ may well still be in tact, or who knows perhaps even better than before!? The biggest difference, is the lack of heavy strength work and gymnastic bar movements, compared to what we can usually prescribe in the gym. Even if you have been using the heavier dummbbells in the outdoor classes (e.g. 2 x 15 kg, or 2 x 22.5 kg) for movements like squats and deadlifts, you are still likely to be a long way off what you would load on a barbell in the gym. Therefore, although we are all excited about getting back on the barbells, it is important to consider the weight that we load on them in the first couple of weeks back, relative to your current level of strength and conditioning.
Protect your hands
Deconditioning doesn’t just occur in the muscles and cardiovascular system, it also occurs to the toughness of your skin. If you haven’t been hanging off pull up bars, or gripping heavy weights during lockdown, then you can expect your palms to be a little softer and more fragile than they were previously. Most Crossfitters have experienced a ripped palm. It sucks! Be aware, that you may have to stick with lower volume gymnastics (e.g. toes to bar, pull ups, muscle ups) initially, to build up the toughness of your palms once again. Better safe than sorry, nobody wants to lose a week of training by not being able to grip anything.
Top tips to return to CrossFit safely
- There is no shame in scaling! There is a big stigma around achieving RX (as prescribed) in CrossFit, but there is also a big sign above our door that says “Leave your ego here”! Your RX should be moving well and within your current capabilities.
- Work at lower loads than you did prior to COVID and gradually build back up strength levels.
- Break up gymnastics volume on the rig (e.g. toes to bar, pull ups) to condition the hands and shoulders and gradually build up.
- Work at your own pace (don’t worry about what anyone else is doing), take rest periods as required.
- Plan your rest / ‘active recovery’ days and listen to your body.
- If you want to do extra work on top of the class programming, use your time wisely and invest in mobility and skill development work, rather than doing more of the same. More is not always better! Quality over quantity every day.
We look forward to seeing you all back in the gym! Stay safe everyone.